Terms and Definitions: S
This page is under perpetual
construction! It was last updated August 5, 2015.
This list is meant to assist,
not intimidate. Use it as a touchstone for important concepts
and vocabulary that we will cover during the term. Vocabulary
terms are listed alphabetically.
The word comes from the Old Norse term for a "saw" or a "saying."
Sagas are Scandinavian and Icelandic prose narratives about
famous historical heroes, notable families, or the exploits
of kings and warriors. Until the 12th century, most sagas were
and they passed from person to person by oral transmission.
Thereafter, scribes wrote them down. The Icelandic sagas take
place when Iceland was first settled by Vikings (930-1030 AD).
Examples include Grettir's Saga, Njál's Saga,
Egil's Saga, and the Saga of Eric the Red. The
saga is marked by literary and social conventions including
warriors who stop in the midst of combat to recite extemporaneous
poetry, individuals wearing dark blue cloaks when they are about
to kill someone, elaborate genealogies and "back-story"
before the main plot, casual violence, and recitations of the
names and features of magical swords and weapons. Later sagas
show signs of being influenced by continental literature--particularly
French tales of chivalry and knighthood. For modern readers,
the appearance of these traits often seems to sit uneasily with
the surrounding material. In common usage, the term saga
has been erroneously applied to any exciting, long narrative.
See cycle and
See discussion under vita.
LIFE: Another term for the medieval genre called
See discussion under vita.
LAW: French law stating that
the right of a king's son to inherit the French throne passes
only patrilineally rather than matrilineally. In England, however,
the English Queen Consort (a queen married to a ruling husband)
can become the Queen Regnant (a queen ruling in her own right)
if her husband dies and there are no other male relatives in
line to inherit the throne. Likewise, in French Salic Law, if
the queen remarries after the king dies, any children she has
from the new husband cannot claim the throne. Likewise, if a
male king dies without heirs, only his brothers and their male
offspring can claim the throne. This right does not pass to
male children of the queen that she might have later. However,
under English law, a male descended from the English Queen can
ascend to the throne. The differences between Salic and English
Law regarding inheritance play a key part in Shakespeare's Henry V,
in which King Henry must determine whether he can justly claim
the throne of France.
A non-Indo-European branch of Uralic languages spoken in northern
METER:Typically, this meter is found in quatrains in
which the first three lines consist of eleven syllables and
the fourth line contains five. The metrical pattern is as follows
in the first three lines: (foot #1)
/ u (foot #2) /
x (foot #3) /
u u (foot #4) /
u (and foot #5) /
x. The "x"
in each case indicates a syllaba
anceps--a syllable that may be either heavily or
lightly stressed. In the last line, the pattern is (foot #1)
/ u u and (foot #2)
The pattern is notoriously
difficult in English, but more common in Greek. The term Sapphic
comes from the name of the female Greek poet Sappho.
ODE: Virtually identical with a Horatian ode, a Sapphic
ode consists of quatrains in which the first three lines consist
of eleven syllables and the fourth line contains five. The metrical
pattern is described under Sapphic
Verses written in Sapphic
VERSE: Verse written in Sapphic
Another term for verbal irony--the act of ostensibly
saying one thing but meaning another. See further discussion
LANGUAGE (from Satem, Avestan for "one hundred"): Pronounced, "SHAH-tem," the term refers to one of the two main branches of Indo-European
languages. These languages are generally associated with Middle-Eastern
and eastern European Indo-European languages and they often have an unvoiced alveopalal sound
rather than the palatal /k/ found
in equivalent centum
words. Click here for more information.
An attack on or criticism of any stupidity or vice in the form
of scathing humor, or a critique of what the author sees as
dangerous religious, political, moral, or social standards.
Satire became an especially popular technique used during the
Enlightenment, in which it was believed that an artist could
correct folly by using art as a mirror to reflect society. When
people viewed the satire and saw their faults magnified in a
distorted reflection, they could see how ridiculous their behavior
was and then correct that tendency in themselves. The tradition
of satire continues today. Popular cartoons such as The
Simpsons and televised comedies like The Daily Show
make use of it in modern media. Conventionally, formal
satire involves a direct, first-person-address, either
to the audience or to a listener mentioned within the work.
An example of formal satire is Alexander Pope's Moral Essays.
Indirect satire conventionally employs the
form of a fictional narrative--such as Byron's Don Juan
or Swift's Gulliver's Travels. Ridicule, irony, exaggeration,
and similar tools are almost always used in satire. Horatian
satire tends to focus lightly on laughter and ridicule,
but it maintains a playful tone. Generally, the tone is sympathetic
and good humored, somewhat tolerant of imperfection and folly
even while expressing amusement at it. The name comes from the
Roman poet Horace (65 BCE-8 CE), who preferred to ridicule human
folly in general rather than condemn specific persons. In contrast,
Juvenalian satire also uses withering invective,
insults, and a slashing attack. The name comes from the Roman
poet Juvenal (60-140 CE), who frequently employed the device,
but the label is applied to British writers such as Swift and
Pope as well. Compare with medieval
estates satire and spoof.
COMEDY: Any drama or comic poem involving humor as a means
PLAY: A burlesque play submitted by Athenian playwrights
along with their tragic trilogies. On each day of the Dionysia,
one tragedy was performed, followed by one satyr play. The term should not be confused with satire.
The act of "scanning" a poem to determine its meter.
To perform scansion, the student breaks down each line into
individual metrical feet and determines which syllables have
heavy stress and which have lighter stress. According to the
early conventions of English poetry, each foot should have at
least one stressed syllable, though feet with all unstressed
syllables are found occasionally in Greek and other poetic traditions.
Not to be confused with eschatology,
scatology refers to so-called "potty-humor"--jokes
or stories dealing with feces designed to elicit either laughter
or disgust. Anthropologists have noted that scatological humor
occurs in nearly every human culture. In some cultures and time
periods, scatology is treated as vulgar or low-brow (for instance,
the Victorian period in England). At other times, scatological
elements appear in stories that are not necessarily meant to
be low-brow. For instance, many serious medieval legends of
demons link them to excrement, and the audience of French fabliaux
appear to be noblemen and aristocrats rather than bourgeois
rabble. Scatology also appears in medieval plays such as Mankind
and in works associated various French fabliaux (singular
fabliau). Chaucer relies heavily on scatological humor
in "The Summoner's Tale." See fabliau.
This popular grammatical construction appears in ancient
Attic Greek (and it is later mimicked in New Testament
Greek). It is a specific type of enallage in
which a neuter plural subject takes a singular verb (Smith
9). Normally, this construction would be considered a grammatical
error in Greek, but if poets, playwrights, or prophets do
it intentionally, it becomes high art. The device leads
to some interesting translation decisions in modern English
of the Bible or Greek literature. Should the translator
"normalize" the grammar so it doesn't look odd to English
should the translator bravely insert his own English grammatical
the intentional "error" in the original Greek text? See schema
This popular grammatical construction appears in the ancient
Attic Greek of Pindar and later in New Testament
Greek. It is a general type of enallage in
which any compound subject takes a singular verb (Smith 9).
Normally, that would be considered a grammatical error, but
if the poet
does it, it is high art. This general term contrasts with the
more specific schema
A dramatic sequence taking place within a single locale
on stage. Often scenes serve as the subdivision of an act within
a play. Note that when we use the word scene generically
or in the text of a paper (for example, "there are three
scenes in the play"), we do not capitalize the word. See
The MLA Handbook, 7th edition, section 3.6.5 and 6.4.8 for further
information involving citations of scenes in English papers.
SCEOP (A-S, "shaper," also
spelled scop): An Anglo-Saxon
singer or musician who would perform in a mead hall. Cf.
The visual environment created onstage using a backdrop and
props. The purpose of scenery is either to suggest vaguely a
specific setting or produce the illusion of actually watching
events in that specific setting.
A schism is a split or division in the church concerning religious
belief or organizational structure--one in which a single church
splits into two or more separate denominations--often hostile
to each other. Click here for more information.
In medieval universities, scholasticism was the philosophy
in which all
branches of educaton were developed and ordered by theological
principles or schemata.
While common parlance uses the word school to refer
to a specific institute of learning, literary scholars use this
term to refer to groups of writers or poets who share similar
styles, literary techniques, or social concerns regardless of
their educational backgrounds. In some rare cases, the group's
members recognize that they share these concerns while they
are alive, and they purposely name themselves or their movement
to reflect their characteristics. For instance, the American
Beat poets, the French Imagists, and the English Pre-Raphaelites
recognized and named themselves as being part of their respective
movements. It is far more common, however, for later generations
of scholars and critics to look back and lump groups of artists
or thinkers into specific schools. For instance, the Romantic
poets, the Spenserians, the Pushkin Pleiad, the Cavalier poets, the Metaphysical
poets, and the Gothic novelists are specific schools of literature,
but these labels did not appear for the particular groups until
years after the writers lived. Art historians make similar distinctions
about the Bauhaus school, the Expressionist movement, the Fauves,
the Cubists, and so on. Shared intellectual or philosophical
tendencies mark schools of philosophy as well--such as the Epicureans,
the Stoics, the Skeptics, the Sophists, the Platonists, and
the Neo-platonists--and these terms are often applied in a general
way to writers who existed in later centuries. Accordingly,
we might speak of both Marcus Aurelius and Hemingway as part
of the Stoic school, even though the two lived two thousand
years apart from each other on different continents, and one
was a meditative Roman Emperor who outlawed gladiatorial
combat and the other an American ambulance driver obsessed with
machisimo and bull-fighting. Keep in mind, divisions
into such artificial schools of thought are often arbitrary,
contradictory, and murky. They work best at pointing out general
similarities rather than creating sharp, clear categorical labels.
The mid-central vowel or the phonetic symbol for it. This
symbol is typically an upside down e.
The schwa vowel appears in words like putt
The same sound appears blended with an /r/
in words like pert, shirt,
and motor. See also
FICTION (originally "scientifiction," a neologism
coined by editor Hugo Gernsback in his pulp magazine Amazing
Stories): Literature in which speculative technology,
time travel, alien races,
space travel, experimental medicine, psionic abilities, dimensional
portals, or altered scientific principles contribute
plot or background. Many purists make a distinction between
"hard" science fiction (in which
the story attempts to follow accepted scientific realism and
extrapolates the outcomes
or consequences of scientific discovery in a hard-headed manner)
and "soft" science fiction (which
often involves looser adherence to scientific knowledge and
The basic premise is usually built on a "what if"
scenario--i.e., the story explores what might occur if a certain technology
or event occurred. Examples include Arthur C. Clarke's 2001:
A Space Odyssey, Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a
Strange Land, Isaac Asimov's Foundation, Octavia
Dawn, H. G. Wells' The Invisible Man,
Ursula LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness, Lois McMaster
Bujold's Ethan of Athos, Aldous Huxley's Brave
New World, Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles,
Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, and William Gibson's
Neuromancer. See also space
and Cthulhu mythos.
like "shop"): An alternative spelling of sceop.
CORRUPTION: A general term referring to errors in a text
made by later scribes rather than the original authors. In many
cases, these mistakes are obviously the result of human error
while copying, such as accidentally repeating or leaving out
a word or line(s) from the original manuscript. "Eye skips,"
for instance, are errors that result when a scribe's eye drops
from the original word or line he was copying to a different
word or line that begins with the same letter or word, causing
him to leave out the intermediary material. Other scribal errors
come about when a scribe attempts to "correct" or
"simplify" a text he doesn't understand well. One
of the more amusing examples of scribal corruption comes from
the Anglo-Saxon monks of medieval Britain. There, a monk was
copying a text that referred to heaven as the "Isle of
Joy." The word joy in Anglo-Saxon was gliw.
(It's the word that gives us the modern word glee.) Unfortunately,
an Anglo-Saxon monk misread the final letter. This final letter
was wynn--an Anglo-Saxon letter that looks sort of like
the modern letter p, but
which represents a /w/ sound.
You can see samples of the letters by clicking
here. The scribe mistakenly thought he was viewing the letter
thorn, which represents a -th
sound. Thus, he miswrote the word as Glith in an Anglo-Saxon
educational poem called "Adrian and Ritheus." The
error had its consequences. Hundreds of this scribe's newly
Christianized and newly literate students therefore diligently
learned that heaven was located on "The Isle of Glith."
This no doubt caused some confusion initially among the early
Christian converts. The problem of scribal corruption was still
prevalent five hundred years later in Chaucer's day. Chaucer
complains about the "negligence and rape" done to
his poetry at the hands of his own scribe, Adam, in his short
poem, "Chaucer's Wordes Unto Adam, His Owne Scrivyen."
-E: When a scribe adds an unpronounced -e
to words for reasons of manuscript spacing, this is called a
scribal -e. This practice was common
in the days before English orthography became standardized.
Note that this practice should not be confused with the Middle
English final -e, which
often is pronounced as an unstressed syllable at the end of
words in Chaucer and writings of the fourteenth century. The opposite term is an organic -e, in which the final -e might be silent today, but at one point historically was pronounced and usually descends grammatically from a now defunct declension.
A literate individual who reproduces the works of other authors
by copying them from older texts or from a dictating author.
In many parts of the ancient world, such as Classical Rome and
Classical Greece, a large number of scribes were slaves who
belonged to wealthy government officials and to poets or authors.
In other cultures such as Egypt or Tibet, scribes have been
seen as priestly or semi-magical individuals. In the medieval
period, many monks were given the task of copying classics from
the earlier period along with Bibles and patristic writings.
Their efforts preserved much of Greco-Roman philosophy and history
that might otherwise have been lost. See also auctor,
In drama, a flimsy curtain that becomes transparent when backlit,
permitting action to take place under varying lighting.
An area set aside in a monastery for monks to work as scribes
and copy books.
Another term for a scribe.
The term scrivener became especially common during the 1700s
and 1800s for legal copyists, as evidenced in works such as
Melville's "Bartleby the Scrivener." See scribe
Literary scholars distinguish between primary
sources, secondary sources, and educational
resources. Students should also. To understand
the difference, click
STRESS: A stress less prominent than the primary stress--often
indicated by a grave accent mark. See chart of common
diacritical markings for more information.
In addition to a first language (i.e., a native language), a
second language is any language used frequently for communication,
trade, diplomacy, scholarship, or other important purposes.
SECOND-PERSON POINT OF
VIEW: See discussion under point
SECOND SOUND SHIFT:
Another term for the High
Writing has self-reflexivity if it somehow refers to itself.
(Critics also call this being self-referential.) For instance,
the following sentence has self-reflexive traits:
is not a sentence.
Here, the demonstrative
pronoun this refers to the larger sentence that
contains it--the sentence's subject-matter is its own structure
sentence. Postmodern writing has become especially fond of
this artistic technique, employing metafiction and metapoetry.
calls attention to its own artifice, violates verisimilitude,
or breaks the boundaries between sign, signifier
process by which a word loses all its original meaning--a
phenomenon quite common in toponyms and personal names. For
instance, few English speakers think of "Red
People" when they hear the toponym Oklahoma,
even though this is what Oklahoma means in the
original Choctaw; the loanword has undergone semantic bleaching.
CHANGE: A change in what a word or phrase means.
CONTAMINATION: Change of meaning that occurs when two
words sound alike. Because the words are so similar, often the
meaning of one becomes attached to the other. This is especially
likely with foreign loan words. For example, the Old English
word dream originally meant "joy." However,
the Scandinavian loan word draumr meant "vision
while asleep." Through semantic contamination via
the Viking invasions, the English word dream gained
its current meaning, as Algeo points out (277).
MARKING: When the meaning
of a word is limited semantically, that word is said to possess
a semantic marking. See marked
word and unmarked word.
The study of actual meaning in languages--especially the meanings
of individual words and word combinations in phrases and sentences--as
opposed to other linguistic aspects like grammar, morphology,
etymology, and syntax.
SEMIOLOGY: Another term
The study of both verbal and nonverbal signs. In Charles Sanders
Peirce's thinking, a sign may fall into several possible categories:
bear some natural resemblance to what they signify. For
instance, a map of Tennessee is an iconic representation
of a "real world" geography.
signs show some causal connection with what they
signify. For instance, a stylized image of smoke as a sign
indicating "fire" would be an indexical sign.
have an arbitrary or conventional relationship with what
they signify. Note that in linguistics, almost all verbal
sounds and written letters fall in the category of symbolic
signs. Using the sounds /c/
and /a/ and /t/
to represent a furred quadroped that hunts mice, or the
graphemes <c>, <a>,
and <t> as a visual representation
of those sounds, is purely arbitrary.
A non-Indo-European family of languages including Arabic and
A sound articulated in the same way as a vowel sound, but which
functions like a consonant typically. Examples include [w]
and [y]. In some languages such
as Welsh, these can function as graphemes for pure vowels.
SENECAN TRAGEDY: A tragedy following the conventions of the Roman writer Lucius Anneaus Seneca Minor (Seneca the Younger), a first-century CE stoic philosopher and philosopher who dabbled as a playwright and wrote ten surviving tragedies. Humanist scholars in the Renaissance rediscovered his lost works, and they became influential in Elizabethan and Neoclassical drama. Senecan tragedies tend to focus on gruesome, bloodthirsty revenge. They are unusual in that the violence takes place on stage before the audience, as opposed to the classical Greek tradition, in which murders and suicides typically took place off-stage while the on-stage characters reacted to the news or to what they hear nearby. Examples of Renaissance tragedies influenced by the Senecan mode include Shakespeare's Hamlet, Thomas Kydd's The Spanish Tragedy and John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi.
AMANS (from Latin "ancient lover";
senex amanz in Old French): A stock
character in medieval fabliaux, courtly
romances, and classical comedies, the senex amans is
an old, ugly, jealous man who is married to a younger, attractive
but unhappy woman (the latter known as the mal mariée in French scholarship). The senex is often a poor lover (or even impotent)
with bad breath, wrinkled skin, and grey hair. He is frequently
cuckolded by a younger, handsome, virile man who secretly
his wife. We find examples of the senex amans in Chaucer's
"Miller's Tale" and "The Merchant's Tale,"
and in various other fabliaux.
Likewise, the motif
also appears in the medieval French lais
such as Marie de France's "Guigemar" and "Laustic" and similar
works such as Tristan and Iseult. The motif of the senex
amans often becomes useful for fast characterization,
since it often can quickly cast a predatory light on an elderly
antagonist. An example of such use would be the old king of
Ghana pursuing the young Imoinda in Aphra Behn's Oronooko,
or any of the aging aristocrats sadistically pursuing young
virtuous peasant girls in gothic novels.
The senryu is a satirical form of the haiku.
The form originates in Edo with the poet Karai Senryu (1718-1790).
While the haiku attempt to avoid excessive "cleverness,"
vulgarity, humor, or explicit moralizing on the poet's part,
the senryu embraces these elements. The genre
allows a greater liberty of diction. Its tone is less lofty
than the Zen-like tone found in many haiku, and it often
focuses on the distortions and failings of human nature rather
than the beauty of nature. Conventional topics include mothers-in-law,
shrewish wives, women of disrepute, the antics of bachelors,
and misbehavior among the clergy. Here is an example of a senryu:
At the top of her voice,
The husband gives in.
As Joan Giroux suggests
in The Haiku Form, the humor and implicit lesson in
such senryu are very appealing to European and American
writers. It is a genre
much more accessible to the Western poet, accustomed as we
are to logic rather than Zen. She writes:
writers of English haiku are often dismayed to have their
Japanese friends remark, "Your poem is more like senryu.
It is too philosophical." It is not surprising, therefore,
that senryu appeals strongly to Western readers. The
Western tradition of logic rather than intuition makes senryu
in some respects easier [for Western poets] to
write than haiku.
See also kigo,
OF: Eighteenth-century literature that values emotionalism
over rationalism. This literature tends to perceive feelings
as more reliable guides to morality and truth than abstract
principles, and thus it tends to view human beings as essentially
benevolent--a sharp contrast with the idea of Original Sin and
total depravity in Calvinist writings.
NOVEL: An eighteenth-century or early nineteenth-century
novel emphasizing pathos
rather than reason and focusing on an optimistic view of the
essential goodness of human nature. Examples include Laurence
Sterne's A Sentimental Journey, Oliver Goldsmith's
The Vicar of Wakefield, and Henry Mackenzie's The
Man of Feeling.
Another term for heptameter--a line consisting of seven
(Latin, septuaginta, "seventy"): A Greek
translation of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) produced in
the third century BCE. According to an apocryphal legend found
in the "Letter of Aristeas," seventy-two Jewish scribes
were asked to translate the Torah into Greek for inclusion in
the Ptolemaic library. The legend states that they all finished
at exactly the same time (seventy-two days) and produced exactly
identical translations with no transcription errors or corrections.
Although most Biblical scholars dismiss this legend today as
implausible and see the story as originating much later than
the actual translation, the Septuagint provides an important
manuscript comparison with the Masoretic
texts. The Septuagint is still used in the Eastern Orthodox
Church as the basis of its liturgy. In
medieval writing, the Septuagint is often referred to only as
the Roman numerals LXX (i.e., "seventy").
(from Latin sequi, to follow): A literary work complete
in itself, but continuing the narrative of an earlier work.
It is a new story that extends or develops characters and situations
found in an earlier work. Two sequels following an original
work (together) are called a trilogy.
Three sequels following an original work together are called
sequels have a reputation for inferior artistry compared to
the original publication since they are often hastily written
from the desire to capitalize on earlier financial success.
Examples include Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer Abroad, which
is a sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and Alexandra
Ripley's Scarlett, which is a sequel to Mitchell's
Gone With the Wind. In the late twentieth century,
it became common retroactively to write "prequels,"
a later book with the same geographic setting or characters,
but which takes place in an earlier time.
A medieval peasant tied to a specific plot of land in the feudal
system of government. He was allowed to work this land in exchange
for services to his lord. In the early medieval period, probably
90% of the European population was a part of this group of agricultural
laborers. In the late medieval period, increasing numbers of
these peasants became freemen who owned their own land or worked
as craftsmen in city guilds.
See discussion under feudalism.
A number of novels related to each other by plot, setting, character,
or some combination of these traits. Examples include The
Leatherstocking Tales of James Fenimore Cooper, C. S. Lewis's
Chronicles of Narnia, J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter
books, and cheap pulp fiction collections like The Executioner
or the Longarm westerns are all examples of series.
Contrast with prequel,
See discussion under homily.
JOLI: Another term for a sermon joyeaux.
See discussion under mock
JOYEUX (also sermon joli): See discussion
(1) The last part of an Italian or Petrarchan
sonnet, it consists of six lines that rhyme with a varying pattern.
Common rhyme patterns include CDECDE
or CDCCDC. See sonnet,
below. (2) Any six-line stanza or a six-line
unit of poetry.
SEVEN DEADLY SINS: Wrath, Envy, Lust, Gluttony, Avarice, Pride, and Sloth were commonly considered the primary temptations afflicting humanity in medieval sermons and iconography, with Pride being the worst. These seven often functioned as allegorical characters in medieval morality plays, but they also appear in many Renaissance plays such as Marlowe's Faustus. Some models of the sins saw them as contrasts to the seven holy virtues (i.e., the four cardinal or pagan virtues and the three spiritual virtues). Click here for more detailed discussion.
The physical objects and props necessary as scenery in a play
(if they are left on-stage rather than in a character's possession).
SETSUWA TALE: A Japanese tale dating to the10th-14th centuries, typically sharing a grotesque mode of representation, especially a tendency to depict the body and bodily functions in bizarre or fantastic ways.
The general locale, historical time, and social circumstances
in which the action of a fictional or dramatic work occurs;
the setting of an episode or scene within a work is the particular
physical location in which it takes place. For example, the
general setting of Joyce's "The Dead," is a quay named Usher's
Island, west of central Dublin in the early 1900s, and the initial
setting is the second floor apartment of the Misses Morkan.
Setting can be a central or peripheral factor in the meaning
of a work. The setting is usually established through description--but
sometimes narration or dialogue also reveals the location and
SONNET: See discussion under sonnet.
A religious practice first identified by anthropologists
tribes in Siberia, Alaska, and northern Canada in which a
shaman would serve as a mediator between his tribal community
and the spirit world. The shaman would bridge this gap through
spiritual exercises (such as chanting to induce trances)
or through symbolic journeys (like descending into a cave
or climbing a mountain) or through magical transformations
(such as donning an elk skin or a mask to become one with
the Spirit of
All Elk). In these shamanistic religions, the shaman was
thought either to
soul magically out of
reach the spirit world or else to physically enter it through
his journey. Once in the spirit world, he would communicate
with the spirits to ensure a good hunt or good weather, to
seek spiritual advice, or to ask for assistance with curing
a disease. The spirits were typically animistic or
totemic in nature rather than anthropomorphic.
strictest original sense, shamanism applies only to the
practices of a half-dozen or so tribes in the far north around
the Arctic Circle,
but some scholars in comparative religion have popularized
term and applied it to similar beliefs among South American,
African, Australian, and Polynesian ethnic groups. Some
go so far as to argue that hunter-gatherer societies naturally
tend to form shamanistic religions, or that shamanism is
humanity's "original" or "default" religious belief before
the rise of agriculture caused vegetationsdämons to
complicate the pantheon. In classical mythology
and sacrificial rites, many features of individual
appear to originate in shamanistic hunting rituals, as scholars
like Walter Burkert have argued.
POETRY: See concrete
In the Renaissance, these were senior actors holding business
shares in the stock of a theatrical company. In such a joint-stock
arrangement, the shareholders would pool their funds to buy
supplies, make costumes and props, hire works, and write new
plays. They would share profits (and losses!) equally. Greenblatt
notes that, "Shakespeare
was not only a longtime 'sharer' of the Lord Chamberlain's Men
but, from 1599, a 'housekeeper,' the holder of a one-eighth
share in the Globe playhouse" (1141).
Among linguists, the term refers to any language use that distinguishes
between one "in"-group and another "out"-group.
The term comes from the biblical account of how Israelites would
ask suspicious foreigners to say the word "shibboleth";
if the speaker pronounced it "sibboleth,"
marking the talker as an enemy, he or she would be seized and
killed. The term often appears in the phrase, "to speak
A general term in linguistics for any slight alteration in a
word's meaning, or the creation of an entirely new word by changing
the use of an expression.
POETRY: Shih is Chinese for "songs." There
is no general word for "poetry" specifically in Chinese,
but there are exact words for different genres
of poetry. Shih is the basic or common Chinese verse.
The term encompassed folksongs, hymns, and libretti.
The earliest extant shih in five-word lines may date
back to 100 BCE. Contrast with fu
In linguistics, the word has two meanings: (1)
creating a new word by omitting part of a longer expression,
and (2) changing a long vowel to a short one.
STORY: "A brief prose tale," as Edgar Allan Poe
labeled it. This work of narrative fiction may contain description,
dialogue and commentary, but usually plot functions as the engine
driving the art. The best short stories, according to Poe, seek
to achieve a single, major, unified impact. See single
effect theory, below.
SYLLABLE: In linguistics,
any syllable containing a short vowel, but followed by only
one consonant or no consonant at all. Do not confuse this term
with a short vowel
VOWEL: As Algeo defines it, "A
vowel of lesser duration than a corresponding long vowel"
In linguistics, any hissing sound made with a groove down the
center of the tongue.
SIGN: In linguistics, Ferdinand de Saussure bases
his theory of signification (semiology) upon the sign, i.e., an
arbitrary mark, sound, or gesture that becomes imbued with
meaning because it is
of a larger, more complex system of other marks or sounds with
their own meanings. The linguistic sign is the union of the signifier (a
collection of sounds that distinguishes this sign from others)
and the signified
(a concept or meaning arbitrarily and conventionally assigned
to this collection of sounds). Note that the signified exists
only in the head of a language user as an image or thought--de Saussure's model is careful to distinguish between it and the material object, which exists independently of the human mind. The referent
in linguistics is the "real world" equivalent, the
extralinguistic object the signified points to in the physical
universe. Saussure, however, deliberately ignores the referent
as something existing outside the realm of linguistics proper,
prefering to treat language as a system of arbitrary distinctions
without any positive terms.
See also parole and langue.
An analogy or comparison implied by using an adverbial preposition such as
like or as,
in contrast with a metaphor, which figuratively makes the comparison
by stating outright that one thing is another thing. This figure
of speech is of great antiquity, common in both prose
and verse works.
A poetic example comes from
John Milton's Paradise Lost:
out of the earth a Fabrick huge
Rose like an Exhalation, with the sound
Dulcet Symphony and voices sweet.
Even more famously, Robert
my luve is like a red, red rose
That's newly sprung in June:
O, my luve is like the melodie
That's sweetly played in tune.
A simile is an example of
a trope. Contrast
with epic simile
EFFECT" THEORY: Edgar Allan Poe's theory about what
constituted a good short story. According to Poe, a good short
story achieved its unity by achieving a single emotional effect
on the reader. He writes of it in his review of Hawthorne's
Twice-Told Tales and describes it as "a certain
unique single effect to be wrought out" (Quoted in Thomas
Woodson, ed., Twentieth-Century Interpretations of "The
Fall of the House of Usher" from Englewood Cliffs:
Prentice Hall, 1969.)
A group of languages spoken in China, Tibet, and Burma, including
SIRVENTE: A satirical Provençal poem that focuses on the flaws of individuals or on public concerns such as the folly of a war, or the abuses of the Church.
IRONY: Another term for universal irony.
See discussion under irony.
The Old Norse or Scandinavian equivalent of a bard
or court singer. Most of the surviving skaldic poetry deals
with contemporary Viking chieftains and kings--usually making
extensive use of kennings.
Medieval skalds included Bragi Boddason (c. 825), Eyvindr
Finnson (c. 950), Egill Skallagrimsson (c. 850), and Gunnlaugr
Ormstunga Illugason (c. 990-1020?). The skalds faded
in importance after 1000 CE.
SKAZ (plural skazka,
from the Russian verb skazat, "to tell"): A Russian
tall tale in which the author dons the voice or persona of
a fictitious narrator (typically an uneducated peasant, a monk, an Old Believer, or a regional farmer) who recounts something he has supposedly witnessed. The genre
thus allows the author to characterize the speaker through
speech peculiarities (dialect pronunciation, malapropisms,
non-standard grammar, slang,
and regional neologisms). See Harkins 204 and 360 for more information. The most famous example is probably Leskov's The Enchanted Wanderer of 1873.
SKELTONIC VERSE: Also called tumbling verse or Skeltonics, the term refers to an irregular verse used principally by John Skelton, the tutor of young Henry VIII. Skelton disregarded the number of syllables in each line and often experimented with short lines using only two or three stresses; he emphasized the stresses by alliteration and rhyme. The example below comes from his poem, "Colin Clout":
And if ye stand in doubt
Who brought this about,
My name is Colin Clout.
I purpose to shake out
All my conning bag.
Like a clerkly hag.
For though my rhyme be ragged,
Tatteréd and jaggéd,
If ye takewell therewith,
It hath in it some pith. (qtd. in Deutsche 161-62)
Many later poets and critics disdained Skeltonic verse. James VI, for instance, declared it fit only for satirical poems, and the Romantic poets considered it ungraceful.
SKELTONICS: See Skeltonic verse.
(Greek "tent"): In classical Greek theaters, the skene
was a building in the front of the orchestra
that contained front and side doors from which actors could
quickly enter and exit. The skene probably also served as an
area for storing costumes and props.
Informal diction or the use of vocabulary considered inconsistent
with the preferred formal wording common among the educated
or elite in a culture. For instance, formal wording might require
a message such as this one: "Greetings. How are my people
doing?" The slang version might be as follows: "Yo.
Whassup with my peeps?"
RHYME (also called inexact rhyme): Rhymes created out of
words with similar but not identical sounds. In most of these
instances, either the vowel segments are different while the
consonants are identical, or vice versa. This type of rhyme
is also called approximate rhyme, inexact rhyme,
near rhyme, half rhyme, off rhyme, analyzed
rhyme, or suspended rhyme. The example below comes
from William Butler Yeats:
with emotion I sink down
My heart recovering with covered eyes;
Wherever I had looked I had looked upon
My permanent or impermanent images.
Slant rhyme has also
been used for splendid intentional effect in poems such as
Philip Larkins' "Toads" and "Toads Revisited,"
and has been increasingly popular with postmodern British
poets after World War II. Contrast with eye-rhyme
COMEDY: Low comedy in which humor depends almost entirely
on physical actions and sight gags. The antics of the three
stooges and the modern fourth stooge, Adam Sandler, often fall
into this category.
NARRATIVE: A narrative, often autobiographical in origin,
about a slave's life, perhaps including his original capture,
his punishments and daily labor, and his eventual escape to
freedom. Examples include Olaudah Equiano's Interesting
Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Aphra Behn's
Oroonoko, and Frederick Douglass's abolitionist
writings and speeches. Contrast with captivity
An eastern European sub-branch of Indo-European containing languages such as Slovenian, Slovakian, and Slavonian. Geographically, the speakers of the various slavic languages primarily reside in eastern Europe, much of the Balkans, parts of Central Eruope, and the northern regions of Asia, and linguists categorize the slavic languages into three smaller "leaf" branches: Eastern Slavic (Old East Slavic, Old Novgorod, Ruthenian, Belarusian, Russian, Ukrainian, and Rusyn); West Slavic (Czech, Slovak, Lechitic, Old Polish, Middle Polish, Polish, Pomeranian, Kashubian, Slovincian, Polabian, Sorbian, Knaanic), and South Slavic (Old Church Slavonic, Bulgarian, Macedonian, Church Slavonic, Serbo-Croatian, and Slovenian).
In linguistics, the monophthongization
of several Old English diphthongs.
A soft shoe worn by actors in Latin comedies, in contrast with
or kothorni worn in tragedies. Our modern English word
sock comes from this term. Often, the word sock
is used a metonym
for comedy in contrast with buskin as a metonym for
tragedy. Hence, Harry Shaw explains John Milton's reference
in L'Allegro to "the buskin'd stage" and
to Ben Jonson's "learned sock"--i.e., tragedy and
DIALECT: In linguistics, a dialect used by a special
social group rather than through an entire ethnicity or region.
REALISM: In literature, a branch of realism, especially
significant in Russian writing, that focuses on the lives of
middle and lower class characters (see realism).
At its worst, the movement becomes mere propaganda
to highlight bourgeois evils, proletariat virtues,
and glorifies the Soviet Union under the Stalinist regime. At
its best, this movement exposes ideological mystification and
presents accurate depictions of incipient class conflict.
SATIRE: Satire aimed specifically at the general foibles
of society rather than an attack on an individual. See discussion
DIALOGUE: An attempt to explore a philosophical problem
by presenting a series of speakers who argue about an issue
and ask each other questions. These various individuals hash
out their ideas, accepting some and dismissing others, to arrive
at a conclusion (or sometimes merely arrive nearer a conclusion).
This model is opposed to the "lecture" model of teaching
in which single authoritative experts present their conclusions
before students who accept and memorize the experts' judgment,
or the "treatise" model in which an author summarizes
his or her thinking in an essay for the reader. In the case
of Greek writings of Plato, Plato often presents the material
as a recorded debate between Socrates and his pupils, or between
Socrates and intellectuals of differing opinions, such as Gorgias
or Diogenes. Examples of Socratic dialogue can be found in The
Symposium, in which a number of dinner guests define the
nature of love, and in The Republic, in which a group
of thinkers speculate about what constitutes ideal government.
See also socratic
IRONY: Adapting a form of ironic false modesty in which
a speaker claims ignorance regarding a question or philosophical
problem. The speaker then turns to another "authority"
and raises the question humbly, asking for the expert's answer.
When the "authority," presents an answer, the "modest"
original speaker continues to ask pointed questions, eventually
revealing the limitations or inadequacies of the supposed expert--all
the while protesting his or her own inferior knowledge. The
irony comes from the speaker's continuing presentation of himself
as stupid even as he demolishes inferior ideas others present
to him. This is the method Socrates supposedly took regarding
philosophical inquiry, and it is named socratic irony in his
honor. See also irony
SOFT SCIENCE FICTION: See
discussion under science fiction.
Alvin Boyd Kuhn and Max Müller were philologists who attempted
to explain the origin of a number of myths and religious
practices by linking them to the animistic worship
of various celestial phenomena including meteorological events
gods), sky gods (e.g. Ouranos), and astronomical bodies (stars,
planets, moon, and most especially the sun). The name
"Solar Deity" refers to such a god generally, and "Solar
Myth" is thus the term most often linked with this school
to trace multiple deities or heroes (even in a single narrative)
back to primitive sun worship and identify analogues in various
legends of sun gods. Some medievalists like Roger S. Loomis
have gone so far as to trace various Arthurian characters
back to Celtic Solar Deities. The theory fell into
disfavor in late twentieth-century scholarship partly because
of its reductive "one-size-fits-all" approach to mythology,
and partly because some of the claims of Kuhn and Müller
proven false. For instance,
while Solar Myth theorists first argued that various
tribal deities and heros in Homeric and Hindu mythology
were later incarnations of early sun deities, later archeological
or philological evidence showed some of these local gods
were real historical figures who were later elevated to
godhood in the belief of future generations. An example of
this was Alfred Lyall's demonstration that the names of certain
Rajasthan deities could be linked to historical Rajput clan
leaders who lived only a century or two before their "apotheosis"
the Greek city Soloi): The area around the city
of Soloi in ancient Cilicia had a population who spoke a
nonstandard form of Attic Greek. Accordingly, the dominant
tended to make fun of them, parody them in plays, beat them
lunch money, etc. The term soloikos thus came to
connote grammatical mistakes, blunders in declension, errors
whatnot. This gives rise to our equivalent modern English
term, solecism. David Smith notes solecisms can
be helpful. In the original koine Greek,
the New Testament book of Revelation has a
large number of solecisms, a fact quite annoying to Saint
Augustine, but which has been very useful to modern biblical
John of Patmos (the author
of Revelation) from earlier church fathers like the disciple
John (who lived too early and spoke a different dialect).
spoken by an actor at a point in the play when the character
believes himself to be alone. The technique frequently reveals
a character's innermost thoughts, including his feelings, state
of mind, motives or intentions. The soliloquy often provides
necessary but otherwise inaccessible information to the audience.
The dramatic convention is that whatever a character says in
a soliloquy to the audience must be true, or at least true in
the eyes of the character speaking (i.e., the character may
tell lies to mislead other characters in the play, but whatever
he states in a soliloquy is a true reflection of what the speaker
believes or feels). The soliloquy was rare in Classical drama,
but Elizabethan and Jacobean playwrights used it extensively,
especially for their villains. Well-known examples include speeches
by the title characters of Macbeth, Richard III,
and Hamlet and also Iago in Othello. (Contrast
with an aside.)
Unlike the aside, a soliloquy is not usually indicated by specific
A lyric poem with a number of repeating stanzas (called refrains),
written to be set to music in either vocal performance or with
accompaniment of musical instruments. See dawn
song and lyric,
above and stanza,
A lyric poem of fourteen lines, usually in iambic pentameter,
with rhymes arranged according to certain definite patterns.
It usually expresses a single, complete idea or thought with
a reversal, twist, or change of direction in the concluding
lines. There are three common forms:
The Petrarchan sonnet
has an eight line stanza (called an octave) followed by a
six line stanza (called a sestet). The octave has two quatrains
rhyming abba, abba,
the first of which presents the theme, the second further
develops it. In the sestet, the first three lines reflect
on or exemplify the theme, while the last three bring the
poem to a unified end. The sestet may be arranged cdecde,
cdcdcd, or cdedce.
The Shakespearean sonnet
uses three quatrains; each rhymed differently, with a final,
independently rhymed couplet that makes an effective, unifying
climax to the whole. Its rhyme scheme is abab,
gg. Typically, the final
two lines follow a "turn" or a "volta," (sometimes spelled
volte, like volte-face) because they reverse,
undercut, or turn from the original line of thought to take
the idea in a new direction.
The Miltonic sonnet
is similar to the Petrarchan sonnet, but it does not divide
its thought between the octave and the sestet--the sense or
line of thinking runs straight from the eighth to ninth line.
Also, Milton expands the sonnet's repertoire to deal not only
with love as the earlier sonnets did, but also to include
politics, religion, and personal matters.
CYCLE: Another term for
sequence. See discussion below.
SEQUENCE: Also called
a sonnet cycle, this term refers to a gathering or arrangement
of sonnets by a single author so that the sonnets in that group
or arrangement deal with a single theme, situation, a particular
lady, or alternatively deal with what appears to be a sequential
story. Petrarch, Sidney, Spenser, and Shakespeare all engaged
in this practice, or at least the early editors of their works
did. The first major sonnet cycle in English was Sir Philip
Sidney's Astrophil and Stella (written
in the early 1580s, published in 1591). Others include Daniel's
Delia, Lodge's Phillis, Drayton's Idea's
Mirror, Constable's Diana, and Spenser's Amoretti.
Shakespeare's 154 sonnets, however, are best known of any sonnet
sequences today. See also discussion under Crown of Sonnets.
OF BEN: A school
of literature consisting mostly of cavalier
poets who were admirers/imitators of Ben Jonson. The Sons of
Ben focused on "lyrics of love and gallant compliment,"
as M. H. Abrams phrases it (213). The Sons of Ben include Sir
John Suckling, Thomas Carew, Robert Herrick, and Richard Lovelace.
SORTES VIRGILIANAE: (also spelled Sortes Vergiliana) Much as how Saint Augustine famously performed a sort of bibliomancy by randomly flipping to a scriptural passage from the Bible in the Garden at Milan when he sought spiritual advice, many Romans sought advice or predictions of the future by flipping through the works of the poet Virgil and reading the random passage for occult advice. Many Roman leaders purportedly used this technique, including Hadrian, Alexander Severus, Gordian II, and Claudius II.
A maidservant of independent and saucy temperament in the Italian
commedia dell'arte. This stock character helps two or
more young lovers overcome the blocking
agent that prevents their happy union.
Often, several words with similar meaning may coincidentally
a similar phoneme- combination in them. Because this particular
sound occurs in this pattern of words, the sound itself may
strongly associated with some quality in the words' connotation.
accident can become
a building block in poetry, allowing literary artists to
choose words that convey
some additional indirect meaning or create a line in which
the sound symbolism echoes or mirrors or contrasts with the
in that line.
For example, Denning and Leben point out how the phoneme
combination /sl/ indicates a
certain slippery nature in English words (43):
The connotations associated
with this sound mean a poet can use several /sl/ sounds
in a specific line to convey that slipperiness indirectly.
coining a new neologism, the creator of a new lubricant might
use the phoneme combination /sl/ in
the new product name to convey that quality. Poets describing
a sword-fight might want to convey swishing and clattering
sounds indirectly through alliteration, describing how the
"swaggering swain swung
his sword in answer" or the "clever
cut came close to carving
him as he jerked back blocking
Because the alliteration not
only borders on onomatopoeia but
actually connects with
of the lines--i.e., the sword-fight--it enters the realm
of sound symbolism. See also tone color.
(1) An earlier work of literature or folklore
used as the basis of a later work. Scholars use the term source
only when it is clear that one of the manuscripts or one piece
of oral transmission influenced a specific later work. If that
relationship is not clear, two works sharing similar material
or subject-matter are said to be analogues
if it is uncertain which one influenced the other or if both
might originate from some third, lost source. See also stemma
(2) When students write a research paper, their
sources are the original places where they found facts, ideas,
and quotations. Primary sources are the main
work of literature the students are citing and analyzing (such
as Shakespeare's Macbeth or Hemingway's The Sun
Also Rises). A secondary source comes
from all other materials--especially those later writings scholars
produce about Macbeth or Hemingway (or whatever the
topic is). Secondary sources might include articles in peer-reviewed
journals, biographies of the author, books analyzing or discussing
a particular work of literature, and so on. All literary analyses
should use quotations or references to the primary text as the
main componant of an argument--especially in the case of a close-reading.
Longer literary assignments such as research papers should also
make use of appropriate secondary research. See also peer-reviewed
OPERA: A subgenre of "soft" science
fiction especially popular between 1930-1960,
often used in a derogatory sense. These space
novels or short stories set in the distant future
after humanity has spent centuries or millenia colonizing
entire galaxy--or sometimes multiple galaxies. The narratives
typically feature some form of easy space travel via
technologies such as "hyperspace drives" or "warp
nacelles." This easy method of travel and colonization
allows the formation of huge space fleets to fight
each other using laser cannons and nuclear missiles. Behind
aramadas, vast interstellar empires compete with each other
(or with rebel forces, or with alien species) for territorial
control or political power. The governments imagined in these
books are often feudal in nature or else they are based
on empires from Earth's past history--i.e., the Roman Empire,
the British Empire of the 19th century, the Caliphates of
Middle East, the Samauri Shogunates of 16th century Japan,
and so on. In other cases, seeking models for future history,
the authors frequently rely upon parallels with the American
West or the exploration of Africa, and they create parallels
between sailing ships and spaceships, even going so far as
pirates. They frequently present readers with stark contrasts
in social and geographic
ice-worlds with desert worlds, or technologically wealthy
space-merchants with impoverished barbarians, and so on.
The stories often focus on characterization,
and (most especially)
than theme, symbolism
The first example is probably
Edison's Conquest of Mars (published 1898). The
editor Brian Aldiss later amassed a two-volume collection
to 1979 in
Galactic Empires. Other famous space operas include
E.E. Smith's Lensman series, and the genre's
literary grandchildren include Frank Herbert's Dune series,
Lois McMaster Bujold's
"Miles Vorkosigan" saga, Isaac Asimov's Foundation series,
Catherine Asaro's Saga of the Skolian Empire, and pop culture
films and television series like Star
Wars and Star
both of which have spawned literally hundreds of spinoffs
fiction novels in
their own rights.
SPATIAL ORGANIZATION: The arrangement of details or description in an easy-to-follow manner based on their location. For instance, an author might organize materials from left-to-right, front-to-back, east-to-west, near-to-far, inside-to-outside, etc. This method contrasts with chronological organization (i.e, arrangement in terms of time), or order of importance (i.e., arrangement in terms of least important to most important, or vice-versa). The method has been popular in composition partly because it was a traditional tool among classical rhetoricians. Such rhetoricians would encourage public speakers to memorize lengthy speeches by mentally constructing a "palace of memory," an imagined walking tour of a familiar place like a building, with the various points to be covered in the speech corresponding to different objects or locations in this imaginary structure. The 6th-century poet Simonides of Crete is one of the oldest classical figures to use the method.
POETIC: See poetic
A semantic change restricting the referents of a word--i.e.,
a linguistic movement from a more general to a more specific
meaning for a word. For instance, the Old English word wif (Modern
English wife) once meant merely "woman." However,
through linguistic specialization it has come to mean "married
woman" more specifically. In Middle English, a single
French loanword might be adopted twice over different centuries--once
from early Anglo-Norman French, and afterward from Central
French. They would have slight differences from each other
in spelling and pronunciation--so English speakers would give
each one a slightly specialized meaning--even though the two
originally meant the same thing in French. Examples include chief (leader
of a war band) and chef (leader of a kitchen). Both
were once the same word more or less meaning "leader" generally.
Also called "alternative history," speculative
fiction is science fiction that explores
how the "real world" we live in today might be
different if historic events had unfolded with slight changes.
For instance, Robert Harris' novel Fatherland asks,
what would Germany look like three decades later if
Nazi Germany had won World War II? Margaret Atwood's The
Handmaid's Tale asks, what would the U.S. look
like if a reproductive crisis (widespread sterility) allowed
regime to come to power and control women's reproduction?
ACT THEORY: An idea set forth by J. L. Austin's How
to Do Things with Words, which argues that language is often
a mode of action rather than a means of communication or conveying
information. Language-use that conveys information is called
constative, and constative sentences by their very nature are
either true or false in the sense that they are accurate or
inaccurate. Language-use that serves as a mode of action is
called performative. Performative language causes something
to happen merely by making assertion. Examples include the "I
do" statement in a wedding ceremony. Here, the act of making
the assertion is the same as the action itself. Other examples
include the following ones:
("I bet ten dollars that he drops the ball.")
a will ("To my beloved daughter, I leave my house and
my second-best bed.")
("Strike three! You are out!")
sentence ("This court finds you guilty of negligent
("You are christened John.")
("I dub thee Sir Lancelot.")
("In nomine patri, filii, et spiritu sancti, benedicite")
("I bid ten dollars.")
("I baptize you in the name of the father and the son
and the holy ghost.")
these examples above, the act of making the assertion
is the same as performing the act. Thus, these are examples
of performative language.
PREFIX: Often abbreviated "s.p.," this term
in drama refers to a character's name or an abbreviated version
of a character's name which indicates what actor is speaking
subsequent words in the text of a play. Conventionally, in modern
drama a colon or period separates the speech prefix from the
lines to be read. Here is an example with the prefixes indicated
Dost thou hear, my honest friend?
CLOWN: No, I hear not your honest friend,
I hear you.
Here, the first speech prefix
(Cass:) indicates Cassio is speaking the subsequent lines. Cassio's
words end when the next speech prefix indicates the Clown is
responding to his question.
SPÉIRBHEAN (Irish Gaelic, "sky-woman," pronounced like the English words "spare van"): A stock character in aisling poetry, the Spéirbhean is a female figure, either young and beautiful or aged and withered, who appears before the poet in a vision. She is similar to the supernatural female characters appearing in the French poetic genre of the reverdie. In aisling poetry, she usually represents the Irish people or the Irish nation.
PRONUNCIATION: An unhistorical way of pronouncing a
word based on the spelling of a word.
REFORM: Any effort to make spelling closer to actual
STANZA: A nine-line stanza rhyming in an ababbcbcc
pattern in which the first eight lines are pentameter and the
last line is an alexandrine.
The name spenserian comes from the form's most famous
user, Spenser, who used it in The Fairie Queene. Other
examples include Keat's "Eve of Saint Agnes" and Shelley's
"Adonais." The Spenserian stanza is probably the longest
and most intricate stanza generally employed in narrative poetry.
Another term in linguistics for a fricative.
GUIDE: A conventional figure in mythology,
in the medieval visio
and in shamanistic myths that serves as (1)
a guide to a lost or wandering soul or to (2)
a guide to the dreaming psyche of another character. The Greeks,
for instance, referred to Hermes Mercury as a psychopompos,
a soul-carrier to direct the deceased through the caverns of
Avernus to the edge of the River Styx, where Charon would ferry
the souls of the dead across the water into Hades. The figure
of Anubis guided Egyptian spirits to the afterlife, and so on.
In the medieval tradition of the visio,
the spirit guide would serve as a commentator for the confused
soul of a sleeping individual. Thus, we have a grandfatherly figure
guiding our narrator in the Somnium Scipionis, or Virgil
and Beatrice steering Dante through the Inferno and
upwards toward Paradiso, or the ghost of Pearl explaining
to her grieving father the nature of heaven. Chaucer gleefully
throws this medieval convention on its head in The Book
of the Duchess by making the narrator slip out of bed naked
to follow his spirit-guide (a puppy) for a short while during
a hunt--only to get lost and bumble on without it until he finds
the grieving Knight in Black. Non-medieval examples of the spirit
guide include the ghost of Marley who chastizes Ebeneezer Scrooge
in Dickens' A Christmas Carol, the totemic spirits
prominent in the vision-quests of Amerindian tribes, or even
the ebon bird guiding the rock-n-roll revenant seeking revenge
in Brandon Lee's film, The Crow.
An autobiography (usually Christian) that focuses on an individual's
spiritual growth. The plot is typically chronological in
structure, and it usually focuses on inner struggles within
the narrator, moving from pre-religious life, to a psychological
by a conversion narrative, to labor within the church or
within evangelical missions. The work often concludes with
an implied (or explicit) call to readers to convert. Examples
Patrick's Confession and Saint Augustine's Confessions.
The adjective spondaic describes a line of poetry in
which the feet are composed of successive spondees. See spondee,
a spondee is a metrical foot consisting of two successive strong
beats. The spondee typically is "slower" and "heavier"
to read than an iamb
or a dactyl.
Some words and phrases in English naturally form spondees when
they alone constitute a poetic foot.
Examples of such spondees include football,
Mayday, shortcake, plop-plop, fizz-fizz, dumbbell, drop-dead,
goof-off, race track, bathrobe, breakdown, dead man,
black hole, and love
song. See meter
for extended discussion, or click
here to download a PDF handout that contrasts spondees with
other types of poetic feet.
A comic piece of film or literature that ostensibly presents
itself as a "genre"
piece, but actually pokes fun at the clichés
of the genre through imitative satire.
Examples from the twentieth century include the novel Bloodsucking
Fiends: A Love Story, which is a postmodern spoof of those
literary conventions found in Gothic horror novels about vampires
and modern Harlequin romances about boy-meets-girl narratives.
Examples from medieval literature include Chaucer's "Sir
Thopas," which mocks the popular meter and conventions
of medieval romance. Late twentieth-century films have proven
especially prone to being spoofed in the last three decades,
as witnessed by Scary Music, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, The Naked
Gun 33 and 1/3, Blazing Saddles, and Young Frankenstein,
which spoof popular genres such as film noire,
police dramas, the western film, and 1930s black and white classic
horror movies, respectively.
The comic (and usually unintentional) transposition of two initial
consonants or other sounds. For example, saying "the queer
old dean" when one means to say, "the dear old queen,"
or speaking of "beery wenches" when one means "weary
benches" would be spoonerisms. The word comes from the
flustered English clergyman and Oxford don, Reverend W. A.
Spooner (1844-1930), who was famous for such slips of the tongue.
Spooner, in an apocryphal account,
once supposedly told a negligent student, "You have tasted
two worms, hissed my mystery lectures, and you must leave Oxford
by the first town drain." He of course meant to say, "You
have wasted two terms, missed my history lectures, and you must
leave Oxford by the first down-train."
(Ger. "speech bond"): A group of languages--often
technically unrelated to each other otherwise--that are spoken
in the same geographic area or shared by members of the same
occupation. Since they tend to share many bilingual speakers,
they tend to influence each other through loanwords and linguistic
VOWEL: Also called an unrounded vowel, in linguistics,
a vowel made with the corners of the lips retracted so the lips
are against the teeth. See unrounding.
(German, "saying, epigram"): This charming alliterative
term refers to a short lyrical poem set to music common among
the German Minnesingers. The term is usually used in contrast
with the Spruch (the original gnomic verse meant
to be spoken and read), while the Sprechspruch is meant
to be sung. The first examples appear in the 1100s, and the
most famous collection is the Bescheidenheit ("Modesty"),
which was a popular anthology until the 1500s.
(Italian, "recklessness"): An Italian term that doesn't
translate well into English, the word embodies both the appearance
of reckless spontaneity and its opposite quality, careful and
practiced preparation. Sprezzatura is carefully practicing
witticisms, cultured eloquence, and feats of athletic prowess
in private, and then later, when other viewers are present,
pretending to make the witticism, the eloquent speech, or the
athletic feat "off-the-cuff," i.e., spontaneously
and effortlessly. It would appear to viewers that the courtier's
superior performance was one triggered by superior creativity,
wit, and athleticism, and the performance would elide the hours
of preparation that the courtier took in developing the skill.
The Italian writer Baldessare Castiglione argues in his treatise,
The Book of the Courtier (1528), that sprezzatura
is one of the defining requirements for a young nobleman. Sir
Thomas Hoby translated Castiglione's treatise into English in
1561, where the treatise had a profound influence on courtly
manners in the Renaissance.
RHYTHM: Also called "accentual rhythm,"
sprung rhythm is a term invented by the poet-priest Gerard Manley
Hopkins to describe his personal metrical system in which the
major stresses are "sprung" from each line of poetry.
The accent falls on the first syllable of every foot and a varying
number of unaccented syllables following the accented one, but
all feet last an equal amount of time when being pronounced.
Hopkins wrote in his Preface to Poems (1918) the following
is measured by feet of from one to four syllables, regularly,
and for particular effects any number of weak or slack syllables
may be used. It has one stress, which falls on the only syllable,
if there is only one, or, if there are more, then scanning
as above, on the first, and so gives rise to four sorts of
feet, a monosyllable and the so-called accentual Trochee,
Dactyl, and the First Paeon [q.v.] And there will be four
corresponding natural rhythms; but nominally the three are
mixed and any one may follow any other. And hence Sprung Rhythm
differs from Running Rhythm [q.v.] in having or being only
one nominal rhythm, a mixed or "logaoedic" one,
instead of three, but on the other hand in having twice the
flexibility of foot, so that any two stresses may either follow
one another running or be divided by one, two, or three slack
syllables. [. . .] It is natural in Sprung Rhythm
for the lines to be rove over, that is for the scanning
of each line immediately to take up that of the one before,
so that if the first has one or more syllables at its end
the other must have so many the less at its beginning. [. . .]
Two licenses are natural to Sprung Rhythm. The one is rests,
as in music. [. . .] The other is hangers or
outrides, that is one, two, or three slack syllables
added to a foot and not counted in the nominal scanning. They
are so called because they seem to hang below the line or
ride forward or backward from it in another dimension than
the line itself.
The result of this technique
is unusual metrical irregularity, but Hopkins claimed that sprung
rhythm is found in most speech and in prose and music. This
poetic method actually predates Hopkins, as it was not unknown
in Old English and Middle English alliterative verse. However,
Hopkins' poetry helped revitalize interest in accentual rhythm,
and sprung rhythm has had a profound influence on T. S. Eliot,
Dylan Thomas, and Ted Hughes, as well other modernists. See
above. To read through a poem written in sprung rhythm, click
SQUIRE: A knight-in-training, a young boy who has
spent several years as a page to learn humility, patience, and
the manners of polite society and who is now acting as the servant
of a knight while he perfects his combat and riding skills.
In older medieval times, the offices of page and squire were
limited to the children of aristocrats. By the fourteenth century,
wealthy middle class or bourgeois
parents began making arrangements for their children to be trained
as pages in noble households. Chaucer himself served as a page
when he was young, for instance, even though he was of common
birth. In Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Chaucer depicts
a young squire as primarily concerned with romance and good
manners, while the older generation, represented by his father,
the pilgrim Knight, appears more concerned with important military
matters. This depiction might reveal something of medieval attitudes
toward knights, i.e., that "real" knights were a dying
breed, and these noble warriors were being replaced by younger
An area set aside or deliberately constructed as a place for
actors, dancers, musicians, or singers to perform. Often (but
not always) a stage is located in an indoor theater or a large
outdoor arena. It often has seating provided for an audience.
in the round, and scrim.
Probably the most famous stage in English history is the Globe
Theater in Shakespeare's London.
DIRECTION: Sometimes abbreviated "s.d.,"
the term in drama refers to part of the printed text in a play
that is not actually spoken by actors on stage, but which instead
indicates actions or activity for the actors to engage in. In
Shakespeare's day, these instructions were often given in Latin.
/ exuent and manet
ENGLISH: The more prestigious variety of English
described in prescriptivist dictionaries and grammars,
taught by instructors,
and used for public affairs. Typically the standard version
of a language has no regional limitations, but it instead
geographic area. It typically "does not tolerate variation,"
as Horobin phrases it (193), and is more resistant to
change than slang or jargon.
An arrangement of lines of verse in a pattern usually repeated
throughout the poem. Typically, each stanza has a fixed number
of verses or lines, a prevailing meter, and a consistent rhyme
scheme. A stanza may be a subdivision of a poem, or it may constitute
the entire poem. Early English terms for a stanza were "batch,"
"stave," and "fit." (Contrast with verse
paragraph and couplet
as alternative units of poetry, and contrast with genres
such as ballad,
STARINA: Another term in Russian literature for a bylina. See bylina for further discussion.
(plural stasima): From Greek "stationary song,"
a stasimon is an ode
sung by the chorus
in a Greek play after the chorus takes its position in the orchestra and remains standing motionless, instead of dancing.
The stasima also serve as dividing segments separating
of dialogue spoken by the actors. Structurally, a tragedy involves
a balanced alternation between the episodia and the
stasimon. See also chorus,
CHARACTER: A static character is a simplified character
who does not change or alter his or her personality over the
course of a narrative. Such static characters are also called
if they have little visible personality or if the author provides
little characterization for them. The term is used in contrast
with a round
character. See character,
REGISTER: Stephen Greenblatt provides the following
account books of the Company of Stationers (of which all printers
were legally required to be members), recording the fees paid
for permission to print new works as well as the fines exacted
for printing without permission. The Stationers' Register
thus provides a valuable if incomplete record of publication
Another term for stanza. See stanza.
In linguistics, a form consisting of a base and an affix to
which other affixes can be attached.
(plural stemmata): A record or diagram similar to a
family tree showing the connections between manuscripts of a
given literary work. See discussion under Ur-text.
A character who is so ordinary or unoriginal that the character
seems like an oversimplified representation of a type, gender,
class, religious group, or occupation. Cf. stock
Dialogue consisting of one-line speeches designed for rapid
delivery and snappy exchanges. Usually, the verbal parrying
is accompanied by the rhetorical device of antithesis
(see under schemes) and repetitive
patterns. The result is highly effective in creating verbal
tension and conflict. The earliest examples come from Greek
tragedy, where the technique was quite common. Examples also
appear in Hamlet (III, iv), Richard III (IV, iv),
and Love's Labour's Lost. Molière was fond of
it as well in Les femmes savantes. Stichomythy has become
increasingly rare in modern drama, however.
(Italian, "New Style"): See discussion
CHARACTER: A character type that appears repeatedly in
a particular literary genre,
one with certain conventional attributes or attitudes.
In the Old Comedy
of Greek drama, common stock characters included the alazon
(the imposter or self-deceiving braggart), the bomolochos
(the buffoon); and the eiron, the self-derogatory
and understating character. Stock characters in Elizabethan
drama include the miles gloriosus (the
braggart soldier), the melancholic man, the heroine disguised
as a handsome young man, the gullible country bumpkin, and the
machievelle as a villain. Stock characters
in medieval romances include the damsel in distress, the contemptuous
dwarf, the handsome young knight, the wild man of
the woods, and the senex
amans (the ugly old man married to a younger
girl). In modern detective fiction, the prostitute-with-a-heart-of-gold,
the hard-drinking P.I., and the corrupt police-officer are stereotypical
stock characters. Stock characters in western films might include
the noble sheriff, the whorehouse madam, the town drunkard,
See discussion under Roman
Also called a plosive, in linguistics, a stop
is any sound made by rapidly opening and closing airflow.
Italian flower songs--often interspersed within a larger work.
Robert Browning adapts many of these into English variants for
his poem, "Fra Lippo Lippi."
OF CONSCIOUSNESS: Writing in which a character's perceptions,
thoughts, and memories are presented in an apparently random
form, without regard for logical sequence, chronology, or syntax.
Often such writing makes no distinction between various levels
of reality--such as dreams, memories, imaginative thoughts or
real sensory perception. William James coined the phrase "stream
of consciousness" in his Principles of Psychology
(1890). The technique has been used by several authors and poets:
Katherine Anne Porter, Dorothy Richardson, James Joyce, Virginia
Woolf, Dorothy Richardson, T. S. Eliot, and William Faulkner.
Some critics treat the interior
a subset of the more general category, stream of consciousness.
Although interior monologues by earlier writers share some similarities
with stream of consciousness, the first clear appearance is
in Edouard Dujardin's Les lauriers sont coupés
(The Laurels Have Been Cut, 1888). Perhaps the most famous
example is the stream of consciousness section in James Joyce's
Ulysses, which climaxes in a forty-odd page interior
monologue of Molly Bloom, an extended passage with only one
punctuation mark. Cf. interior
In linguistics, the emphasis, length and loudness that mark
one syllable as more pronounced than another. In poetry, see
discussion under meter
LETTER: In paleography, a stroke letter was one made
mostly from minims (i.e., straight vertical lines). These included
the letters i, m,
and v. Such stroke letters in medieval
handwriting are often hard to distinguish from one another when
written in close proximity to each other. This led to scribes
inventing modifications like the dotted i
and the "descender" letters j
and y to help distinguish them
DECLENSION: In Germanic languages, any noun or adjective
declension in which the stem originally ended in a vowel.
VERB: In Germanic languages, a strong verb is one whose
linguistic principal parts were formed by ablaut of the stem
vowel, as opposed to a weak verb, which forms its parts by adding
a dental suffix such as -d
or -t to th end of the
stem. Examples of a strong verb surviving into modern English
would be the verb swim, with forms like swim,
swam, swum, as opposed to a weak
indicate, indicated, or have indicated.
In classical Greek literature like the play Antigonê
and the Pindaric Odes, the strophe and the
antistrophe were alternating stanzas sung aloud.
In drama, the chorus would sing the strophe, probably with rhythmic
pantomine or dance involved, and then the chorus would switch
to the antistrophe. It is possible the dance or pantomine would
then change directions or focus, alternating from the left or
right side of the stage depending upon the strophe movement
or the contrasting antistrophe movement.
GRAMMAR: Also called structuralism, this term refers
to a descriptivist
approach to grammar associated with mid-twentieth-century linguists
such as Franz Boas, Edward Sapir, and Leonard Bloomfield. The
purpose of this approach is to describe how language is actually
used rather than prescribing a "correct" version for
students to learn.
asked why so much of science fiction consisted of "crap"
(junk literature), science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon,
reportedly responded that "90% of everything was
crap." His point was that, yes, most science fiction
was poorly written, but the vast bulk of all writing everywhere
is also poorly written, so there's no surprise that a similar
ratio of quality to crud appears in any particular genre. Science
fiction fans have called this adage "Sturgeon's Law."
The author's words and the characteristic way that writer uses
language to achieve certain effects. An important part of interpreting
and understanding fiction is being attentive to the way the
author uses words. What effects, for instance, do word choice
and sentence structure have on a story and its meaning? How
does the author use imagery, figurative devices, repetition,
or allusion? In what ways does
the style seem appropriate or discordant with the work's subject
and theme? Some common styles might be labeled ornate, plain,
emotive, scientific, or whatnot. Most writers have their own
particular styles, thus we speak of the "Hemingway style"
or "Dickensian style." Click
here for more information.
Aspects of form or style
in contrast with aspects of content, i.e., stylistics are those
features that distinguish how certain writers write
rather than what they write about--such as sentence
length, preferred rhetorical devices, tendencies in diction,
SUBDUED METAPHOR: An implied metaphor rather than one directly stated. For instance, consider a simple metaphor: "His job was a dark shadow over his life." We have directly asserted that one thing (his job) was another (a dark shadow). We could turn that into a subdued metaphor by removing the verb was, and writing something like "He faced the dark shadow of his job." Here, the comparison between job and shadow persists, but the comparison is no longer directly stated, but is rather subdued.
A genitive case common in Greek grammar in which the genitive
functions as the origin or source (or subject) of the entire
grammatical construction. David Smith notes that in such
cases the substantive
modified by the genitives acts like the object;
he points to Philippians 4:7 as an example of a subjective genitive: "the peace
of [from] God" (Smith 9). In such cases, the Greek
indicates that the peace comes from God, not that
the peace belongs to God, and this distinction is
hard to convey in English without tweaking the preposition
of by replacing it with from.
Technically, of is a grammatically accurate choice
but it inaccurately suggests a purely possessive genitive in
English; from conveys the sense of origin more
accurately, but it falsely suggests a dative/ablative construction.
Philippians 3:14 is another example.
Click here for more information.
THE: The Greek rhetorician Longinus wrote a treatise
On the Sublime, which argued that sublimity ("loftiness")
is the most important quality of fine literature. The sublime
caused the reader to experience elestasis ("transport").
Edmund Burke developed this line of thought further in his influential
essay, "The Sublime and the Beautiful" (1757). Here,
he distinguished the sublime from the beautiful by suggesting
that the sublime was not a stylistic quality but the powerful
depiction of subjects that were vast, obscure, and powerful.
These sublime topics or subjects evoked "delightful horror"
in the viewer or reader, a combination of terror and amazed
pleasure. To illustrate the difference between beauty and sublimity,
we might say that gazing thoughtfully into a rosebud merely
involves the beautiful; gazing in awe into the Grand Canyon
from its edge involves the sublime--particularly if the viewer
is about to fall in. Contrast with bathos.
The area of the cosmos inside the orbit of the moon, including
the earth. In medieval and Renaissance theology, this area was
thought to be imperfect and subject to decay, death and mutability,
while the stars, planets, heavenly bodies, and celestial realms
were "fixed," i.e., perfect, unchanging, and immune to death
and decay. In early Christian cosmology, it was believed that
the earth was similarly perfect and unchanging until Adam's
fall from grace, after which old age, erosion, unstable weather,
decay, and mutability appeared in the sublunary realm.
A minor or subordinate secondary plot, often involving a deuteragonist's
struggles, which takes place simultaneously with a larger plot,
usually involving the protagonist.
The subplot often echoes or comments upon the direct plot either
directly or obliquely. Sometimes two opening subplots merge
into a single storyline later in a play or narrative.
A substantive word or phrase is one that can functoin as
a noun within a
sentence or clause. See especially substantive adjective,
ADJECTIVE: An adjective that stands by itself in the
place of an implied noun--a type of rhetorical ellipsis.
In the beatitudes, for instance, Christ says "Blessed are
the meek." Here, the word meek
is a substantive adjective for the implied meek
people. We talk of the "wails of the damned"
or the "troubles of the dispossessed."
One spaghetti Western confronts the audience with The Good,
the Bad, and the Ugly.
Karen Elizabeth Gordon writes that her grammar handbook is designed
"for the Innocent,
the Eager, and the Doomed."
These are all substantive adjectives that gleefully cast their
nouns aside and stand alone.
TEXT: A text based upon access to an original manuscript
as opposed to a text derived only from an earlier edition.
METRICAL: See metrical
RHETORICAL: The manipulation of the caesura
to create the effect of a series of different feet in a line
of poetry. Contrast with metrical
THEORY: The idea that an original language in a region
alters or affects later languages introduced there. Contrast
with the superstratum
SUCCESSION MYTH: A common motif in mythology in which a regime of older gods suffers defeat and replacement--often at the hands of a younger generation of divinities. An example would be Zeus leading an uprising against his cannibal father, Kronos, in Hesiod's Theogony. Two theories to explain this very common mythological idea are, (1) because the normal human life sequence involves the young replacing the old, this cycle asserts such a powerful archetypal significance that we re-create it in our supernatural accounts; or (2) such myths are actually echoes of much older (possibly even prehistoric) cultural clashes in which a newer invading people displace an indigenous people and its older religious practices. As the invaders bring their new gods, they assimilate into their stories the older legends of the original race in the area, but depict the old gods as "falling" or being replaced by the new gods they bring. This perhaps can account for redundant deities in Greco-Roman mythology--so we might have two similar divinities appearing in a single pantheon. Examples might be the Titan Hyperion and the god Apollo (both associated with the sun), or the Titan Oceanus and the god Poseidon (both associated with the sea).
(plural succubi): A demon-lover in feminine shape,
as opposed to an incubus (plural incubi),
the same sort of demon-lover in masculine shape. The term
comes from medieval demonology, which was probably influenced
by the Hebrew Zohar and its legends of lilitu
(the demonic daughters of Lilith that seduced men and killed
human infants). By the time the Maleus Maleficarum
was written in the fifteenth-century, late medieval writers
had posited an elaborate reproductive cycle for the succubus/incubus,
in which the demon would alternately seduce sleeping men in
its female shape, store the man's nocturnal emissions within
its body, then take on a masculine shape, seduce a woman, and
impregnate her with the stolen sperm.
The incubus/succubus became
a powerful image in literature. Chaucer's Wife of Bath,
for instance, claims in her tale that depraved friars are in
her day even more common and persistant than the incubi.
"Kubla Khan," Coleridge writes of a "woman wailing
for her demon lover" in a haunted grove, an image adapted
from legends of the demon-knight who seduces and destroys
In linguistics, an affix that comes after the base of a word.
(Latin, "highest" or "all", cf. Modern English
summation and summit): A treatise, essay,
or book that attempts to deal comprehensively with its topic,
especially one that is meant to be the "final word"
on a subject. Although it may seem like hubris to modern
readers to think a single book could answer every possible question
that could arise about a topic, medieval theologians were not
cowed from making the attempt. Probably the most famous summa
is Peter Abelard's Sic et Non, a book that attempts to
list every major argument about church doctrine. With atypical
political reserve, Abelard does not attempt to solve each debate,
but instead he merely lists all the "pro-" arguments
and authorities under the Sic column and all the "con-"
arguments and authorities under the Non column of each
entry. (Such tact is definitely not typical of the fiery scholar.)
Likewise Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica is probably
the most influential intellectual document in Christian theology
for its thorough attempt at completeness and its intricate,
Art historians have suggested
that the summa represents a typically medieval drive
to encapsulate and summarize the entire world, an urge that
also reveals itself in the architecture of gothic cathedrals.
Here, the artwork is carefully hierarchical, from outside to
inside and top to bottom, often with typological figures from
the Old Testament placed comprehensively next to their anti-typological
figure in the New Testament in stained glass and sculpture,
but still leaving room for even the demonic in the form of gargoyles
on the outside. A similar type of summa-like influence
might appear in the mystery
cycles of medieval drama, which attempt in three days
to portray the entirety of human history, from Creation to Judgment
Day. This idea that the universe can be accurately summarized
and portrayed in art may have also influenced Chaucer's ambitious
plans for his Canterbury Tales, in which Chaucer attempts
to encapsulate the entire human race by creating a humanly-faced
gallery of medieval occupations, and he attempts to encapsulate
the spiritual journey of human life from materialism to the
divine by using the artistic metaphor of a pilgrimage from a
sleazy bar in Southwerk to the grandeurs of Canterbury Cathedral.
Medieval law courts were divided into civil courts that tried
public offenses and ecclesiastical courts that tried offenses
against the church. Summoners were minor church officials whose
duties included summoning offenders to appear before the church
and receive sentence. By the fourteenth century, the job became
synonymous with extortion and corruption because many summoners
would take bribes from the individuals summoned to court. Chaucer
satirized a summoner in The Canterbury Tales.
LAWS: Laws that regulate the sort of clothing an individual
may wear. Classical Rome restricted certain types of garb to
the senatorial classes and equestrian classes, for instance.
In Classical China, only the Emperor was allowed to wear the
emblem of a five-fingered dragon on his garb or have it depicted
on personal possessions. In ancient Rome, only male citizens could wear the toga, with a plain white toga (toga virilis) worn by young teenage men, and other types of toga worn by particular government officials, while women had to wear a stola after the second century BCE. By the time of Emperor Augustus, it was illegal for Roman citizens to wear Greek clothing in the forum, so strict were the dress requirements.
Later, in medieval Europe and Britain through
the late Renaissance, the nobility enacted a series of sumptuary
laws to maintain distinctions between themselves and the rising bourgeois class. The bourgeoisie
were often quite wealthy, especially after the economic upheaval
of the Black Death (1348) caused labor shortages that forced
landowners to pay skilled laborers extra money. The newly wealthy
could afford to mimic the styles and fashions of the nobility,
and they did. This trend caused the nobility to enact laws stating
that non-noblity could no longer wear, for instance, silver
jewelry, or certain styles of footwear. We can see the guildsmen
in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales attempting to "push
the boundaries" of the sumptuary laws. For instance, the
five guildsmen all carry silver knives with them. (The law prohibits
silver jewelry, but says nothing about fine silver cutlery,
for instance.) Many of the sumptuary laws were anti-Semitic
in origin. For instance, in Britain, France, and Germany, sumptuary
laws required that all Jews wear on their clothing a yellow
circle to distinguish the wearers from their Christian neighbors.
Thus, the authorities could enforce more easily those laws that
stated Jews could not work at certain occupations, or hold land,
or whatnot. (That particular sumptuary law was revived during
Hitler's regime of World War II, except Hitler required a yellow
star of David instead of a yellow circle.)
In fourteenth-century Britain, sumptuary laws also indicated sexual status. For instance, only virgins were allowed to wear white in public--a fact that gets Margery Kempe of The Book of Margery Kempe into trouble when, after giving birth to fourteen children, she undergoes a spiritual revelation and begins wearing white as she travels to York preaching.
THEORY: The idea that a new language introduced into
a region alters or affects the language spoken there previously. Contrast
with the substratum
A supine verb form is one that is not fully conjugated. For
instance, the subjunctive
mood is often supine in modern English ("Had
he been dancing, he would have tripped"),
and thus easily confused with the pluperfect indicative ("He had
been dancing when he tripped.") Other languages
would express the distinction with markedly different verb
forms between the subjunctive and the indicative.
FORM: An inflectional form in which a common word has
its current inflection come from a completely different word
that later grew to be associated with it. For instance, the
preterite form of go is the suppletive form went.
In the past, these came from two different Old English verbs
entirely, but they have now blurred together to be considered
a single verb.
SURA: A section or chapter in the Koran consisting of varying numbers of verses (Cuddon 936). Not to be confused with sutra, below.
SURFACE STRUCTURE: In linguistics, Noam Chomsky distinguishes
between superficial "surface structure" and "deep
structure." Surface structure is a particular speech act
(parole) as distinct from the biological hardwiring
that generates individual speech acts.
ENDING: Another term for an O.
SURREALISM: An artistic movement doing away with the
restrictions of realism
that might be imposed on an artist. In this movement, the artist
sought to do away with conscious control and instead respond
to the irrational urges of the subconscious mind. From this
results the hallucinatory, bizarre, often nightmarish quality
of surrealistic paintings and writings. Sample surrealist painters
include Salvador Dalí and Joan Miró. Sample
surrealist writers include Frank O'Hara, John Ashberry, and
SUSPENSE (from Latin suspendere, "to leave hanging"): In literary works with a plot, suspense is "a state of uncertainty, anticipation, and curiosity as to the outcome of a story or play, or any kind of narrative in verse or prose" (Cuddon 937), i.e., emotional tension resulting from the reader's desire to know "what will happen next?" or "what is actually happening now"? Frequently, the greatest moment of suspension occurs at the climax of the plot in Freytag's Pyramid.
As T. A. Shipley notes, the two main types of suspense (uncertainty and anticipation) appear in the earliest surviving literary works in Greece (563). While Euripides and Sophocles usually wrote about mythological materials already familiar to their audiences (and thus could not create suspense by making the audience guess what would happen next), Euripides created suspense by mixing false or misleading foreshadowing with real foreshadowing alluding to upcoming events (563). Such playwrights were also fond of creating suspense by dramatic irony in which the characters on stage would make statements or take actions ironically incongruous with what the audience would know is about to happen. A good example here would be the dialogue between Oedipus and the prophet Teiresias in Sophocles' Oedipus Rex.
In more recent examples, in Richard Connell's short story, "The Most Dangerous Game," the reader is in suspense regarding whether or not the hero or the villainous hunter will survive as the two face off in a final battle. In Hamlet, much of the suspense arises from the protagonist's continuing procrastination--will he or won't he take up the task of killing his uncle? The more Hamlet delays, the more bodies pile up until the final climactic scene in which swordfights, poison, and invading foreign army all collide on stage practically simultaneously. Other authors might frustrate the reader's desires deliberately, as in Frank Stockton's "The Lady or the Tiger," in which a somewhat sadistic narrator describes a thought-provoking scenario. In this scenario, a young man is to be put to death. He is locked in an arena with two adjourning gates, and his young lover must decide his fate. This jealous young girl must choose whether to open a gate releasing a starving tiger into the arena from one gate, or instead open a second gate that would release a beautiful girl into the arena with him, a sexual competitor for the young man's attentions. The narrator describes at length why she might open one gate or the other, either saving her lover but throwing him in the arms of another woman, or killing her lover but blocking the advances of her rival. In the final lines, however, the narrator declares he is not a position to know what happened "historically," and thus leaves it to the reader to determine, "which came out of the open door--the lady, or the tiger?"
Often writers will use suspense to manipulate the reader by terminating a section of the narrative at a dramatic point. The idea here is often to lure the reader or audience back to the story at some future date. Examples of this would be cliffhangers that deliberately (and sometimes literally) leave the hero hanging off the edge of a cliff at the end of a chapter or scene, or the strategy of Scherazhade in the 1001 Arabian Nights, who continually whets the Sultan's appetite to hear the rest of a story, so he spares her life for another night rather than executing her.
Suspense is typically a vital component in genres such as mystery novels, penny dreadfuls, ghost stories, creepypastas, and action-adventure novels.
OF DISBELIEF: See willing
suspension of disbelief.
SUTRA: (1) A Sanskrit term for a poetic treatise or essay written in verse. (2) A Sanskrit phrase or saying (often educational or spiritual) designed for easy memorization. In the history of printing, one of the early experimental attempts at print was The Diamond Sutras. Not to be confused with sura, above.
VOWEL: See discussion under intrusive
ANCEPS: Also called a syllable anceps,
the term refers to a syllable that may optionally be read as either long
or short--especially a syllable at the end of a line. See discussion
under sapphic meter.
A writing system in which each symbol represents a syllable
such as in Japanese kana (hiragana and katakana)
scripts or in Sequoia's writing system for Amerindian readers.
A specialized form of zeugma in which the meaning of a verb
cleverly changes halfway through a sentence but remains grammatically correct. See discussion
A word, place, character, or object that means something beyond
what it is on a literal level. For instance, consider the stop
sign. It is literally a metal octagon painted red with white
streaks. However, everyone on American roads will be safer if
we understand that this object also represents the act of coming
to a complete stop--an idea hard to encompass briefly without
some sort of symbolic substitute. In literature, symbols can
be cultural, contextual, or personal. (See cultural
symbol, and personal
symbol.) An object, a setting, or even a character can
represent another more general idea. Allegories are narratives
read in such a way that nearly every element serves as an interrelated
symbol, and the narrative's meaning can be read either literally
or as a symbolic statement about a political, spiritual, or
psychological truth. See also allegory,
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a pdf handout contrasting allegory and symbolism in greater
characters are characters whose primary literary function is
symbolic, even though the character may retain normal or realistic
qualities. For instance, in Ellison's Invisible Man,
the character Ras is on a literal level an angry young black
man who leads rioters in an urban rampage. However, the character
Ras is a symbol of "race" (as his name phonetically
suggests), and he represents the frustration and violence inherent
in people who are denied equality. Cf. allegory.
WORD: In linguistics, this is a new word created because
it sounds similar to another word with strong semantic associations.
Algeo lists examples such as gleam,
and glow, where the gl-
suggests light (331).
Frequent use of words, places, characters, or objects that mean
something beyond what they are on a literal level. Often the
may be ambiguous in meaning. When multiple objects or characters
each seem to have a restricted symbolic meaning, what often
results is an allegory.
Contrast with allegory,
Click here to download
a pdf handout contrasting allegory and symbolism in greater
Repeating words at both the beginning and the ending of
a phrase. In St. Paul's letters, he seeks symploce to reinforce
in the reader the fact that his opponents are no better than
he is: "Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am
I. Are they of the seed of Abraham? So am I" (2 Cor. 11:22-23).
anadiplosis. Symploce is an example of a
SYMPOSIUM (plural symposia):
An after-dinner speech contest or informal debate, often marked by dancing girls, drinking games, sexual activity, and philosophical argument. Such spontaneous
talks were popular in classical Athens as evening entertainment.
Probably the most famous is that one depicted in Plato's
When two vowels appear side-by-side within a single word, and
the poet blurs them together into a single syllable to make
his meter fit. Contrast with elision,
The examination of a subject such as literature, linguistics,
or history when focusing on a single point of time--but perhaps
across a wide geographic area, a variety of economic situations
or through comparison and contrast of that subject with related
ones in the same time period. Synchronic studies are, however,
not concerned with historical change. This term contrasts with
study--one that focuses on historical change across time and
examines that single topic over a period of years or centuries.
A syncopated word has lost a sound or letter. This syncopation
because of contractions, linguistic erosion over time, or
intentional poetic artifice. See syncope.
The use of syncope.
When a desperate poet drops a vowel sound between two consonants
to make the meter match in each line. It can also be used as
a rhetorical device any time a writer deletes a syllable or
letter from the middle of a word. For instance, in Cymbeline,
Shakespeare writes of how, "Thou
thy worldy task hast done, / Home art gone, and ta'en thy wages"
(4.2.258). In 2 Henry IV, we hear a flatterer say, "Your
lordship, though not clean past your youth, hath yet some smack
of age in you, some relish of the saltness of time"
(1.2.112). Here, the -i- in saltiness has vanished
to create a new word. Syncope is an example of a rhetorical
A rhetorical trope involving a part of an object representing
the whole, or the whole of an object representing a part. For
instance, a writer might state, "Twenty eyes watched our every
move." Rather than implying that twenty disembodied eyes are
swiveling to follow him as he walks by, she means that ten people
watched the group's every move. When a captain calls out, "All
hands on deck," he wants the whole sailors, not just their
hands. When a cowboy talks about owning "forty head of
cattle," he isn't talking about stuffed cowskulls hanging
in his trophy room, but rather forty live cows and their bovine
bodies. When La Fontaine states, "A hungry stomach has no ears,"
he uses synecdoche and metonymy
simultaneously to refer to the way that starving people do not
want to listen to arguments. In the New Testament, a similar
synecdoche about the stomach appears. Here, the stomach represents
all the physical appetites, and the heart represents the entire
set of personal beliefs. Paul writes:
I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and
offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and
avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus
Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches
deceive the hearts of the simple.
Likewise, when Christians
pray, "Give us this day our daily bread," they
aren't asking God for bread alone, but rather they use
the word as
a synecdoche for all the mundane necessities of food and shelter.
In the demonic play Faust, Marlowe writes of Helen
of Troy, "Was this the face that launched a thousand
ships, / And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?" The thousand
ships is a synecdoche for the entire Greek
army: i.e., men, horses, weapons, and all. Likewise,
are a synecdoche; they are one part of the doomed city's architecture
that represents the entire city and its way of life. Helen's
face is a decorous synecdoche
for Helen's entire sexy body, since her suitors were presumably
in more than her visage alone. Eliot writes in "The Love
Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" that Prufrock "should
have been a pair of ragged claws / Scuttling across the floor
of silent seas." Here, the synecdoche implies the incompleteness
of the poetic speaker. Prufrock is so futile and helpless,
shouldn't even be a complete crab, only the crab's claws scuttling
along without a complete body, brain, or sense of direction.
Henry IV implies that the city of Paris deserves some honorable
ceremony when he claims, "Paris is well worth a mass,"
and so on.
Synecdoche is often similar
to and overlaps with metonymy,
above. It is an example of a rhetorical trope.
(also spelled synesthesia, from Grk. "perceiving
together"): A rhetorical trope involving shifts in imagery or sensory metaphors.
It involves taking one type of sensory input (sight, sound,
smell, touch, taste) and comingling it with another separate
sense in what seems an impossible way. In the resulting figure of speech,
we end up talking about how a color sounds, or how a smell looks.
When we say a musician hits a "blue note" while playing
a sad song, we engage in synaesthesia. When we talk about a
certain shade of color as a "cool green," we mix tactile
or thermal imagery with visual imagery the same way. When we
talk about a "heavy silence," we also use synaesthesia.
Examples abound: "The scent of the rose rang like a bell through
the garden." "I caressed the darkness with cool fingers." French
poets, especially Baudelaire in Les fleurs du mal,
have proven especially eager to use synaesthesia. The term itself
is a fairly late addition to rhetoric and literary terminology,
first coined in 1892, though examples of this figure of speech
can be found in Homer, Aeschylus, Donne, Shelley, Crashaw, and
scores of other writers and poets. Neurologists also have identified certain rare individuals who experience such blending of the senses, often associating a color with a number or letter. See examples under tropes.
SYNCHRONIC: A synchronic study is one that provides
an overview of a subject at a particular moment in time, as
opposed to a diachronic study, which traces
changes from one time period to the next across many years or
centuries. For example, in linguistics, etymology is a diachronic
study--one concerned with where words came from in the past
and how their meanings have changed from century to century.
Saussurian linguistics, on the other hand, studies language
synchronically as a functioning system of signs existing at
the present moment without studying developmental changes across
An alternative spelling of synaesthesia,
The three first gospels (Matthew Mark, Luke), which share
several textual similarities. Biblical scholars think
they might be adaptations from a single lost source known
Q-Text. This contrasts with the fourth gospel, John, which
does not share these traits. Thus, Matthew, Mark and Luke
are synoptic, but John is non-synoptic.
CHANGE: Any change in language resulting from the influence
of nearby sounds or words. Examples include linguistic assimilation
Greek syntaxis): As David Smith puts it, "the orderly
arrangement of words into sentences to express ideas," i.e.,
the standard word order and sentence structure of a language,
as opposed to diction
(the actual choice of words) or content (the
meaning of individual words). Standard English syntax prefers
pattern, but poets may tweak syntax to achieve rhetorical or
poetic effects. Intentionally disrupting word order for a
effect is called anastrophe.
Syntax is often distinguished from morphology and grammar.
that syntax is what allows us to produce sequential grammatical
units such as phrases, clauses, and sentences. See also analytic language and synthetic language.
(also called a declined
language): Not to be confused with an artificial
or made-up language like Esperanto or Tolkien's Elvish, a synthetic
language is one in which word order is irrelevant for determining
meaning. Instead of using word order (i.e., Subject-Verb-Object
or some similar pattern), a synthetic language uses special
endings attached to the ends of nouns. These patterned endings,
indicate what noun in the sentence is a subject, what noun
is a direct
or indirect object, and so on, generally establishing the relationship
between different parts of speech. Synthetic languages allow
a great degree of poetic freedom in word order. Examples of
synthetic languages include Latin, German, koine Greek,
Welsh, and Anglo-Saxon. The opposite type of language is
language such as Modern English, Spanish, or French. See also
sentence. Click here for
(from Greek "yoke"): In classical prosody, syzygy
describes the combination of any two feet into another single metrical
unit. It is often used interchangeably with the more precise
which refers more specifically to the metrical substitution
of two normal feet, usually iambs or trochees, under a more
powerful beat, so that a "galloping" or "rolling"
rhythm results. See meter,
I consulted the following works
while preparing this list. I have tried to give credit to specific sources when
feasible, but in many cases multiple reference works use the same examples or
provide the same dates for common information. Students should examine these
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