Terms and Definitions: C
This page is under perpetual
construction! It was last updated April 24, 2018.
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.
(Greek, "bad sound"): The term in poetry refers
to the use of words that combine sharp, harsh, hissing, or unmelodious
sounds. It is the opposite of euphony.
(Dutch cadel and/or French cadeau, meaning "a
gift; a little something extra"): A small addition or "extra"
item added to an initial
letter. Common cadels include pen-drawn faces or grotesques.
Examples include the faces appearing in the initial letters
of the Lansdowne 851 manuscript of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.
The melodic pattern just before the end of a sentence or phrase--for
instance an interrogation or an exhortation. More generally,
the natural rhythm of language depending on the position of
stressed and unstressed syllables. Cadence is a major component
of individual writers' styles. A cadence
group is a coherent group of words spoken as a single rhythmical
unit, such as a prepositional phrase, "of parting day"
or a noun phrase, "our inalienable rights."
See discussion under cadence.
(plural: caesurae): A pause separating phrases
within lines of poetry--an important part of poetic rhythm.
The term caesura comes from the Latin "a cutting"
or "a slicing." Some editors will indicate a caesura
by inserting a slash (/) in the middle of a poetic line. Others
insert extra space in this location. Others do not indicate
the caesura typographically at all.
An expression formed by individually translating parts of a
longer foreign expression and then combining them in a way that
may or may not make literal sense in the new language. Algeo
provides the example of the English phrase trial balloon,
which is a calque for the French ballon d'essai (Algeo
WORK: In medieval manuscripts, this is (as Kathleen Scott
work, usually developing from or used to make up an important
or introductory initial, or developing from ascenders at the
top of the page and descenders at the bottom of the justified
text; a series of strokes made by holding a quill constant at
one angle to produce broader and narrower lines, which in combination
appear to overlap one another to form strap-work"
A bibliographical term referring to a leaf which is substituted
for one removed by the printers because of an error. For instance,
the first quarto of Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida
has a title page existing in both cancelled and uncancelled
states, leaving modern readers in some doubt as to whether the
play should be considered a comedy, history, or tragedy.
(from Grk kanon, meaning "reed" or "measuring
rod"): Canon has three general meanings. (1)
An approved or traditional collection of works. Originally,
the term "canon" applied to the list of books to be included
as authentic biblical doctrine in the Hebrew and Christian Bible,
as opposed to apocryphal works (works of dubious,
mysterious or uncertain origin). Click here for more
information. (2) Today, literature students
typically use the word canon to refer to those works
in anthologies that have come to be considered standard or traditionally
included in the classroom and published textbooks. In this sense,
"the canon" denotes the entire body of literature
traditionally thought to be suitable for admiration and study.
(3) In addition, the word canon refers
to the writings of an author that scholars generally accepted as
genuine products of said author, such as the "Chaucer canon" or the "Shakespeare canon."
Chaucer's canon includes The Canterbury Tales, for instance,
but it does not include the apocryphal work, "The Plowman's
Tale," which has been mistakenly attributed to him in the past.
Likewise, the Shakespearean canon has only two apocryphal plays
(Pericles and the Two Noble Kinsmen) that
have gained wide acceptance as authentic Shakespearean works
beyond the thirty-six plays contained in the First Folio. NB:
Do not confuse the spelling of cannon (the big gun) with
canon (the official collection of literary works).
The issue of canonical literature
is a thorny one. Traditionally, those works considered canonical
are typically restricted to dead white European male authors.
Many modern critics and teachers argue that women, minorities,
and non-Western writers are left out of the literary canon unfairly.
Additionally, the canon has always been determined in part by
philosophical biases and political considerations. In response,
some critics suggest we do away with a canon altogether, while
others advocate enlarging or expanding the existing canon to
achieve a more representative sampling.
A hymn or religious song using words from any part of the Bible
except the Psalms.
A sub-division of an epic or narrative poem comparable to
a chapter in a novel. Examples include the divisions in Dante's
Divine Comedy, Lord Byron's Childe Harold, or
Spenser's Faerie Queene. Cf. fit.
In general, the term has three meanings. (1) It refers generally
to the words of a Provençal or Italian song. (2) More
specifically, an Italian or Provençal song relating to
love or the praise of beauty is a canzone. (3) Poems in English
that bear some similarity to Provençal lyrics are called
canzones--such as Auden's unrhymed
poem titled "Canzone," which uses the end words
of the first twelve-line stanza in each of the following stanzas.
NARRATIVE: A narrative, usually autobiographical in
origin, concerning colonials or settlers who are captured by
Amerindian or aboriginal tribes and live among them for some
time before gaining freedom. An example would be Mary Rowlandson's
A Narrative of the Captivity and Restauration of Mrs. Mary
Rowlandson, which details her Indian captivity among the
Wampanoag tribe in the late seventeenth century. Contrast with
literature and slave
VIRTUES (also called the Four Pagan Virtues):
In contrast to the three spiritual or Christian virtues of fides
(faith), spes (hope), and caritas
(love) espoused in the New Testament, the four cardinal virtues
consisted of prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice. Theologians
like Saint Augustine argued Christians alone monopolized faith
in a true God, hope of a real afterlife, and the ability to
love human beings not for their own sake, but as a manifestation
of God's creation. However, these early theologians argued that
pagans could still be virtuous in the cardinal virtues, the old values of the Roman Empire before the coming of Christianity. In Latin
terminology, pagan Rome espoused the four cardinal virtues as
(or sapientia): prudence, wisdom,
foresight, planning ahead for emergencies, seeing the good
of the whole community
fortitude, toughness, bravery, enduring pain in stoic silence,
willingness to sacrifice or suffer for the good of the whole
moderatio (or temperentia):
moderation, avoiding extremes of appetite and enthusiasm,
justice, the preservation of the good and the punishment
of the wicked.
The Latin four-fold classification--later
adopted by Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas--originates
in much older Greek philosophy. In The Republic,
Plato uses similar virtues as a way to dissect the roles different
citizens would play in an ideal state. Cf. pietas. Cf. Seven Deadly Sins.
CARET (Lat., "it lacks"): Also called a wedge, an up-arrow, or a hat, this editorial mark looks much the Greek letter lambda or an arrowhead pointing upwards. Here is an example: ^. An editor will write a caret underneath a line of text to indicate that a word, letter, or punctuation mark needs insertion at the spot where the two lines converge.
CARMEN: (Lat. "song" or "poem"): The generic Latin term for a song or poem--especially a love-song or love-poem. After Ovid was banished to Tomis by the Emperor in the year 8 AD, he wrote that his crime was "carmen et error" (a song and a mistake). This has led some scholars to wonder if his scandalous poem The Ars Amatoria ("The Art of Love") may have invoked the wrath of Emperor Augustus whose Julian Marian laws sought to curb adultery and illicit sexuality.
Literally, the phrase is Latin for "seize the day," from carpere
(to pluck, harvest, or grab) and the accusative form of die
(day). The term refers to a common moral or theme
in classical literature that the reader should make the most
out of life and should enjoy it before it ends. Poetry or
that illustrates this moral is often called poetry or literature
of the "carpe diem" tradition. Examples include Marvell's
"To His Coy Mistress," and Herrick's "To the Virgins, to Make
Much of Time." Cf. Anacreontics, Roman
mundi, and the ubi
The inflectional form of a noun, pronoun, or (in some languages)
adjective that shows how the word relates to the verb or to
other nouns of the same clause. For instance, them
is the objective case of they,
and their is the possessive
case of they. Common cases
include the nominative, the accusative, the genitive, the dative,
the ablative, the vocative, and the instrumental forms. Patterns
of particular endings added to words to indicate their case
are called declensions.
Click here for expanded information.
DIALECT: A dialect spoken by specific hereditary classes
in a society. Often the use of caste dialect marks the speaker
as part of that particular class. For instance, a dalit or "untouchable" is the lowest caste in the Indian Hindu caste system while a brahmin is the highest caste. Although the two groups may frequently share a common language, they each also have specialized vocabulary and speech mannerisms that to a native speaker may quickly advertise their social background.
(Grk. "misuse"): A completely impossible figure
of speech or an implied metaphor that results from combining
other extreme figures of speech such as anthimeria,
The results in each case are so unique that it is hard to state
a general figure of speech that embodies all of the possible
results. It is far easier to give examples. For instance, Hamlet
says of Gertrude, "I will speak daggers to her." A
man can speak words, but no one can literally speak daggers.
In spite of that impossibility, readers know Shakespeare means
Hamlet will address Gertrude in a painful, contemptuous way.
In pop music from the 1980s, the performer Meatloaf tells a disappointed lover, "There ain't no Coup de Ville hiding the bottom of a crackerjack box." The image of a luxury car hidden as a prize in the bottom of a tiny cardboard candybox emphasizes how unlikely or impossible it is his hopeful lover will find such a fantastic treasure in someone as cheap, common, and unworthy as the speaker in these lyrics. Sometimes the catachresis results from stacking one impossibility
on top of another. Consider these
existed a void inside that void within his mind."
will have kittens when he hears this!"
will sing victories for you."
man that studies revenge keeps his own wounds green."--Bacon
do not ask much: / I beg cold comfort." --Shakespeare,
(King John 5.7.41)
complexion is perfect gallows"--Shakespeare, (Tempest
that White Sustenance--Despair"--Dickinson
Oriel Common Room stank of logic" --Cardinal Newman
I could lose all Father now"--Ben Jonson, on the death
of his seven-year old son.
voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses" --e.e.
For a more recent example, consider the disturbingly cheerful pop song by Foster the People, "Pumped Up Kicks," which deals with a school shooting. Here, the shooter/narrator thinks, "I've waited for a long time. Yeah, the sleight of my hand is now a quick-pull trigger. / I reason with my cigarette." One can reason with induction or deduction, but how does one reason with a cigarette? Here, the catachresis might evoke the idea of the "cool" kid using personal style instead of a persuasive argument, or it might evoke the imagery of torture--burning victims with a cigarette-butt to make one's point. This sort of evocative, almost nonsensical language is the heart of good catachresis. Other examples, in The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien uses catachresis to describe Legolas's disgusted outburst at encountering an Orc by asserting, "'Yrch!' siad Legolas, falling into his own tongue.'" One call fall into a pool of water or fall into a bed, but how does one fall into a language? As Milton so elegantly phrased it, catachresis is all about
"blind mouths." Such catachresis often results
A special subtype of catachresis
a mixed metaphor that results when two metaphors collide. For
instance, one U. S. senator learned of an unlikely political
alliance. He is said to have exclaimed, "Now that is a
horse of a different feather." This abusio is the
result of two metaphors. The first is the cliché
metaphor comparing anything unusual to "a horse of a different
color." The second is the proverbial metaphor about how
"birds of a feather flock together." However, by taking
the two dead metaphors and combining them, the resulting image
of "a horse of a different feather" truly emphasizes
how bizarre and unlikely the resulting political alliance was.
Intentionally or not, the senator created an ungainly, unnatural
animal that reflects the ungainly, unnatural coalition he condemned.
Purists of languages often
scrowl at abusio with good reason. Too commonly abusio
is the result of sloppy writing, such as the history student
who wrote "the dreadful hand of totalitarianism watches
all that goes on around it and growls at its enemies."
(It would have been better to stick with a single metaphor and
state "the eye of totalitarianism watches all that goes
on around it and glares at its enemies." We should leave
out the mixed imagery of watchful hands growling at people;
it's just stupid and inconsistent.) However, when used intentionally
for a subtle effect, abusio and catachresis can
be powerful tools for originality.
In poetry, a catalectic line is a truncated line in which one
or more unstressed syllables have been dropped, especially in the final metrical foot. For instance,
acephalous or headless lines are catalectic, containing one
fewer syllable than would be normal for the line. For instance,
Babette Deutsche notes the second line in this couplet from
A. E. Housman is catalectic:
if my ways are not as theirs,
Let them mind their own affairs.
On the other hand, in trochaic
verse, the final syllable tends to be the truncated one, as
Deutsche notes about the first two lines of Shelley's stanza:
when soft voices die,
Vibrates in the memory--
Odours, when sweet violets sicken,
Live within the senses they quicken.
The term catalectic contrasts
with an acatalectic line, which refers
to a "normal" line of poetry containing the expected number
of syllables in each line, or a hypercatalectic
line, which has one or more extra syllables than would normally
Truncation of a poetic line--i.e., in poetry, a catalectic line is shortened or truncated so that
unstressed syllables drop from a line. The act of such truncation is called catalexis. If catalexis occurs at
the start of a line, that line is said to be acephalous or headless.
Creating long lists for poetic or rhetorical effect. The technique
is common in epic
literature, where conventionally the poet would devise long
lists of famous princes, aristocrats, warriors, and mythic heroes
to be lined up in battle and slaughtered. The technique is also
common in the practice of giving illustrious genealogies ("and
so-and-so begat so-and-so," or "x, son of y, son of
z" etc.) for famous individuals. An example in American
literature is Whitman's multi-page catalog of American types
in section 15 of "Song of Myself." An excerpt appears
pure contralto sings in the organ loft,
The carpenter dresses his plank, the tongue of his foreplane
whistles its wild ascending lisp,
The married and unmarried children ride home to their Thanksgiving
The pilot seizes the king-pin, he heaves down with a strong
The mate stands braced in the whale-boat, lance and harpoon
The duck-shooter walks by silent and cautious stretches,
deacons are ordained with crossed hands at the altar,
The spinning-girl retreats and advances to the hum of the
The farmer stops by the bars as he walks on a First-day
loaf and looks at the oats and rye,
lunatic is carried at last to the asylum a confirmed case....
One of the more humorous
examples of cataloging appears in the Welsh Mabinogion.
In one tale, "Culhwch and Olwen," the protagonist
invokes in an oath all the names of King Arthur's companion-warriors,
giving lists of their unusual attributes or abilities running
to six pages.
The "turning downward" of the plot in a classical
tragedy. By tradition, the catastrophe occurs in the fourth
act of the play after the climax. (See tragedy.)
illustrates visually the normal charting of the catastrophe
in a plotline.
CATCH: A lyric poem or song meant to be sung as a round, with the words arranged in each line so that the audience will hear a hidden (often humorous or ribald) message as the groups of singers sing their separate lyrics and space out the wording of the poem. For example, one might write a song in which the first line contained the words "up," the word "look" appears in the middle of the third line, the word "dress" appears in the second line, and the word "her" appears in the middle of the fourth line. When the song or poem is sung as a round by four groups of singers, the word order and timing is arranged so that the singers create the hidden phrase "look up her dress" as they sing, to the amusement of the audience as they listen to an otherwise innocent set of lyrics. Robert Herrick's "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time" is an example of a catch, and when William Lawes adapted the poem to music for Milton's masque Comus, it became one of the most popular drinking songs of the 1600s (Damrosche 844-45).
This phrase comes from printing; it refers to a trick printers
would use to keep pages in their proper order. The printer would
print a specific word below the text at the bottom of a page.
This word would match the first word on the next page. A printer
could thus check the order by flipping quickly from one page
to the next and making sure the catchword matched appropriately.
This trick has been valuable to modern codicologists because
it allows us to note missing pages that have been lost, misplaced,
An emotional discharge that brings about a moral or spiritual
renewal or welcome relief from tension and anxiety. According
to Aristotle, catharsis is the marking feature and ultimate
end of any tragic artistic work. He writes in his Poetics
(c. 350 BCE): "Tragedy is an imitation of an action that is
serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; . . .
through pity [eleos] and fear [phobos] effecting
the proper purgation [catharsis] of these emotions"
(Book 6.2). (See tragedy.)
Click here to download
a pdf handout concerning this material.
RHYME: Another term for tail-rhyme or rime
couée. See discussion under tail-rhyme.
A follower of Charles I of England (ruled c. 1625-49) in his
struggles with the Puritan-dominated parliament. The term is
used in contrast with Roundheads,
his Puritan opponents. Cavaliers were primarily wealthy aristocrats
and courtiers. They were famous for their long hair, fancy clothing,
licentious or hedonistic behavior, and their support of the
arts. See Cavalier
drama and Cavalier
poets, below. Ultimately, Cromwell led the Roundheads
in a coup d'état and established a Puritan dictatorship
in England, leading to the end of the English Renaissance
and its artistic, scientific, and cultural achievements. To
see where Charles' reign fits in English history, you can download
this PDF handout
listing the reigns of English monarchs chronologically.
DRAMA: A form of English drama comprising court plays
that the Queen gave patronage to in the 1630s. Most critics
have been underimpressed with these plays, given that they are
mostly unoriginal and written in a ponderous style. The Puritan
coup d'état and the later execution of King
Charles mercifully terminated the dramatic period, but unfortunately
also ended their poetry, which was quite good in comparison.
POETS: A group of Cavalier
English lyric poets who supported King Charles I and wrote during
his reign and who opposed the Puritans, his political enemies. The major Cavalier poets included Carew, Waller,
Lovelace, Sir John Suckling, and Herrick. They largely abandoned
the sonnet form
favored for a century earlier, but they still focused on the
themes of love and sensuality and their work illustrates "technical
virtuosity" as J. A. Cuddon put it (125). They
show strong signs of Ben Jonson's influence.
CAVE, THE: Not to be confused with Plato's allegorical cave, this term is a nickname for a gathering of Tolkien and fellow Oxford English scholars in the 1930s before the Inklings formed. As Drout's J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia summarizes the details, the name comes from I Samuel 22:1-2, where the Cave of Adullam became the place for David's conpiracies against King Saul, possibly implying that the members of the Cave at Oxford saw themselves as righteously subversive of the academic establishment. Members of the Cave included C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Neville Coghill, Hugh Dyson, and Cleanth Brooks. They were distinguished scholars of various fields. Eventually, in 1933, C.S. Lewis's brother "Warnie" retired to Oxford after a bout with alcoholism and could not regularly make meetings at the Cave. C.S. Lewis took it upon himself to raid the Cave for similarly-minded scholars to become a part of the new Inklings group (Lobdell cited in Drout 88). Cf. Inklings and Cave, Plato's below.
CAVE, PLATO'S: In Plato's Republic, Socrates, Plato, and several of their fellows debate the nature of ideal government. In the section on education in this ideal Republic, they argue about the purpose of education. As part of Socrates' argument, the discussion veers into an allegory in which human existence is being trapped in a cave of ignorance, chained in place and unable to view anything except shadows cast on the wall. Some of those shadows are vague outlines of actual unseen truths beyond the perception of the senses; others are false images deliberately designed to mislead the cave-dwellers, keeping them content and unquestioning. The purpose of education becomes freeing the imprisoned human and forcing him to leave the cave, to look at the actual objects that make the shadows. Cf. Platonic Forms.
While reading Plato's cave as an allegory of education is a common interpretation, some philosophers (especially medieval readers) often took a more mystical approach to the Greek text, interpreting the cave as the material or physical world, while the shadows were mere outline of a greater spiritual truths--hidden and eternal beyond the physical world. C. S. Lewis coopts this idea in The Last Battle, in which the characters discover after death that Narnia has merely been a crude approximation of heaven, and the further they travel in the "onion ring," the larger and more beautiful and more true the inner rings become.
A diacritical mark
used in several languages, such as the ç in
The hollow area beneath a Renaissance stage--known in Renaissance
slang as "hell" and entered through a trapdoor called
The voice of the ghost comes from this area in Hamlet,
which has led to scholarly discussion concerning whether or
not the ghost is really Hamlet's father or a demon in disguise.
A branch of the Indo-European
family of languages. Celtic includes Welsh and Breton. Celtic
languages are geographically linked to western Europe, and they
come in two general flavors, goidelic (or Q-celtic) and brythonic
REVIVAL: A literary movement involving increased interest
in Welsh, Scottish, and Irish culture, myths, legends, and literature.
It began in the late 1700s and continues to this day. Thomas
Gray's Pindaric ode The Bard (1757) and Ieuan Brydydd's
publication of Some Specimens of the Poetry of the Ancient
Welsh Bards (1764) mark its emergence, and Charlotte Guest's
translation of The Mabinogion in 1839 marks its continued
rise. Matthew Arnold's lectures on Celtic literature at Oxford
helped promote the foundation of a Chair of Celtic at that school
in 1877. The Celtic Revival influenced Thomas Love Peacock,
Alfred Lord Tennyson, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and W. B.
Yeats, and probably led to the creation of the Abbey
Theatre. A continuing part of the Celtic Revival
is the Irish Literary Renaissance, a surge
of extraordinary Irish talent in the late nineteenth and twentieth
century including Bram Stoker, James Joyce, William Butler Yeats,
Samuel Beckett, George Bernard Shaw, and Seamus Heaney.
A carving on a tombstone or monument, often in the form of
a verse poem, biblical passage,
or literary allusion appearing after the deceased individual's
name and date of birth/death. Often used synonymously with epitaph.
The act of hiding, removing, altering or destroying copies of
art or writing so that general public access to it is partially
or completely limited. Contrast with bowdlerization.
Click here to download a PDF
handout discussing censorship in great detail. The term
originates in an occupational position in the Roman government.
After the fifth century BCE, Rome commissioned "censors."
These censors at first were limited to conducting the census
for tax estimations, but in latter times, their job was to impose
moral standards for citizenship, including the removal of unsavory
literature. See also the Censorship
Ordinance of 1559 and the Profanity
Act of 1606.
ORDINANCE OF 1559: This law under Queen Elizabeth required
the political censorship of public plays and all printed materials
in matters of religion and the government. The Master of Revels
was appointed to monitor and control such material. All of Shakespeare's
early works were written under this act. We can see signs of
alteration in his early works to conform to the requirements
of the censors. Contrast with the Profanity
Act of 1606.
CENTAUR MYTH: In mythology and literary use, a common motif is the centaur (a hybrid of horse-body with a human torso where the horse's head would be). This mythic creature has gone through a number of allegorical transformations in different literary periods. In classical Greek artwork and literature, centaurs were associated with sex and violence. Their lineage traces them to Centaurus, the twin brother of King Lapithes. Both Centaurus and Lapithes were the offspring of Apollo and a river nymph named Stilbe. Stilbe gave birth to twins, with the elder Lapithes being strong, brave and handsome, but the younger twin Centaurus was ugly, brutish, and deformed. Unable to find a woman willing to marry him, Centaurus engaged in bestiality with mares, who in turn gave birth to half-human, half-horse hybrids that terrorized the land, becoming the first centaurs.
Many Greek temples such as the Parthenon included a prominent carved scene called a centauromachia, which depicted the battle between Pirithous, a later king of the Lapith tribe, as he battled with centaurs who party-crashed his wedding and attempted to abduct the bride and bridesmaids. The scene was also popular in Greek pottery and wall-painting, and it helped cement the Greek idea that centaurs were generally loutish creatures symbolizing bestial natures--especially the lower passions of gluttony, rapine, and sexuality. Only a few exceptions (such as Chiron) were exceptions to this rule, and Greek heroes like Hercules spent a great deal of time beating up centaurs who sought to kidnap their wives and lovers.
Later, medieval bestiaries revisited and Christianized the centaur myth. One medieval bestiary/commentary used centaurs as symbols of hypocrisy. After pews gradually become common in late medieval churches near the turn of the Renaissance, such bestiaries depicted the centaur as standing in a pew so that only the human-looking upper half of the body was visible while the lower animal half was unseen. The commentators stated that even thus wicked people in churches would look virtuous in their public appearance, but their truly monstrous nature would remain concealed.
By the Enlightenment, pastoral artwork and paintings tended to depict centaurs more as frolicking, playful creatures--erasing earlier overtones of rape and evil, and by the late 19th-century, fantasy writers at the time of George MacDonald rehabilitated them, making them deuteragonists and tritagonists that heroes would encounter on their quests. Among the Inklings of the 1940s, C.S. Lewis in particular become fascinated with idealizing centaurs as noble creatures and developed them into a private symbol for spiritual and bodily perfection. Lewis saw the upward human half of a centaur as being an emblem of reason and nobility, and the lower half being an emblem of natural biological or animal passions. Thus, the centaur became his emblem for the healthy union of the material body and the intellectual/spiritual domains--an organism as God intended humans to be before the fall, or the perfect amalgamation of the chariot-driver, chariot, and horses in the allegory of the charioteer that Plato retells in Phaedrus.
LANGUAGE: One of the two main branches of Indo-European
languages. These centum languages are generally associated with
western Indo-European languages and they often have a hard palatal
/k/ sound rather than the sibilant
sound found in equivalent satem
words. See discussion under Indo-European.
OF BEING: An elaborate cosmological model of the universe
common in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The Great Chain
of Being was a permanently fixed hierarchy with the Judeo-Christian
God at the top of the chain and inanimate objects like stones
and mud at the bottom. Intermediate beings and objects, such
as angels, humans, animals, and plants, were arrayed in descending
order of intelligence, authority, and capability between these
two extremes. The Chain of Being was seen as designed by God.
The idea of the Chain of Being resonates in art, politics, literature,
cosmology, theology, and philosophy throughout the Middle Ages
and Renaissance. It takes on particular complexity because different
parts of the Chain were thought to correspond to each other.
Click here for more information.
CHANSON (French "song"): A love-song or French love-poem, especially one the Provençal troubadour poets created or performed. Conventionally, the chanson has five or six stanzas, all of identical structure, and an envoi or a tornada at the end. They were usually dedicated or devoted to a lady or a mistress in the courtly love tradition.
DE GESTE (French, "song of deeds"):
These chansons are lengthy Old French poems written
between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries glorifying Carolingian
noblemen and their feudal lords. The chansons de geste
combine history and legend.
They focus on religious aspects of chivalry
rather than courtly
love or the knightly quests so common in the chivalric
romance. Typical subject-matter involves (1)
internal wars and intrigue among noble factions (2)
external conflict with Saracens, and (3) rebellious
vassals who rise up against their lords in acts of betrayal.
Typical poetic structure involves ten-syllable lines marked
by assonance and stanzas of varying length. The chansons
de geste are in many ways comparable to epics.
Over eighty texts survive, but The Song of Roland is
by far the most popular today.
(French, "song to people"): Old French songs or poems
form. Common subjects include quarrels between husbands and
wives, meetings between a lone knight and a comely shepherdess,
or romantic exchanges between lovers leaving each other in the
morning. See aubade.
Any representation of an individual being presented in a dramatic
or narrative work through extended dramatic or verbal representation.
The reader can interpret characters as endowed with moral and
dispositional qualities expressed in what they say (dialogue)
and what they do (action).
E. M. Forster describes characters as "flat"
(i.e., built around a single idea or quality and unchanging
over the course of the narrative) or "round"
(complex in temperament and motivation; drawn with subtlety;
capable of growth and change during the course of the narrative).
The main character of a work of a fiction is typically called
the character against whom the protagonist struggles or contends
(if there is one), is the antagonist.
If a single secondary character aids the protagonist throughout
the narrative, that character is the deuteragonist
(the hero's "side-kick"). A character of tertiary importance
is a tritagonist.
These terms originate in classical Greek drama, in which a tenor
would be assigned the role of protagonist, a baritone the role
of deuteragonist, and a bass would play the tritagonist. Compare
An author or poet's use of description, dialogue, dialect, and
action to create in the reader an emotional or intellectual
reaction to a character or to make the character more vivid
and realistic. Careful readers note each character's attitude
and thoughts, actions and reaction, as well as any language
that reveals geographic, social, or cultural background.
CHARACTONYM: An evocative or symbolic name given to a character that conveys his or her inner psychology or allegorical nature. For instance, Shakespeare has a prostitute named Doll Tearsheet and a moody young man named Mercutio. Steinbeck has the sweet-natured Candy in Of Mice and Men. Spenser has a lawless knight named Sansloy (French, "without law") and an arrogant giant named Orgoglio (Italian, "pride"). On a more physical level, Rabelais might name a giant Gargantuaor C.S. Lewis might call his talking lion Aslan (Turkish for "lion"). These names are all simple charactonyms. Cf. eponym.
CHASTUSHKA (plur. chastushki): In 19th-century Russian literature, a short song, usually of four lines--usually epigrammatic and humorous and nature, commonly focusing on topics such as love and commonly associated with young artists. Chastushki on political topics became more common in the 20th century. Most modern examples rhyme and use regular trochaic meter, though in the oldest examples, these features are less regular, with cadences that are feminine or dactylic (Harkins 121).
In the Renaissance, experimental revivals and new word formations
that were consciously designed to imitate the sounds, the "feel,"
and verbal patterns from an older century--a verbal or grammatical
Spenser uses many Chaucerisms in The Fairie Queene.
SYSTEM: As summarized by Baugh, a proposed method for
indicating long vowels and standardizing spelling first suggested
by Sir John Cheke in Renaissance orthography. Cheke would double
vowels to indicate a long sound. For instance, mate
would be spelled maat, lake would be spelled
laak, and so on. Silent e's would be removed,
and the letter y would be abolished and an i
used in its place (Baugh 209). It did not catch on.
CHIASM: A specific example
of chiasmus, see below.
CHIASMUS (from Greek, "cross" or "x"): A
literary scheme in which the author
introduces words or concepts in a particular order, then later
repeats those terms or similar ones in reversed or backwards
order. It involves taking parallelism and
deliberately turning it inside out, creating a "crisscross"
pattern. For example, consider the chiasmus that follows: "By
day the frolic, and the dance by night." If we draw
the words as a chart, the words form an "x" (hence
the word's Greek etymology, from chi meaning "x"):
The sequence is typically
a b b
a or a
b c c
"I lead the life I love;
I love the life I lead."
rose from the earth; to
the grave I fall clothed."
Biblical examples in the Greek can be found in Philippians
1:15-17 and Colossians 3:11, though the artistry is often lost
in English translation. Chiasmus often overlaps with antimetabole.
/ CHICANA LITERATURE: Twentieth- and twenty-first-century
writings and poetry by Mexican-American immigrants or their
children--usually in English with short sections or phrases
in Spanish. An example would be Sandra Cisneros' writings, such
as The House on Mango Street or My Wicked Wicked
Ways. Following the grammatical conventions for gender
in Spanish, the adjective Chicano takes an -o
suffix in reference to male authors and an -a
suffix in reference to female authors. Cf.
See discussion under cynghanedd.
ROMANCE: Another term for medieval
romance. See also chivalry,
An idealized code of military and social behavior for the aristocracy
in the late medieval period. The word "chivalry" comes
from Old French cheval (horse), and chivalry literally
means "horsemanship." Normally, only rich nobility
could afford the expensive armor, weaponry, and warhorses necessary
for mounted combat, so the act of becoming a knight was symbolically
indicated by giving the knight silver spurs. The right to knighthood
in the late medieval period was inherited through the father,
but it could also be granted by the king or a lord as a reward
The tenets of chivalry attempted
to civilize the brutal activity of warfare. The chivalric ideals
involve sparing non-combatants such as women, children, and
helpless prisoners; the protection of the church; honesty in
word and bravery in deeds; loyalty to one's liege; dignified
behavior; and single-combat between noble opponents who had
a quarrel. Other matters associated with chivalry include gentlemanly
contests in arms supervised by witnesses and heralds, behaving
according to the manners of polite society, courtly
and feudalism. See knight
for additional information.
This code became of great
popular interest to British readers in the 1800s, leading to
a surge of historical novels, poems, and paintings dealing with
medieval matters. Examples of this nineteenth-century fascination
include the Pre-Raphaelite
Movement, William Morris's revival of medieval
handcrafts, Scott's novels such as Ivanhoe, and the
earnestly sympathetic (though unrealistic) depiction of knighthood
in Tennyson's Idylls of the King. In Tennyson's poem
Guinevere, King Arthur describes the ideals of knighthood
made them lay their hands in mine and swear
To reverence the King, as if he were
Their conscience, and their conscience as their King
To break the heathen and uphold the Christ,
To ride abroad redressing human wrongs,
To speak no slander, no, nor listen to it,
To honor his own word as if his God's,
lead sweet lives in purest chastity,
love one maiden only, cleave to her,
worship her by years of noble deeds,
they won her.
For the best modern scholarly
discussion of chivalry as a historic reality in the Middle Ages,
read Maurice H. Keen's Chivalry (Yale University Press,
(often Latinized as choragus): A sponsor or patron of
a play in classical Greece. Often this sponsor was honored by
serving as the leader of the chorus
term for trochee. See trochee.
FIGURE: Any character in any type of narrative literature
that serves the same purpose as a chorus in drama by remaining
detached from the main action and commenting upon or explaining
this action to the audience. See chorus,
(1) A group of singers who stand alongside
or off stage from the principal performers in a dramatic or
musical performance. (2) The song or refrain
that this group of singers sings. In ancient Greece, the chorus
was originally a group of male singers and dancers (choreuti)
who participated in religious festivals and dramatic performances
by singing commenting on the deeds of the characters and interpreting
the significance of the events within the play. This group contrasts
with the actors (Greek hypocrites). Shakespeare alters
the traditional chorus by replacing the singers with a single
figure--often allegorical in nature. For instance, "Time"
comes on stage in The Winter's Tale to explain the passing
years. Likewise, "Rumor" appears in Henry IV, Part
Two to summarize the gossip about Prince Hal. See also choragos
NOVEL: A novel that focuses on Christianity, evangelism,
or conversion stories. Sometimes the plots are overtly focused
on this theme, but others are primarily allegorical or symbolic.
Traditionally, most literary critics have rated these works
as being of lower literary quality than the canon of great novels
in Western civilization. Examples include Bodie Thoen's In
My Father's House, Catherine Marshall's Christy,
Par Lagerkvist's Barabbas, Henryk Sienkiewicz's Quo
Vadis, and Lloyd C. Douglas's The Robe.
FIGURE: In theology, Christology is the study
of Jesus' nature, i.e., whether Christ had both a human
and divine nature,
whether he had one sentient will alone or one human will and
one divine will, whether he was theoretically capable
like humanity or perfectly righteous like the other persons
in the trinity, whether he shared in the Father's omniscience
or suffered from human afflictions like doubt or ignorance,
whether he existed or not before his biological birth,
he was equal in authority and power to the other persons in
the trinity, and whether he actually had a physical body
orthodox view) or was composed entirely of spirit (the Arian
In literary studies, the
term christological has been commandeered to refer
to (1) an object, person, or figure that represents Christ
or symbolically, or (2) any similar object, person, or figure
with qualities generally reminiscent of Christ. Examples
christological figures include the Old Man in Hemingway's The
Old Man and the Sea, who after his struggle with the
fish ends up bleeding from his palms and lying on the floor
cruciform pattern; the lion Aslan in C. S. Lewis's The
Chronicles of Narnia, who allows himself like the lion
of the tribe of Judah to be slain in order to redeem a traitorous
and the unicorn in medieval bestiaries, which would lie down
and place its phallic,
ivory-horned meekly in a maiden's lap so that hunters might
kill it--which medieval monks interpreted as an allegory of
Christ allowing himself to enter the womb of the virgin Mary
so that he might later be sacrificed. Zora Neale Hurston creates
a christ-figure in Delia Jones, who in the short story "Sweat"
suffers to support her ungrateful husband and "crawled
over the earth in Gethsemane and up the rocks of Calvary many,
many times . . ." and so on.
A history or a record of events. It refers to any systematic
account or narration of events that makes minimal attempt to
interpret, question, or analyze that history. Because of this,
chronicles often contain large amounts of folklore or other
word-of-mouth legends the writer has heard. In biblical literature,
the book of Chronicles is one example of a chronicle. Medieval
chronicles include Joinville's account of the Crusades and Geoffrey
of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain, a source
for much Arthurian legend. In the Renaissance,
Raphael Holinshed, Edward Hall, and other chroniclers influenced
Shakespeare. Chronicles were popular in England after the British
defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588. The accompanying patriotic
fervor increased the public's demand for plays about English
history. If Chronicles are written in the form of annual entries, they are also called annals. See also lepotis.
CHRONOLOGICAL SNOBBERY: C. S. Lewis's term for what he describes as "the uncritical acceptance of . . . the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited," i.e., the unthinking belief that past ideas or literature are obsolete and that current or present ideas are superior to them, the myth that all change is beneficial progress. Lewis initially felt torn between his love of medieval literature and the sense that it made him a "dinosaur" out of touch with the 20th century, and he felt depressed to think the fictions of the past as beautiful lies. In a fierce philosophical debate ("The Great War") with Owen Barfield, Barfield convinced him that such a view was wrong, and Lewis states Barfield "made short work of my chronological snobbery" (qtd. in Duriez 45).
(Greek: "logic of time"): The order in which events
happen, especially when emphasizing a cause-effect relationship
in history or in a narrative.
Related to the dead, the grave, the underworld, or the fertility
of the earth. In Greek mythology, the Greeks venerated three
categories of spirits: (1) the Olympian gods,
who were worshipped in public ceremonies--often outdoors on
the east side of large columned temples in the agora, (2) ancestral
heroes like Theseus and Hercules, who were often worshipped
only in local shrines or at specific burial mounds, (3) chthonic
spirits, which included (a) earth-gods and
death-gods like Hades, Hecate, and Persephone; (b) lesser-known
(and often nameless) spirits of the departed; (c) dark
and bloody spirits of vengeance like the Furies and Nemesis,
and (d) (especially in Minoan tradition) serpents,
which were revered as intermediaries between the surface world
of the living and the subterranean realm of the dead. This
is why snakes were so prominent in the healing cults of Aesclepius.
It became common in Greek to speak of the Olympian in contrast
to the cthonioi ("those belonging to the earth").
See Burkert 199-203 for detailed discussion.
SUMMONER: 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
A five-line stanza with varied meter and rhyme scheme, possibly
of medieval origin but definitely influenced after 1909 by Japanese
poetic forms such as the tanka.
Most modern cinquains are now based on the form standardized
by an American poet, Adelaide Crapsey (1878-1918), in which
each unrhymed line has a fixed number of syllables--respectively
two, four, six, eight, and two syllables in each line--for a
rigid total of 22 syllables. Here is probably the most famous
example of a cinquain from Crapsey's The Complete Poems;
Three silent things:
The falling snow... the hour
Before the dawn... the mouth of one
Perhaps under the influence
poems, many modern elementary school teachers have begun adding
an additional set of conventions to the cinquain in which each
line has a specific structural requirement:
Line 1 - Consists
of the two-syllable title or subject for the poem
Line 2 - Consists of two adjectives totaling four syllables
describing the subject or title
Line 3 - Consists of three verbs totaling six syllables describing
the subject's actions
Line 4 - Consists of four words totaling eight syllables giving
the writer's opinion of the subject.
Line 5 - Consists of one two-syllable word, often a synonym
for the subject.
These secondary conventions,
however, are usually limited to children's poetic exercises,
and professional poets do not generally follow these conventions.
STRUCTURE: A type of artistic
structure in which a sense of completeness or closure does not
originate in coming to a "conclusion" that breaks
with the earlier story; instead, the sense of closure originates
in the way the end of a piece returns to subject-matter, wording,
or phrasing found at the beginning of the narrative, play, or
poem. An example of circular structure might be "The Secret
Life of Walter Mitty," which ends with an ellipsis identical
to the opening sequence, indicating that the middle-aged protagonist
is engaging in yet another escapist fantasy. Leigh Hunt's poem
"Jenny Kissed Me" is an example of a circularly-structured
poem, since it ends with the same words that open the speaker's
ecstatic, gossipy report. Langdon Smith's poem "Evolution"
is circular in its concluding repetition of the opening phrase,
"When you were a tadpole, and I was a fish," but it
is also thematically circular, in that it implies the cycle
of reincarnated love will continue again and again in spite
of death. In many ways, the smaller tales within a larger frame
narrative act as part of a circular structure, because
each small tale begins by breaking the reader away from the
larger, encompassing narrative and concludes by returning the
reader to that larger frame-narrative.
CIRCUMLOCUTION: Roundabout or indirect speech or writing, rather than short, brief, clear writing. See discussion under periphrasis. Cf. related terms like acyrologia, ambage, macrologia, macrology, pleonasm, prolixity, tautology, and verbiage.
CITY DIONYSIA: See
discussion under dionysia.
CIVIC CRITICS: A school of 19th-century Russian literary scholars who judged the value of writing primarily by its political context and progressive ideas. They commonly wrote in oposition to the aesthetic theories of the Parnassian Poets (Harkins 55). Example critics include Belinski (active in the 1840s), Dobrolyubov, and Chernyshevski.
ASSOCIATION: A semantic change caused because one word
sounds similar to another. For instance, the word fruition
in Middle English meant "enjoyment." In Modern English,
its meaning has changed to "completion" because it
sounds like the word fruit--hence the idea of ripeness,
of growing to full size, as Algeo notes (314).
The term in Western culture is usually used in reference to
the art, architecture, drama, philosophy, literature, and history
surrounding the Greeks and Romans between 1000 BCE and 410 BCE.
Works created during the Greco-Roman period are often called
classics. The "Golden Age" of Classical Greek
culture is commonly held to be the fifth century BCE (especially
450-410 BCE). The term can be applied more generally to any
ancient and revered writing or artwork from a specific culture;
thus we refer to "Classical
Chinese," "Classical Hebrew," and "Classical
Arabic" works. For extended discussion, click
here. To download a PDF handout placing the periods of literary
history in order, click
Another term for the hokku, the predecessor of the modern
haiku. See hokku
See discussion under classical,
In grammatical terminology, a clause is any word-construction
nominative and a predicate, i.e., a subject "doing" a
verb. The term clause contrasts with the term phrase.
A phrase might contain nouns as appositives or objects,
and it might
verb-like words in the form of participles or gerunds, but
it crucially lacks a subject "doing" a verb. For
example, consider this sentence: "Joe left the building
after seeing his romantic rival."
Clause: Joe left the
Phrase: after seeing his romantic rival
the clause could stand by itself as a complete sentence,
as an independent clause. If the clause
cannot stand by itself as a complete sentence (typically
because it begins with
a subordinating conjunction), it is said to be a dependent
clause. For expanded discussion and examples,
For a discusion of clauses according to functional type,
click here ( TBA).
In light verse, a funny poem of closed-form with four lines
rhyming ABAB in
irregular meter, usually about a famous person from history
or literature. Typically the historical person's name forms
one of the rhymes. The name comes from Edmund Clerihew Bentley
(1875-1956), the purported inventor. He supposedly had a
habit of scribbling down such rhymes during dull lectures
one from his chemistry class:
Sir Humphrey Davy
He lived in the odium
Of having discovered sodium.
A hackneyed or trite phrase that has become overused. Clichés
are considered bad writing and bad literature. Click
here to download a PDF handout for more information. Cliché
rhymes are rhymes that are considered trite or predictable.
Cliché rhymes in poetry include love
and dove, moon
and June, trees
and breeze. Sometimes, to
avoid cliché rhymes, poets will go to hyperbolic lengths,
such as the trisyllabic rhymes in Lord Byron's Don Juan.
RHYME: Cliché rhymes are rhymes that are considered
trite or predictable. They include love
and dove, moon
and June, trees
and breeze. Sometimes, to
avoid cliché rhymes, poets will go to hyperbolic lengths,
such as the trisyllabic rhymes in Lord Byron's Don Juan.
A sound common in some non-Indo-European languages in Polynesia
made by clucking the tongue or drawing in air with the tongue
rather than expelling it from the lungs--such as the sound represented
by the letter combination tsk-tsk. Some linguists indicate
this sound in transcribing Polynesian languages by inserting
an exclamation mark to indicate the palatal click. For instance,
the !chung tribe has a palatal click as part of its
A melodramatic narrative (especially in films, magazines, or
serially published novels) in which each section "ends"
at a suspenseful or dramatic moment, ensuring that the audience
will watch the next film or read the next installment to find
out what happens. The term comes from the common 1930's film-endings
in which the main characters are literally left hanging on the
edge of a cliff until the story resumes. The term cliffhanger
has more loosely been applied to any situation, event, or contest
in which the outcome remains uncertain until the last moment
LITERARY (From Greek word for "ladder"): The
moment in a play, novel, short story, or narrative poem at which
the crisis reaches its point of greatest intensity and is thereafter
resolved. It is also the peak of emotional response from a reader
or spectator and usually the turning point in the action. The
climax usually follows or overlaps with the crisis of
a story, though some critics use the two terms synonymously.
(Contrast with anticlimax,
do not confuse with rhetorical
RHETORICAL: Also known as auxesis
and crescendo, this refers to an artistic arrangement
of a list of items so that they appear in a sequence of increasing
importance. See rhetorical schemes
for more information. The opposite of climax is bathos.
To form a word by abbreviating a longer expression, or a word
formed by the same process. For instance, the word auto
(as in "auto shop") is a clipped form of automobile.
READING: Reading a piece of literature carefully, bit by
bit, in order to analyze the significance of every individual
word, image, and artistic ornament. Click
here for more information. The term is sometimes used synonymously
with critical reading,
though I arbitrarily prefer to reserve close reading
as a reference for analyzing literature and critical reading
as a reference for breaking down an essay's argument logically.
Cf. critical reading.
POETIC FORM: Poetry written in a a specific or traditional
pattern according to the required rhyme, meter, line length,
line groupings, and number of lines within a genre of poetry.
Examples of a closed-form poetry include haiku,
which have set numbers of syllables, lines, and traditional
subject-matter. Contrast with open
(Latin clausura, "a closing"): Closure has
two common meanings. First, it means a sense of completion or
finality at the conclusion of play or narrative work--especially
a feeling in the audience that all the problems have been resolved
satisfactorily. Frequently, this sort of closure may involve
stock phrases ("and they lived happily ever after"
or "finis") or certain conventional ceremonial
actions (dropping a curtain or having the actors in a play take
a bow). The narrative may reveal the solution of the primary
problem(s) driving the plot, the death of a major character
(especially the antagonist, the protagonist's romantic interest
or even the protagonist herself), or careful denouement.
An example of extended denouement as closure occurs
in George Eliot's Middlemarch, in which the author carefully
explains what happened in later years to each character in the
novel. Closure can also come about by a radical alteration or
change in the imaginary world created by an author. For instance,
in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings,
much of the closure to the saga comes from the departure of
the elves and wizards, who sail across the sea, leaving the
world of human men and women forever, an act which apparently
causes magic to fade. Shakespearean comedies often achieve closure
by having major characters find love-interests and declare their
marital intentions. Other more experimental forms of literature
and poetry may achieve closure by "circular
structure," in which the poem or story ends by
coming back to the narrative's original starting spot, or by
returning a similar situation to what was found at the beginning
of the tale. See discussion under denouement.
Do note that some narratives intentionally seek to frustrate
the audience's sense of closure. Examples of literature that
reject conventions of closure include cliffhanger
serials (see above), which reject normal closure in an attempt
to gain returning audiences. Many postmodern narratives influenced
by existential philosophy, on the other hand, reject closure
as too "simplistic" and "artificial" in
comparison with the complexities of human living.
Secondly, some critics use
the term "closure" as a derogatory term to imply the
reduction of a work's meanings to a single and complete sense
that excludes the claims of other interpretations. For extended
discussion of closure, see Frank Kermode's The Sense of An
Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction, as reprinted in
(1) A fool or rural bumpkin in Shakespearean vocabulary. Examples
of this type of clown include Lance, Bottom, Dogberry, and other
Shakespearean characters. (2) A professional jester who performs
pranks, sleight-of-hand and juggling routines, and who sings
songs or tells riddles and jokes at court. By convention, such
jesters were given considerable leeway to speak on nearly any
topic (even criticizing court policy) as long as the criticism
was veiled in riddles and wordplay. Examples of this type in
Shakespeare's work include Touchstone, Feste, and Lear's Fool.
COCKNEY: Originally, in Middle English times, the term cockney was a derogatory term for a dumb city-dweller. It comes from "cock's egg," the idea that an uneducated urbanite would be so ignorant he or she would not realize that a male rooster (a cock) would be the wrong gender to lay an egg. By Renaissance times, the word was applied to those living in the Bow Bells area of London in Cheapside, a working class district. Today, the term implies most strongly the spoken dialect of that area. Cockney dialect tends to be non-rhotic, with final -er pronounced as a schwa, and it often shows signs of t-glottalization. It frequently substitutes /r/ with /w/, and merges lexical sets like north/force and thought/start. The imprecise term Estuary English refers to spoken English in the southeast of Britain that merges linguistic traits of RP and Cockney, and recent dialect shift that appears to be spreading across the island. See also Cockney Rhyming Slang, below.
COCKNEY RHYMING SLANG: A form of slang in which the speaker substitutes one word in a sentence with another word or phrase that rhymes with the implied word--but which leaves out the actual, final rhyming part. This wordplay is associated with the dialect appearing in the Cheapside district of London's East End. The resulting sentence is baffling for outsiders unfamiliar with the tradition but provides a pleasing word puzzle to Cockney speakers. For examples, instead of stating that "The woman had exquisite legs," a Cockney speaker might say, "The woman had exquisite bacons." Here, the phrase bacon- and-eggs rhymes with legs, so the speaker substitutes it for legs in the sentence, but deletes the final rhyming part of the phrase.
In bilingual or multilingual speech, rapidly changing from the
vocabulary, grammar, and patterns of one language to another--often
in mid-sentence. An example sentence to illustrate this process
using Latin, Spanish, German, and French might read as follows:
"Imprimus, el commander qui runs
his troops y sus attendants to death in a blitzkrieg isn't tres
sapiens, n'est-pas?" [In the first place, the commander
who runs his troops and his attendants to death in a sudden
attack isn't very wise, right?]
Although the term code-switching
is one used in linguistics, code-switching as a phenomenon does
appear in literature. The character of Salvatori the monk in
Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose engages continuously
in code-switching among Latin, Spanish, French, Italian, and
German tongues, for instance. Code-switching is a common feature
in Hispanic American English and in the fiction writings of
authors. Cf. dog-latin
Latin codex, "book"): The study of books as physical
Cognates are words that (1) match each other
to some degree in sound and meaning, (2) come
from a common root in an older language, but (3) did
not actually serve as a root for each other. For instance,
Romance languages, many words trace their roots back to Latin.
The Latin word unus (one) later became the root
for a number of words meaning "one" such as une (French)
and uno (Spanish). Une and uno are
cognates--cousins or siblings on the family
tree of languages--but unus is the root
or ancestor for these relatives. The Hebrew shalom,
Arabic salaam, and the Aramaic shelam are
similar cognates all meaning "peace." Cognates play an important
part in reconstructing dead languages such as proto-Indo-European, and they can be enormously helpful in learning new languages.
philologist should be cautious of false cognates, folk etymology, and faux amis, however. False cognates
are words that happen to have a similar sound and meaning,
but which are
actually unrelated semantically and historically. Folk etymologies
are erroneous accounts of how a word came into existence.
Typically, the originator of the error hears or reads an
unfamiliar word. The orginator then fabricates a spurious
source by linking the strange word to a more
based upon sound similarities. Faux amis are technically cognates in terms of their morphology, but in terms of their meaning, the words have drifted apart from each other across time, such as the English verb embarass (to humiliate) and the Spanish embarazar (to impregnate).
COGNOMEN (plural, cognomina): See discussion under tria nomina.
NOUN, COLLECTIVE PRONOUN: A noun such as
team or pair that technically refers to a
collective group of individuals or individual items. What makes
them tricky in grammar? They can be singular or plural
(e.g., one team, two teams, or one pair,
two pairs.) Many students forget that and mistakenly
treat the grammatically singular word as if it were always
collective pronouns like some use
the modifier rather than the headword for singular versus
plural structure. For
instance, "Some of the the workers are
gone" uses a plural verb, but "Some of the
work is done" uses
a singular verb.
UNCONSCIOUS: In twentieth-century Jungian
Psychology, this term refers to a shared group
(atavistic and universal images, cultural symbols, and recurring
situations dealing with the fundamental facts of human life)
passed along to each generation to the next in folklore and
stories or generated anew by the way must face similar problems
to those our ancestors faced. Within a culture, the collective
unconscious forms a treasury of powerful shared images and symbols
found in our dreams, art stories, myths, and religious icons.
See more detailed discussion under archetypal
The frequency or tendency some words have to combine with each
other. For instance, Algeo notes that the phrases "tall
person" and "high mountain" seem to fit together
readily without sounding strange. A non-native speaker might
talk about a "high person" or "tall mountain,"
and this construction might sound slightly odd to a native English
speaker. The difference is in collocation.
A word or phrase used everyday in plain and relaxed speech,
but rarely found in formal writing. (Compare with cliché,
PERIOD: American and British historians use this term somewhat
differently. American scholars
usually use the term "colonial period" to refer to
the years in the American colonies before the American Revolution
against the British Monarchy--usually dating it from 1607 (when
Jamestown was founded) to 1787 (when Congress ratified the Federal
Constitution). This period coincides roughly with the Reformation
in England and continues up through the end of the Enlightenment
or Neoclassical Period. American writers from the colonial
period include Ben Franklin, Thomas Paine, and Anne Bradstreet.
See also Neoclassic.
Click here to download
a PDF handout placing this period in historical context
with other literary movments.
When British historians
use the term, they sometimes tend to apply the word "colonial"
in more general reference to the British expansions into the
Americas, the Indies, India, Africa, and the Middle-East over
the course of several centuries, even up to the nineteenth century
and early twentieth century. See colonialism,
The term refers broadly and generally to the habit of powerful
civilizations to "colonize" less powerful ones. On
the obvious level, this process can take the form of a literal
geographic occupation, outright enslavement, religious conversion
at gun-point, or forced assimilation of native peoples. On a
more subtle level, this process can take the form of bureucratic
policy that incidentally or indirectly leads to the extinction
of a minority's language or culture, economic exploitation of
cheap labor, and globalistic erasure of cultural differences.
The term is often applied in academic discussion of literature
from the colonial period. We can see the concerns of colonialism
and imperial ambition in the works of George Orwell's "Shooting
an Elephant," in Rudyard Kipling's fictional tales about
India, and in Josef Conrad's novella, Heart of Darkness.
(from Greek: komos, "songs of merrimakers"):
In the original meaning of the word, comedy referred to a genre
of drama during the Dionysia festivals of ancient Athens. The
first comedies were loud and boisterous drunken affairs, as
the word's etymology suggests. Later, in medieval and Renaissance
use, the word comedy came to mean any play or narrative
poem in which the main characters manage to avert an impending
disaster and have a happy ending. The comedy did not necessarily
have to be funny, and indeed, many comedies are serious in tone.
It is only in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that comedy's
exclusive connotations of humor arose. See also Low
of the Absurd, Comedy
of Humors, and Comedy
OF THE ABSURD: A modern form
of comedy dramatizing the meaninglessness, uncertainty, and
pointless absurdity of human existence. A famous example is
Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot. Cf. existentialism.
OF HUMORS: A Renaissance drama in which numerous characters
appear as the embodiment of stereotypical "types" of people,
each character having the physiological and behavioral traits
associated with a specific humor in the human body. The majority
of the cast consists of such stock characters. (See "humors,
bodily" for more information.) Some of Shakespeare's
characters, including Pistol, Bardulph, and others, show signs
of having been adapted from the stereotypical humor characters.
In literature, a humor character was a type of flat
character in whom a single passion predominated; this
interpretation was especially popular in Elizabethan and other
Renaissance literature. See also stock
OF INNOCENCE: We have two definitions here. (1) In
anthropological terms, a comedy of innocence is a ritualized
symbolic behavior (or set of such behaviors) designed to
alleviate individual or communal guilt about an execution
or sacrifice or to hide the blame for such an action.
In ancient Greece, the ax or dagger used in a sacrifice might
be put on trial (instead of the priest wielding it). The
sacrificial animal might be required to "volunteer" by
shaking its head or by walking up to the altar to eat the
on it. The sacrificial victim might be "condemned to
after being released where it could set foot in a forbidden
holy grove or taboo sacred mountain (cf. Exodus 19:12-13
11:30-40). In America, we see remnants of the comedy of
as the 19th-century's hangman's black mask (to
erase the executioner's identity) or the custom of granting
the condemned prisoner's last request or final meal (to
alleviate any sense of cruelty on the jailer's part).
specific myth told
by later generations to erase or hide ancient evidence
of what looks like the practice
sacrifice in earlier times. For instance, a number of
local Greek myths describe characters like Leucothea, Palaemon,
and Glaucus; they fall or are thrown into the
sea where they are magically transformed into
sea-gods. Given the relative insignificance of these
in the Greek pantheon,
it is likely this sort of tale either (a) developed
out of local hero cults
or (b) the tale alludes
to an ancient
or prehistoric belief
that drowned sacrificial victims would live on as animistic spirits.
Another common version of the comedy of innocence
is the motif of
a human sacrificial victim (usually a child) who is miraculously
ex machina) and
in his or her place. For example, in some Greek myths,
Iphigenia is replaced by a white hind before her father
her to gain good winds for the Trojan voyage. Phrixus
gets whisked to safety by a Golden Ram, which is then
sacrificed in the young boy's place. In the Hebrew Bible,
Yahweh stops Abraham from killing Isaac, and he directs
to a ram
caught in a thicket (Genesis 22:9-13). Scholars of mythology
often see the dozens of such tales appearing cross-culturally
and interpret them as having their origins in the comedy
OF MANNERS: A comic drama consisting of five or three
acts in which the attitudes and customs of a society
and satirized according to high standards of intellect and
The dialogue is usually clever and sophisticated, but often
risqué. Characters are valued according to
their linguistic and intellectual prowess. It is the opposite
slapstick humor found in a farce
or in a fabliau.
OPERA: An outgrowth of the eighteenth-century ballad operas,
in which new or original music is composed specially for the
lyrics. (This contrasts with the ballad
opera, in which the lyrics were set to pre-existing
RELIEF: A humorous scene,
or bit of dialogue
occurring after some serious, tragic, or frightening moment. Comic relief
is deliberately designed to relieve emotional intensity and
simultaneously heighten and highlight the seriousness or tragedy
of the action. Macbeth contains Shakespeare's most
famous example of comic relief in the form of a drunken porter. Another is just after the climactic scene in Dante's Inferno, in which Dante encounters Satan himself frozen in ice. The demon initially terrified Dante, but the narrator's fear falls way to the reader's laughter in a comic reversal in which Dante and Virgil climb down Satan's body and move through the center of the earth's gravity, at which point Dante is confused by the way gravity reverses, looks upward, and finds himself directly staring at Satan's nether regions, writing, ". . . I beheld him upward hold his legs. // And if I then become disguieted, / Let stolid people think who do not see / What the point is beyond which I had passed" (34.90-93).
STORY: A novel in which an adolescent protagonist
comes to adulthood by a process of experience and disillusionment.
This character loses his or her innocence, discovers that previous
preconceptions are false, or has the security of childhood
away, but usually matures and strengthens by this process.
Examples include Wieland's Agathon,
Herman Raucher's Summer
Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine, Joyce's A Portrait
of the Artist as a Young Man, and Jane Austen's Northanger
Abbey. The most famous examples are in German. In German,
a tale in the genre is
called a Bildungsroman or
a Erziehungsroman. Examples include
Die Leiden des jungen Werthers and Thomas Mann's Königliche
(Latin: "companionship" or "band"): The term describes the tribal
structure of the Anglo-Saxons
and other Germanic tribes in which groups of men would swear
fealty to a hlaford
(lord) in exchange for food, mead, and heriot,
the loan of fine armor and weaponry. The men who swore such
an oath were called thegns
(roughly akin to modern Scottish "thane"), and they vowed to
fight for their lord in battle. It was considered a shameful
disaster to outlive one's own lord. The comitatus was
the functional military and government unit of early Anglo-Saxon
society. The term was first coined by the classical historian
Tacitus when he described the Germanic tribes north of Rome.
DELL'ARTE: A genre
of Italian farce from the sixteenth-century characterized by
characters, stock situations, and spontaneous dialogue.
Typically, the plot is an intrigue
plot and it involves a soubrette
who aids two young lovers in foiling the rigid constraints of
their parents. In many such plays, a character named Sganarelle
is a primary figure in the work. Often there is a zani,
or foolish-servant, who provides physical comedy in contrast
to the anguish of the young lovers. In the end, the couple achieves
a happy marriage. Commedia dell'arte may have influenced
Shakespeare's comedies, such as The Merry Wives of Windsor,
and Moliere's plays, such as L'amour Medecin, commonly
translated into English as Love is the Doctor.
MEASURE: Also called common meter, common measure
consists of closed poetic quatrains rhyming ABAB
or ABCB, in which
the lines of iambic tetrameter (eight syllables) alternate with
lines of iambic trimeter (six syllables). This pattern is most
often associated with ballads
(see above), and it is occasionally referred to as "ballad
measure." Many of Emily Dickinson's poems are in loose
common measure using slant
rhyme, for instance:
Madness is divinest Sense--
To a discerning Eye--
Much Sense--the starkest Madness--
'Tis the Majority
A fun and simple test to
recognize common measure in poetry is to take a stanza and
try singing it aloud
to a well-known tune written in common meter, such as "Gilligan's
Isle," "Amazing Grace," or "House of the Rising Sun." If
fits these familiar ditties, you are looking at a case of
METER: Another term for common
measure (see above).
The linguistic term for an eponym--a common word that is derived
from the proper name of a person or place. For instance, the
sandwich gained its name from its inventor, the fourth
Earl of Sandwich. The word lynch comes from Captain
William Lynch, who led bands of vigilantes to hang hoboes and
bums residing near Pittsylvania County. The verb shanghai,
meaning to kidnap or press into forced labor, comes from the
practices of conscription common in the oriental city of Shanghai.
The word stentorian comes from the loud-mouthed Stentor
in Greek legend, and herculean comes from the muscle-bound
Hercules, and so on.
comperta): Specifically, birth-tales
in Old Irish literature that detail
the conception and birth
of a hero. Examples include the Compert Con Culainn (Birth
of Cú Chulainn). Usually supernatural or extraordinary
events involve themselves in the conception, such as the Druid
Cathbad's seduction of Nessa after prophesying what the hour
would be lucky for (begetting a king upon a queen!) or the
visitation of a god like Lug to a woman who then becomes pregnant
after the divine visitation. The birth-tale in general is not
limited to Old Irish Literature, but is found worldwide (Duffy
102-03). Examples outside of Irish literature include the birth
or the Buddha, or Leda and Hercules in Greek myth, Pryderi's conception in the First Branch of The Mabinogion, or King
Arthur's conception in Arthurian legends.
The second aspect of Aristotle's requirements for a tragedy.
By completeness, Aristotle emphasizes the logic, wholeness,
necessary to satisfy the audience.
COMPLEX METAPHOR: Another term for a telescoped metaphor.
MONSTER (in architecture, often called a chimera
after the Greek monster): The term is one mythologists use to
describe the fantastical creatures in Assyrian, Babylonian,
Greek, and medieval European legends in which the beast is composed
of the body-parts of various animals. For instance, in Greek
mythology, the chimera has the body of a lion, tale of a serpent,
wings of a bat, and a goat-head, a lion-head, and a serpent's
head. Likewise, the sphinx has a lion's body and a woman's head
and breasts; the centaur has a horse's body and human torso
and a human head where the horse-head should be; the minotaur
has a bull's head and a man's body; and the harpy has an avian
body and a woman's head, breasts, and arms. Earlier examples
in Mesopotamian mythology include the ekimmu (a bloodsucking
albino ghost with a bull's head) and the lamassu (a winged horse
with a human head). In the medieval period, composite monsters
include the formecolion, with an ant's body and a lion's head;
the mermaid, with a human top and a fish bottom; and the cockatrice,
which mingles parts of a rooster and a serpent. Contrast with
Composite monsters were
common in the legends of classical and ancient cultures, but
diminished in favor after the Renaissance. Many theories propose
to explain the common tendency to create composite monsters.
Theories include mistranslation in traveler's tales, in which
an animal is describing as having a head like such-and-such
a creature, but the simile is lost in translation; the encounter
of fossil remnants of extinct animals, or bones found jumbled
together and misassembled; and the heraldic practice of dimidiation,
in which a nobleman's son might take two animals found on his
father's and mother's coats of arms combine them into a composite
creature to illustrate his genealogy.
An example in 20th century
films includes The Fly. In this 1950s horror classic,
a fly and a human trade bodies and heads.Cf. therianthropic and
A typesetter in a Renaissance print shop. To speed the printing
process, most of Shakespeare's plays appear to have been set
by multiple compositors. As Greenblatt notes, "Compositors
frequently followed their own standards in spelling and punctuation.
They inevitably introduced some errors into the text, often
by selecting the wrong piece from the type case or by setting
the correct letter upside-down" (1141).
A term from linguistics used to describe the creation of
that comes about by taking two existing words and sticking
them together to create a brand new concept (Horobin 192).
All languages do this
to some extent. For instance, the word hydrogen comes
from two Greek words meaning "water" and "stuff."
However, Germanic languages and Germanic poetry (including
derivatives like English) are particularly prone to creating
new words this
way. Thousands of English words result from two older words
being compounded together, such as bathtub (bath +
eyesore (eye + sore); window (from two Old Norse
words meaning "wind" and "eye"), and so
on. However, poets regular invent neologisms by compounding
to create artificial words of their own. Even Chaucer engaged
in this trick, coining the word newfangled from the
new and the Middle French fanglere, meaning "to
make or to fashion." See neologism,
In addition to trial
by ordeal, compurgation was the medieval law practice
among Christianized Anglo-Saxon tribes to determine innocence.
A man accused of a crime would publicly swear to his innocence.
The judge then gave the defendant thirty days to to collect
a number of "oath-helpers" who would also swear to
his innocence (or at least his good character). If he was unable
to find the required number, he was either found guilty or he
could appeal to trial by ordeal. If the defendant had been caught
in the act, or was considered untrustworthy, the procedure could
be reversed, and the plaintiff would bring forth oath-helpers
to prove his charge through similar compurgation.
(also called a metaphysical conceit): An elaborate
or unusual comparison--especially one using unlikely metaphors,
simile, hyperbole, and contradiction. Before the beginning of
the seventeenth century, the term conceit was a synonym
for "thought" and roughly equivalent to "idea" or "concept."
It gradually came to denote a fanciful idea or a particularly
clever remark. In literary terms, the word denotes a fairly
elaborate figure of speech, especially an extended comparison
involving unlikely metaphors,
One of the most famous conceits is John Donne's "A Valediction:
Forbidding Mourning," a poem in which Donne compares two souls
in love to the points on a geometer's compass. Shakespeare also
uses conceits regularly in his poetry. In Richard II,
Shakespeare compares two kings competing for power to two buckets
in a well, for instance. A conceit is usually classified as
a subtype of metaphor.
Contrast with epic
simile and dyfalu.
See discussion under agreement.
DICTION / CONCRETE IMAGERY: Language that describes qualities
that can be perceived with the five senses as opposed to using
abstract or generalized language. For instance, calling a fruit
"pleasant" or "good" is abstract,
while calling a fruit "cool" or "sweet"
is concrete. The preference for abstract or concrete
imagery varies from century to century. Philip Sidney praised
concrete imagery in poetry in his 1595 treatise, Apologie
for Poetrie. A century later, Neoclassical thought tended
to value the generality of abstract thought. In the early 1800s,
the Romantic poets like Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shelley once
again preferred concreteness. In the 20th century, the distinction
between concrete and abstract has been a subject of some debate.
Ezra Pound and T. E. Hulme attempted to create a theory of concrete
poetry. T. S. Eliot added to this school of thought with his
theory of the "objective
correlative." Contrast with abstract
/ abstract imagery.
POETRY: Poetry that draws much of its power from the way
the text appears situated on the page. The actual shape of the
lines of text may create a swan's neck, an altar, a geometric
pattern, or a set of wings, which in some direct way connects
to the meaning of the words. Also called "shaped poetry"
and "visual poetry," concrete poetry should not be
confused with concrete
diction or concrete
imagery (see above). The object here is to present each
poem as a different shape. It may appear on the page, on glass,
stone, wood, or other materials. The technique seems simple,
but can allow great subtlety. Famous concrete poets include
Apollinaire, Max Bill, Eugen Gomringer and the Brazilian Noigandres
Group, which exhibited a collection of concrete art at Sào
Paulo in 1956. In Germany, this school of poetry is called konkretisten
by critics. It includes Ernst Jandl, Achleitner, Heissenbüttel,
Mon, and Rühm. Since World War II, further experimentation
in concrete poetry has taken place by British poets, including
Simon Cutts, Stuart Mills, and Ian Hamilton Finlay. See also
In its more restricted literary sense, a conflation is a version
of a play or narrative that later editors create by combining
the text from more than one substantive edition. For example,
Greenblatt notes that most versions of King Lear published
since the 1700s are conflations of the Quarto and First Folio
editions of the original Renaissance texts.
The opposition between two characters (such as a protagonist
and an antagonist), between two large groups of people, or between
the protagonist and a larger problem such as forces of nature,
ideas, public mores, and so on. Conflict may also be completely
internal, such as the protagonist struggling with his psychological
tendencies (drug addiction, self-destructive behavior, and so
on); William Faulkner famously claimed that the most important
literature deals with the subject of "the
human heart in conflict with itself." Conflict is the
engine that drives a plot. Examples of narratives driven mainly
by conflicts between the protagonist and nature include Jack
London's "To Build a Fire" (in which the Californian
struggles to save himself from freezing to death in Alaska)
and Stephen Crane's "The Open Boat" (in which shipwrecked
men in a lifeboat struggle to stay alive and get to shore).
Examples of narratives driven by conflicts between a protagonist
and an antagonist include Mallory's Le Morte D'arthur,
in which King Arthur faces off against his evil son Mordred,
each representing civilization and barbarism respectively. Examples
of narratives driven by internal struggles include Daniel Scott
Keyes' "Flowers for Algernon," in which the hero struggles
with the loss of his own intelligence to congenital mental retardation,
and Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart," in which
the protagonist ends up struggling with his own guilt after
committing a murder. In complex works of literature, multiple
conflicts may occur at once. For instance, in Shakespeare's
Othello, one level of conflict is the unseen struggle
between Othello and the machinations of Iago, who seeks to destroy
him. Another level of conflict is Othello's struggle with his
own jealous insecurities and his suspicions that Desdemona is
cheating on him.
CLASSICS: Five ancient Chinese writings commonly attributed
to Confucius, though it
is likely they are actually compilations of traditional material
predating him. The five classics include the I Ching
(The Book of Changes), the Shu Ching (The Book
of History), the Shih Ching, (The Book of Odes),
the Record of Rites (Li Chi), and the Spring
and Autumn Annals. To see where this material fits in an
outline of Chinese history, click
of a verb to show its person, number, mood, or tense. Here is
a sample conjugation of the present tense indicative forms of
to sing in English and cantar in Spanish:
Infinitive To Sing
|You (singular) sing.
||You (plural) sing.
|He / She / It sings.
||Ustedes cantan (or
|El/ Ella / Lo canta
||Ellos / Ellas cantan.
The extra tinge or taint of meaning each word carries beyond
the minimal, strict definition found in a dictionary. For instance,
the terms civil war, revolution and rebellion
have the same denotation; they all refer to an attempt at social
or political change. However, civil war carries historical
connotations for Americans beyond that of revolution
or rebellion. Likewise, revolution is often applied
more generally to scientific or theoretical changes, and it
does not necessarily connote violence. Rebellion, for
many English speakers connotes an improper uprising against
a legitimate authority (thus we speak about "rebellious
teenagers" rather than "revolutionary teenagers").
In the same way, the words house and home both
refer to a domicile, but home connotes certain singular
emotional qualities and personal possession in a way that house
doesn't. I might own four houses I rent to others, but
I might call none of these my home, for example. Much
of poetry involves the poet using connotative diction
that suggests meanings beyond "what the words simply say."
Contrast with denotation.
A special type of alliteration
in which the repeated pattern of consonants is marked by changes
in the intervening vowels--i.e., the final consonants of the
stressed syllables match each other but the vowels differ.
As M. H. Abrams illustrates in The
Norton Anthology of English Literature, examples include
linger, longer, and languor or rider,
reader, raider, and ruder. Do not
confuse consonance with a consonant
(see below). See also assonance and sound
A speech sound that is not a vowel. To download a PDF file listing
consonants and their symbols in the International Phonetic Alphabet,
BE: Uninflected use of the verb be
to indicate habitual or frequent action. This grammatical structure
is characteristic of Black
Vernacular. An example would be as follows: "What
you be doing on Thursdays?" "I be working every afternoon."
Users of standard edited English typically frown on this grammatical
LITERATURE: Literature written "at the present moment."
Although the writers in every century would consider themselves
"contemporary" or "modern," when speakers
use this term, they almost always mean either modernist
COTERIE WRITING: Writing intended originally for the amusement or edification of a small circle of friends or family rather than for publication or public perusal. Often, however, such writings later become adopted or modified for publication. Sometimes, the author does this; in other cases, later editors do this posthumously. Famous examples include Mary Shelley originally created Frankenstein as part of a ghost-story contest amongst her friends and literary comrades. Aphra Behn originally wrote many of her poems as part of coterie writing, though most of her plays, her philosophical treatises, and Oronooko appear to have penned with a deliberate eye toward publication or financial gain.
SYMBOL: A unique or original
author creates within the context of an individual work or an
author's collected works. Examples include the Snopes family
in Faulkner's collected works, who together function as a symbol
of the South's moral decay, or the town of Castle Rock, Maine,
which in Stephen King's works functions as a microcosmic symbol
of human society. Contrast with cultural
The squeezing together of sounds or words--especially when one
word blurs into another--during fast or informal speech. Contractions
such as I'm (I am), he's (he is), and
they're (they are) are common in verbal communication,
but they are often considered too loose for more formal writing.
A thematic principle involving situational
irony in which a punishment's nature corresponds
exactly to the nature of a crime. Much of Dante's Inferno
revolves around elaborate contrapassio.
PAIR: Another term for a minimal
TEXT: A specific text upon which a modern edition is
based. For instance, there are at least three dominant manuscript
traditions of Langland's Piers Plowman poem: the A-text,
the B-text, and the C-text (and possibly a Z-text, as recent
scholarship has tentatively suggested). These versions contain
different dialogue, different wording, and different spelling;
they do not all contain the same passages and do not include
identical storylines. A modern editor must either choose one
to use as the basis of a modern edition, or she must create
Several Shakespeare plays vary wildly between the quarto and
folio versions--including Hamlet and King Lear.
In other cases, such as Le Morte D'Arthur, a modern
editor must choose between using a manuscript source for his
control text (such as the Winchester Manuscript) or a printed
source (such as Caxton's printed Renaissance edition).
A common feature that has become traditional or expected within
a specific genre
(category) of literature or film. In Harlequin romances, it
is conventional to focus on a male and female character who
struggle through misunderstandings and difficulties until they
fall in love. In western films of the early twentieth-century,
for instance, it has been conventional for protagonists to wear
white hats and antagonists to wear black hats. The wandering
knight-errant who travels from place to place, seeking adventure
while suffering from the effects of hunger and the elements,
is a convention in medieval romances. It is a convention for
an English sonnet
to have fourteen lines with a specific rhyme scheme, abab,
gg, and so on. The use of a chorus
and the unities
are dramatic conventions of Greek tragedy, while, the aside,
and the soliloquy
are conventions in Elizabethan tragedy. Conventions are often
referred to as poetic, literary, or dramatic, depending upon
whether the convention appears in a poem, short story or novel,
or a play.
A conventional linguistic trait is an arbitrary one learned
from others, not one determined by some natural law or genetic
inheritance. Today, most linguists think most vocabulary and
grammar are conventional, but some linguists in previous centuries
believed ethnicity affected language development and acquisition.
CHRISTI PLAY: A religious play performed outdoors in the
medieval period that enacts an event from the Bible, such as
the story of Adam and Eve, Noah's flood, the crucifixion, and
so on. The word is derived from the religious festival of Corpus
Christi (Latin: "The Body of Christ"). See also
An integral part of the medieval and Renaissance model of the
universe known as the "Chain
of Being." The idea was that different links on the
Chain of Being were interconnected and had a sort of sympathetic
correspondence to each other. Each type of being or object (men,
beasts, celestial objects, fish, plants, and rocks) had a place
within a hierarchy designed by God. Each type of object had
which was by nature the most noble, rare, valuable, and superb
example of its type. For instance, the king was primate among
men, the lion among beasts, the sun among celestial objects,
the whale among fish, the oak among trees, and the diamond among
rocks. Often, there was a symbolic link between primates of
different orders--such as the lion being a symbol of royalty,
or the king sleeping in a bed of oak. This symbolic link was
a "correspondence." However, correspondences were thought to
exist in the material world as well as in the world of ideas.
Disturbances in nature would correspond to disturbances in the
political realm (the body
politic), in the human body (the microcosm),
and in the natural world as a whole (the macrocosm).
For instance, if the king were to become ill, Elizabethans might
expect lions and beasts to fall sick, rebellions to break out
in the kingdom, individuals to develop headaches or fevers,
and stars to fall from the sky. All of these events could correspond
to each other on the chain of being, and each would coincide
with the others. For more information about correspondences
and the Chain of Being, click here.
IRONY: Another term for situational irony--especially situational
irony connected to a fatalistic or pessimistic view of life.
See discussion under irony,
The Greek word for the elevator-shoes worn by important
actors on stage. See discussion under buskins.
COTTABUS: See kottabos.
LIBRARY, THE: One of the most important collections
of Old and Middle English texts. Click
here for details.
NERO A.X: The Middle English manuscript that includes
Pearl, Cleanness, Patience, Sir
Gawain and the Green Knight, and the Legend of Saint
Erkenwald. Click here for
VITELLIUS A.XV: The Old English manuscript that includes
The Passion of Saint Christopher, The Wonders of
the East, and The Letter of Alexander to Aristotle,
Beowulf, and the Old English translation of Judith.
Click here for details.
A technique of determining stylistic qualities of a piece of
writing by counting the numbers of words in paragraphs or sentences,
and determining the average number of modifiers, average word
lengths, and so on.
Two lines--the second line immediately following the first--of
the same metrical length that end in a rhyme to form a complete
unit. Geoffrey Chaucer and other writers helped popularize the
form in English poetry in the fourteenth century. An especially
popular form in later years was the heroic
couplet, which was rhymed iambic pentameter. It was
popular from the 1600s through the late 1700s. Much Romantic
poetry in the early 1800s used the couplet as well. A couplet
that occurs after the volta
in an English sonnet is called a gemel
OF LOVE: In medieval convention, a court
of love is an assemblage of women presided over by a queen or
noblewoman. At this mock-court, various young knights or courtiers
are summoned to court and put on "trial" by the ladies
for their crimes against love. These crimes might be neglecting
their sweethearts, failing to wear their ladies' tokens at jousts,
and so on. Chaucer himself may have been summoned to a court
of love for his "libelous" depiction of Criseyde in
Troilus and Criseyde, and Queen Anne may have required
him to write The Legend of Good Women as a penance for
his literary "crimes." In "The Wife of Bath's
Tale," we find an inversion of the normal play-acting in
which King Arthur gives Gwenevere and her ladies the right to
try a rapist-knight for his crimes. Here, the women literally
have power of life or death over the subject. Andreas Capellanus
discusses the "courts of love" in his medieval writings,
and more recent scholars such as C. S. Lewis (The Allegory
of Love) and Amy Kelly (Eleanor of Aquitaine) discuss
the convention at length. Cf. demand d'amour.
LOVE (Medieval French: fin amour or amour courtois):
Possibly a cultural trope in the late twelfth-century, or possibly
a literary convention that captured popular imagination, courtly
love refers to a code of behavior that gave rise to modern ideas
of chivalrous romance. The term itself was popularized by C. S.
Lewis' and Gaston Paris' scholarly studies, but its historical
existence remains contested in critical circles. The conventions
of courtly love are that a knight of noble blood would adore
and worship a young noble-woman from afar, seeking to protect
her honor and win her favor by valorous deeds. He typically
falls ill with love-sickness, while the woman chastely or scornfully
rejects or refuses his advances in public but privately encourages
him. Courtly love was associated with (A) nobility, since
no peasants can engage in "fine love"; (B)
secrecy; (C) adultery, since often the one or both participants
were married to another noble who was unloved; and (D)
paradoxically with chastity, since the passion should never
be consummated due to social circumstances, thus it was a "higher
love" unsullied by selfish carnal desires or political
concerns of arranged marriages. In spite of this ideal of chastity,
the knightly characters in literature usually end up giving
in to their passions with tragic results--such as Lancelot and
Guenevere's fate, or that of Tristan and Iseult.
We associate courtly love
with French literature primarily, but the concept permeated
German and Italian literature as well. The German equivalent
of fin amour is Minne
and the Italian poets of the dolce
stil nuovo cultivated similar subject matter.
The convention of courtly
love eventually becomes a source of parody. Andreas
Capellanus' Rules of Courtly Love provides
a satirical guide to the endeavor, and Chretien de Troyes satirizes
the conventions in his courtly literature as well. Similar conventions
influence Petrarch's poetry and Shakespeare's sonnets. These
sonnets often emphasize in particular the idea of "love
from afar" and "unrequited love," and make use
of imagery and wording common to the earlier French tradition.
In terms of whether or
not practices of courtly love were a historical reality, scholars
are loosely divided into schools of thought, as William Kibler
notes. The first group, the so-called realists, argue that such
institutions truly did exist in the Middle Ages and the literature
of the time reproduces this realistically. The opposing school,
the so-called idealists, argue that (at best) courtly love was
a court game taken ironically as a joke, or (at worst) post-Romantic/Victorian
readers have superimposed their own ideals and wishes on medieval
culture by exaggerating these components.
TRICK: A sub-category of the "bed-trick,"
this is a folk motif
in which the position of a cradle in a dark room leads one character
to climb into bed with the wrong sexual partner. It appears
prominently in Chaucer's "The Reeve's Tale." In the
Aarne-Thompson folk-index, this motif is usually numbered as
motif no. 1363.
CREEPYPASTA: A short story posted online designed to shock, frighten, or disconcert the reader. For more discussion, see ghost story.
A native language combining the traits of multiple languages,
i.e., an advanced and fully developed pidgin. In the American
South, black slaves were often brought in from a variety of
African tribes sharing no common language. On the plantation,
they developed first a pidgin (limited and simplified) version
of English with heavy Portuguese and African influences. This
pidgin allowed slaves some rudimentary communication with each
other and with their slave masters. In time, they lost their
original African languages and the mixed speech became the native
tongue of their children--a creole. Contrast with pidgin.
Another term for rhetorical climax. See climax,
(plural: crises): The turning point of uncertainty and
tension resulting from earlier conflict in a plot. At the moment
of crisis in a story, it is unclear if the protagonist will
succeed or fail in his struggle. The crisis usually leads to
or overlaps with the climax of a story, though some critics
use the two terms synonymously. See climax,
READING: Careful analysis of an essay's structure and logic
in order to determine the validity of an argument. Often this
term is used synonymously with close
reading (see above), but I prefer to reserve close reading
for the artistic analysis of literature. Click here for more
information about critical reading.
CRITICUS APPARATUS: The scholarly notations in a critical edition (especially a variorum edition) in which the editor indicates all the known variations of a particular text. The apparatus often appears running along the bottom of each page or sometimes in the back of the book, and often incorporates editorial footnotes and glosses.
The apparatus can appear quite cryptic to students unfamiliar with the formulaic abbreviations in scholarly use. For instance, below is an illustrative notation from A. V. C. Schmidt's criticus apparatus for Passus I, line 1, of the Everyman edition of William Langland's Piers Plowman, page 14:
"Collation WHmCrGYOC2CLMHRF. RUBRIC Passus primus de visione W&r (pr] Secundus F; de v.] de petri le ploughman BR; om O); om GC2."
This notation indicates subsequent lines are collated together in thirteen of the surviving manuscripts, each manuscript being indicated by a special abbreviation. Furthermore, the opening line in manuscripts "W" and "r" has a Latin title written in red ink ("rubricated") as indicated, but another manuscript "F" has labeled it as "secundus" rather than "primus," while the "B" and "R" manuscripts label it in a combination of French and Latin, and so on. A good criticus apparatus helps document all this diversity by gathering it together, line-by-line, for convenient comparison at a glance, but the editor presumes the reader knows the dense, standardized abbreviations involved in this notation.
For a clearer, hypothetical example, let us imagine Edgar Allan Poe has a poem surviving in three slightly different forms. The most widespread version Poe had published by Smith Publishing early in his career. Ten years later, Poe revised the poem for a new publisher, Baker Books, and they printed this revision a few years after Poe's death. Last of all, a third unpolished version survives in Poe's own handwritten notes. Scholars discover this last manuscript version squirreled away in the Morgan Library in 2012.
Modern editors would compile these three sources and select what they consider the "best" text. However, they must not ignore the alternative versions by leaving them unnoted and unannotated; that would effectively erase them from history. Accordingly, the editors might add a criticus apparatus. Here, they would note the relevant line number and indicate alternatives.
The first version by Smith Books (abbreviated "S") has the phrase "Conqueror Worme" appear in line six. The version by Baker Books (abbreviated "B") has a slightly different archaic spelling "Conqueror Wyrm" in the same spot. Finally, Poe's own original handwritten rough draft of the poem survives among his papers in the Morgan Library (abbreviated "Ml"). This manuscript uses the abbreviation "Conqu. Wm." scrawled in that line.
Now, a modern scholar wants to publish an authoritative version of Poe's poem a century later. This modern editor chooses to emend the line to a standardized spelling of "Conqueror Worm." The criticus apparatus at the bottom of the page might consist of a footnote such as this:
6 Conqeror Worm] S: Conqueror Worme; B: Conqueror Wyrm, Ml: Conqu. Wm.
The "6" indicates line six as the section with variant readings. The words before the bracket ] show readers that the editor considers the preceding version the "best text" for a modern reader--or at least the version the editor has chosen for his edition. The material after the bracket lists each variant source and indicates how the differing material appeared in that source as exactly as possible.
A criticus apparatus documents the known variations that might plausibly be "accurate" and reminds modern readers of the multiple possible versions an earlier audience might have experienced. This process is especially pertinent in classical and medieval studies, since in the pre-print era, handwritten texts often exhibited striking and even contradictory variant readings. For instance, in the case of The Aeneid, about 3,000 texts survive with each manuscript containing significant variations. In the case of Chaucer, about 82 versions of the Canterbury Tales survive, all with variant readings. In the case of Shakespeare, striking differences appear in the F (folio) and Q1, Q2, Q3 (first, second, and third quarto) versions of his plays, and so on.
CROSSED-D: Another term for the capital letter edh or eth used in Anglo-Saxon orthography.
RHYME: In long couplets, especially hexameter lines, sufficient
room in the line allows a poet to use rhymes in the middle of
the line as well as at the end of each line. Swinburne's "Hymn
to Proserpine" illustrates its use:
hast conquered, O pale Galilean;
the world has grown grey from Thy breath;
We have drunken of things Lethean,
and fed on the fullness of death.
Laurel is green for a season,
and love is sweet for a day;
But love grows bitter with treason,
and laurel outlives not May.
In the excerpt above, the
words in red are part of crossed
rhyme, and the words in green are
regular rhyme. Crossed rhyme is also called interlaced rhyme.
Contrast with internal
rhyme and leonine
CROWN OF SONNETS: According to Shipley (142), an interlinked poem or cycle of seven sonnets in which the last line of each of the first six serves as the last line of the next, and the last line of the seventh sonnet serves as the first line of the first sonnet. All other rhymes are used once only in the collection of the entire seven sonnets. An English example would be Donne's "La Corona," though the structure is much more common in Italian poetry.
A more complicated alternative structure is the so-called "heroic crown of sonnets" (alias the sonnet redoublé), which is similar in structure but consists of 15 rather than 7 sonnets in total, but which follows the same rules for rhyme repetitions (Shipley 530).
CTHULHU MYTHOS (also
Cthulu and Kutulu, pronounced various ways):
Strongly influential in pulp science
fiction and early twentieth-century
stories, the Cthulhu mythos revolves
around a pantheon of malign alien beings
as gods by half-breed cultists. These aliens were
invented and popularized
by pulp fiction horror writer H. P. Lovecraft. The name Cthulhu comes
from Lovecraft's 1928 short story, "The Call of Cthulhu,"
which introduces the creature Cthulhu as a gigantic, bat-winged,
tentacled, green monstrosity who once ruled planet
prehistoric times. Currently in a death-like state of hibernation,
it now awaits
to rise from the underwater city of
and plunge the earth once more into darkness and terror.
August Derleth later coined the term "Cthulhu mythos"
to describe collectively the settings, themes, and alien
first imagined by Lovecraft but later adapted by pulp fiction
authors like Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, Robert
Henry Kuttner, and Brian Lumley. Some common elements, motifs,
and characters of the mythos include the following:
Great Old Ones," an assortment of ancient,
horrible, powerful (and often unpronounceable) deities/aliens
including Cthulhu, Azathoth, Nyarlathotep, Shub-Niggurath,
Dagon, and Yog-Sothoth.
Elder Gods/Elder Things," A term used
interchangeably with "The Great Old Ones" by
Lovecraft, but used by August Derleth
refer to a separate group of aliens at war with the
evil "Great Old Ones." They serve as a deus
ex machina in several
short stories of the Cthulhu mythos.
races, i.e., lesser alien species that worship and/or
slaves to The Great Old Ones, including the shape-changing
shoggoths, the intelligent fungus crabs (Mi-go) living
on Pluto, the tentacled star-spawn, and the aquatic race
of "Deep Ones" living near Devil's Reef
imaginary town of Arkham, New England,
used as a setting, along with nearby towns like Dunwich
along the Miskatonic river valley.
theme of insanity (often protagonists suffer mental breakdowns
merely by viewing one of the Old Ones).
appearance of forbidden books of ancient and dangerous
lore, such as the fictional Necronomicon, The
Book of Eibon,
and Unaussprechlichen Kulten.
SYMBOL: A symbol widely or generally accepted as
meaning something specific within an entire culture or social
group, as opposed to a contextual symbol created by a single
author that has meaning only within a single work or group
works. Examples of cultural symbols in Western culture include
the cross as a symbol of Christianity, the American flag as
a symbol of America's colonial history of thirteen
colonies growing into fifty states, the gold ring as a symbol
of marital commitment, the Caduceus as a symbol of medicine,
and the color black as a symbol of mourning. Examples of cultural
symbols in other cultures include white as a symbol of mourning
in Japan, the Yin-Yang sphere as an oriental symbol of oppositional
forces in balance, the white crane as a symbol of longevity
in Mandarin China, and so forth. Any writer in a specific culture
could use one of these symbols and be relatively confident
the reader would understand what each symbol represented. Thus,
if a writer depicted a pedophilic priest as trampling a crucifix
into the mud, it is likely the reader would understand this
action represents the way the priest tramples Christian ideals,
and so forth. Contrast with contextual
symbol and archetype.
MOVEMENT: (1) A loose school
fiction authors including William Gibson, Bruce
Stirling, Rudy Rucker, and Neal Stephenson who rose in popularity
1980s and 1990s. (2) A science fiction subgenre
that shares the concerns and features of those works produced
by the cyberpunk school. Features of their novels and short
stories in this period include the following motifs:
amoral vision of the near-future focusing on urban life,
often in post-industrial dystopias.
violence between gangs, private armies of mercenaries, and
decadent government agencies
(and often dangerous) cybernetic implants and sensory enhancements
in the general population
multi-national corporations or franchises that have gradually
become more influential than passé governments
of high-tech multicultural crime syndicates--especially
yakuza and Jamaican drug posses
or illegal artifical intelligence programs seeking to free
themselves from corporate control
designer drugs or precise mind-altering and mood-altering
of space travel, which forces ever greater numbers of people
into cramped urban conditions
(and most especially) computer hackers who link
computers by directly plugging their brains into networks
(often referred to as "jacking in" in cyberpunk
parlance) or by wearing virtual reality goggles.
Common themes include the
dehumanization, commodification, and mechanization of the
the negative effects of commercialization upon society; and
implicit philosophical questions regarding consciousness
sensory reality. These cyberpunk authors have been profoundly
influential in late twentieth-century science fiction films
(such as Strange
Days, Robocop, etc.) and Japanese anime,
where cyberpunk elements have become so common as to be
cliché. The "metaverse" or the "Net"
imagined by these early authors in the 1980s have been seen
as prophetic of the later real-world rise of the internet
1993. Examples of novels, anthologies, short stories, and other
literary works from the cyberpunk movement include Neuromancer,
Mona Lisa Overdrive, Islands in the Net,
"Johnny Mnemonic." (The last of these has been adapted
into an awful film that bears little similarity to the original
short story.) More recently, Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash
has put a more satirical spin on the genre.
In general use, a literary cycle is any group of closely related
works. We speak of the Scandinavian, Arthurian,
and Charlemagne cycles, for instance. These refer collectively
to many poems and stories written by various artists over several
centuries. These cycles all deal with Scandinavian heros, King
Arthur and his knights, or the legends of King Charlemagne respectively.
More specifically, a mystery
cycle refers to the complete set of mystery
plays performed during the Corpus Christi festival in
medieval religious drama (typically 45 or so plays, each of
which depicted a specific event in biblical history from the
creation of the world to the last judgment). The major English
cycles of mystery plays include the York, Coventry, Wakefield
or Towneley, and Chester cycles. See Corpus
play, above. See also sonnet
A Welsh professional storyteller. The equivalent Irish term
is an ollamh.
Cf. bard and sceop.
HIR: A syllabic verse form
in ancient Welsh poetry. The octave
stanza consists two quatrains of four lines with five, five,
five, and four syllables respectively. The rhyme
scheme is AAAx AAAx, with
X's indicating unrhymed lines. See octave
NAW BAN: A syllabic verse form in ancient Welsh poetry
in which some lines are composed of nine syllables. The rhyming
couplets, when they appear, must rhyme with another line of
(pronounced kun HAN neth, lit. Welsh for "symphony" or "harmony"): A Welsh term that loosely
denotes sound similarities peculiar to Welsh poetry, especially
rhyme. Typically, the consonants in one word or line
repeat in the same pattern at the beginning and end of the next
word or line--but the vowel sounds between the consonants change
slightly. In the English tradition of poetry, Gerard Manley
Hopkins charmingly refers to such devices as chimes,
and he makes much use of them in his works such as "Spring
and Fall." See
For an example of cynghanedd in English, click
A king, another term for an Anglo-Saxon hlaford.
Not to be confused with kenning, an Anglo-Saxon poetic device.
A CHWTA: A Welsh verse form consisting of an octave
stanza of six rhyming or alliterating seven-syllable lines plus
a couplet. The second line of the couplet rhymes with the first
six lines. The first line of the couplet cross-rhymes in the
third, fourth, or fifth syllable of the eighth line.
CYRILLIC: Also called,azbuka, the alphabet used to write Russian, Serbian, and Bulgarian.
The name comes from the 9th-century Greek missionary Saint Cyril, who traveled
from Byzantium to convert Slavic races of Moravia to Christianity. Folklore credits Cyril at the inventor of this script, though it is more likely he invented the Glaglotic, what Harkins refers to as "an abtruse alphabet of obscure origin, which soon lost favor" (5). Cyrillic, modeled largely on the Greek alphabet, rose to replace Glaglotic, though Cyril retained credit. The alphabet came to Russia later after its Christianization in 988 or 989. Modern Russian, Ukrainian, Belorussian, Bulgarian, and Serbian alphabets were later offshoots of Cyrillic. Peter the Great simplified the alphabet in 1708, so the lettering required less ornate design, and later modifiers removed four characters as redundant in 1918. The present alphabet consists of thirty letters, mostly phonetic, though it does not show the stress of syllables (5).
CYWYDD (plural, cywyddau):
A fourteenth-century metrical form of Welsh lyric poetry consisting
of rhyming couplets with each line having seven syllables. Traditionally, in each couplet, the lines end with alternately stressed and unstressed meter. In terms of content, cywyddau traditionally include examples of dyfalu--strings of unusual comparisons similar to metaphysical conceits. The genre
is associated with the poet Dafydd ap Gwilym.
DEUAIR HIRION: In Welsh prosody, the term refers to
a form of light verse consisting of a single couplet with seventeen
syllables. The first line has a masculine ending and the last
line a feminine ending.
LLOSGYRNOG: A type of Welsh verse consisting of a sestet
stanza in which the syllable count is eight, eight, seven, eight,
eight, and seven respectively. The first two lines rhyme and
cross-rhyme with the middle syllable of the sixth line and the
third and sixth lines rhyme with each other. Rime coueé
has a similar scheme.
TO TOP OF THIS PAGE
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
resources for more information than these humble webpages provide:
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Thomas Cable. A History of
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