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Literary Terms and Definitions: T

This page is under perpetual construction! It was last updated 3 September 2014.


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.

[A] [B] [C] [D] [E] [F] [G] [H] [I] [J] [K] [L] [M]

[N] [O] [P] [Q] [R] [S] [T] [U] [V] [W] [X] [Y] [Z]

TABOO (also spelled tabu): (1) In anthropology, a taboo is a socially prohibited activity. For instance, in classical Greek culture, it was forbidden for a murderer or menstruating woman to enter the sacred space of a temple or the central agora of a city beyond a temenos boundary lest that action spread contagious miasma. (2) A linguistic taboo is a social prohibition that forbids mentioning a word or subject. Commonly, various cultures might have taboos against mentioning bodily fluids, defecation, certain sexual activities, or certain religious terms. These terms often suffer linguistic pejoration and become "curse-words." For instance, in Britain, the adjective bloody is considered taboo or impolite to speak aloud as a curse word because of its older religious connotations as a medieval curse about the blood of Christ's wounds. In American English, words describing specific sexual activities or bodily functions usually are taboo for polite conversation, and so on.

TABULA RASA (Latin, "erased tablet"): The term used in Enlightenment philosophy for the idea that humanity is born completely innocent, without any initial predispositions, attitudes, or beliefs. Accordingly, no natural state of humanity exists, but instead, humanity is infinitely malleable. The newborn child is thus a "blank slate" on which experiences and education will write his or her future personality and beliefs. The idea is influential in the philosophical writings of Locke, Rousseau, and Wollstonecraft, but it also influences literary fiction such as Frankenstein, in which the monster's account of his experiences after his initial creation characterize him as an innocent tabula rasa.

TACTILE IMAGERY: Verbal description that evokes the sense of touch. See imagery.

TAG: "Tags" are catch-phrases or character traits that a fiction writer uses repeatedly with a character. For instance, both the phrase, "Elementary my dear Watson," and the "smoking-pipe-with-deer-hunter-hat" ensemble of Sherlock Holmes, are two "tags" Sir Arthur Conan Doyle uses repeatedly as distinguishing marks for that character. In the old Doc Savage adventurer thrillers of the 1940s and 1950s, the phrase, "The Man of Bronze" was a verbal tag to describe the protagonist, while the author used a sword hidden in a cane as the object-tag for his dapper lawyer side-kick. Meanwhile, the author used ape-like visage as a descriptive tag for "Monk," the stunted chemist who was a part of his crime-busting team. Tags thus can be either phrases or words or they can be imagery and description or perhaps simple objects and wardrobe--overall, a very versital term.

TAIL-RHYME (translated from French rime couée, or Latin rhythmus caudatus, also called caudate rhyme): A unit of verse in which a short line, followed by a longer line or section of longer lines, rhymes with a preceding short line. The number of possible variants following this scheme are too many to list here. Famous examples can be found in Chaucer's "Sir Thopas" and Drayton's "Ballad of Agincourt." The following example of tail-rhyme comes from P. B. Shelley's "To Night":

Swiftly walk o'er the western wave,

Spirit of Night!
Out of the misty eastern cave,
Where, all the long and lone daylight,
Thou wovest dreams of joy and fear,
Which make thee terrible and dear,--
Swift be thy flight!

TANKA: A genre of Japanese poetry similar to the haiku. A tanka consists of thirty-one syllables arranged in five lines. The lines contain five / seven / five / seven / seven syllables. Also known as the waka or uta, it originated in the 600s CE, and it is regarded as the classic, ancient Japanese poetic form. It has had little influence on Western poetry, though Amy Lowell and Adelaide Crapsey have imitated it. Contrast it with the much more influential haiku.

TAUTOLOGY: An unartful redundancy, unneeded repetition, or or misused periphrasis in writing or speech. Contrast with tautotes (TBA). See discussion under periphrasis and repetition.

TELEMACHIA: The first four books of The Odyssey are together called the Telemachia because they focus on the problems Telemachus faces while waiting for his father Odysseus to return home.

TELESCOPED METAPHOR: Also called a complex metaphor, a telescoped metaphor appears when the vehicle of one metaphor becomes the tenor of another closely connected to it. Deutsche points out an example from Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra. Here, Octavian speaks to Antony concerning Octavian's sister, Octavia, who is also Antony's wife. Octavia serves as a tie that binds the two men to each other politically. Octavian compares Octavia first to peace, then compares peace to cement, then makes a comparison to a battering ram:

Let not the peace of Virtue which is set
Betwixt us, as the cement of our love
To keep it builded, be the Ram to batter
The Fortune of it.

Here, Caesar's sister is the tenor, and "peace of Virtue" is the vehicle, initially. The "cement of love" is vehicle next, which has "peace of Virtue" as its tenor. That in turn is transformed into a battering ram as the metaphor continues to unfold and extend like a collapsible telescope. See further discussion of vehicle and tenor under metaphor.

TELESTICH: A poem in which the last letters of successive lines form a word, phrase, or consecutive letters of the alphabet. Compare with abecedarian poem and acrostic.

TEL QUEL SCHOOL: A school of French intellectuals associated with Philippe Seller's review Tel Quel. Sample members include Julia Kristeva, Jean-Joseph Goux, and Jacques Derrida.

TEMENOS (from Greek "to cut"): In Classical Greek culture, the temenos is a sacred area marked off as holy ground. On this special plot of land, we might find temples dedicated to a particular god, sanctuaries, holy groves, the race-course for Pythian or Olympic games, the agora in the center of each city, and the Acropolis. Stones called temenos markers would indicate the boundary, and it would be taboo for any ritually unclean person to cross this line lest they risk creating or spreading miasma.

TEMPO: The pace or speed of speech and also the degree to which individual sounds are fully articulated or blurred together. The faster the tempo, the more likely sounds will blur or elide.

TEMPORAL: In grammatical and linguistic discussion, something relating to the element of time. See further discussion under clause.

TEMPORAL NUMBERING: One of several possible numbering systems in a language's grammar. For a discussion of temporals, see multiplicatives.

TEMPTATION MOTIF: A motif in which one of the protagonist's primary struggles is the conflict between his or her sense of (1) personal honor and ethics and (2) his or her personal desires, ambitions, or wickedness. Biblical examples include the fall of mankind in Genesis, David and Bathsheba, and Satan's three temptations of Christ. This motif is central to a variety of patristic, medieval and Renaissance works, including the Confessions, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Paradise Lost, and The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus. Stories that involve a temptation motif frequently focus on internal conflict or psychological drama in addition to any external plot lines. In medieval theology, the temptation motif was often divided into three categories: concupiscentia carnis (physical temptations of the flesh such as gluttony, drunkenness, and illicit sexuality), concupiscentia oculora ("temptation of the eyes" i.e., mental temptations for imagined material possessions, power or wealth) and superbia vitae (pride concerning life--the desire humans have to be more than what God created humans to be.) Perhaps the most dramatic example is the Faustian bargain, a temptation motif in which an individual sells his or her soul to the devil.

TENDENTIAL: In grammar, tendential refers to action that has been attempted but remains incomplete--especially interrupted action. This situation is only of minor concern in English grammar, but it is important in Greek and other languages.

TENOR: In common usage, tenor refers to the course of thought, meaning or emotion in anything written or spoken. Among rhetoricians, however, the word tenor more specifically refers to the subject of a vehicle in a metaphorical statement. For instance, if a writer claimed, "Mrs. Higgins is a witch," the tenor of the term witch is Mrs. Higgins. When Shakespeare claims that "all the world's a stage," the entire world is the tenor for the metaphor of a stage. See further discussion under metaphor.

TENSE VOWEL: Any vowel made with the tongue muscles relatively more tense than in a lax vowel. These tense vowels tend to be less central and pronounced higher in the oral cavity than lax vowels. Examples include the vowels [i], [e], [u], and [o].

TENSION: (1) In common usage, tension refers to a sense of heightened involvement, uncertainty, and interest an audience experiences as the climax of the action approaches. (2) In the school of literary theory called "New Criticism" in the 1930s and later, the word tension refers more specifically to the quality of balanced opposites that can provide form and unity to a literary work of diverse components. This sort of tension exists between the literal and metaphorical meanings of a work, between what is written and what the text implies, between the serious and the ironic, between contradictions in the text that the reader must resolve without authorial discussion, or any equilibrium resulting from the harmony of opposite tendencies.

TESTAMENT: An agreement or covenant, especially in the sense of a will being a "last will and testament" or in the sense of the two major portions of the Bible being a covenant between God and humanity. In literature, the term is often used in the sense of "affirmation," such as Robert Bridges' The Testament of Beauty, which affirms the wisdom of the artistic spirit.

TERCET: A three-line unit or stanza of poetry. It typically rhymes in an AAA or ABA pattern. If the tercet forms a stanza by itself, it is often called a triplet.

TERMINISTIC SCREEN: Kenneth Burke's term for the way a word or label alters the way we categorize, analyze, and perceive the object about which we talk. Compare with Whorf's Hypothesis.

TERRIBLE SONNETS: In spite of the label, this phrase does not refer to poorly written sonnets. Gerard Manley Hopkins used the term "terrible sonnets" to designate several of his later religious poems, in which he feels isolated from God. In this poems, his sense of individuality leads Hopkins to confront his solipsism--and react with despair ("the dark night of the soul," as described by St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order). The terrible sonnets contrast starkly with Hopkins' earlier religious poetry, which focus on the ecstatic joy of being in God's presence or God's creation. Sample terrible sonnets include Hopkins' "Carrion Comfort," "No Worst, There Is None," "I Wake and Feel the Fell of Dark, Not Day," and "Thou Art Indeed Just, Lord."

TERZA RIMA (Italian, "third rhyme"): A three-line stanza form with interlocking rhymes that move from one stanza to the next. The typical pattern is ABA, BCB, CDC, DED, and so on. Dante chose terza rima's tripartite structure as the basic poetic unit of his trilogy, The Divine Comedy. An English example is found in Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind." Here are two sample stanzas:

Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
What if my leaves are falling like its own!
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies

Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone,
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,
My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!

TETRAGRAMMATON: The four Hebrew consonant letters corresponding to yhwh (or in German transliteration, jhvh). The oldest Hebrew writers referred to God in a variety of ways: El (God), Elohim (God, but in a plural form as was common in other Ugaritic and Semitic traditions), or by a personal name containing the letters yhwh, usually rendered as Yahweh in modern transcription. Over time, given certain Kabbalistic and mystical leanings, Hebrew scribes began to add extra semantic weight to this combination of written letters. It is as if the holiness of God spilled over into the inky strokes signifying the Divine on parchment. Scribes and priests treated the tetragrammaton as spiritually charged by its use in prayers, curses, and blessings. Divine help, after all, is triggered by invocation or calling upon the name of a deity. The tetragrammaton often became personified--almost like a separate entity from its referent. Thus, the Deuteronomic writers customarily referred to the Temple in Jerusalem as the place where Yahweh's "name" dwelled rather than (or in addition to) being the residence of Yahweh himself (Gabel and Wheeler 269).

The original Hebrew writing system did not have letters indicating vowel sounds. The scribes only wrote down consonant letters and relied upon memory and context to supply the appropriate vowels. However, the tetragrammaton Yahweh was different from other Hebrew terms because it underwent a linguistic taboo. It could be written down, but it became forbidden to say the name aloud. (Gabon and Wheeler note there is "no real evidence that this originally had been the case," with only anachronistic additions to the Leviticus text in Leviticus 24:10-16 being used to justify the taboo a posteriori.) Shortly after the Babylonian Exile, however, the divine name was considered too sacred to pronounce and strict rules prevented its use, even though before this time the ordinary believer used God's name as a matter of course. The convention then became that, when reading the scriptures aloud, the reader would substitute a neutral title, adonai ("my Lord") wherever the tetragrammaton yhwh appeared. After the custom of using diacritical markings to indicate vowels appeared in Hebrew scribal practice, the scribe would continue to use the consonant letters, but would instead place the diacritical vowel markings for adonai above the consonants, reminding the reader to substitute adonai for the tetragrammaton. (This substitution sounds a bit confusing in English, but the markings are distinctive and quickly discernable in written Hebrew). The Greek kurios and Latin dominus appear as translated equivalents to adonai, but many modern English Bibles indicate the tetragrammaton by writing LORD in all capital letters but with slightly smaller typefont, which imitates the special status of the yhwh in the original Hebrew. This distinction, however, only applies to the Hebrew Bible, not the New Testament. Note that Jehovah is an incorrect rendering of yhwh first popularized in the Renaissance by King James translators unfamiliar with this unique Hebrew convention.

TETRALOGY: (1) In a general sense, a collection of four narratives that are contiguous and continuous in chronology. Just as three books that tell a continuous story constitute a trilogy, four books that tell a continuous narrative are a tetralogy. (2) A set of four plays that constitute a long historical cycle, written in approximately the same half of Shakespeare's career. Scholars refer to Shakespeare as writing a "First Tetralogy" (containing Richard III and Henry VI, part 1, part 2, and part 3) and a "Second Tetralogy" (containing Richard II, Henry IV, part I., Henry IV, part 2, and Henry V.) In opera, Wagner's Ring of the Nibelungs serves as a tetralogy. Contrast with sequel and trilogy.

TETRAMETER: A line consisting of four metrical feet. See discussion under meter.

TERMINUS A QUO: The earliest possible date that a literary work could have been written, a potential starting point for dating a manuscript or text. Latin for "boundary from that point."

TERMINUS AD QUEM: The latest possible date that a literary work could have been written, a potential ending point for dating a manuscript or text. Latin for "boundary up to this point."

TEST ACT OF 1673: A law requiring all British officials holding public office to receive the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper in accordance with the rituals of the Established Church of England (the Anglican Church). This law was designed to exclude Catholics, Anabaptists, and Scottish Presbyterians from holding positions of importance. Swift favored the Test Act, and his political position brought about one of literature's unique satires. When more tolerant times came to England, it became politically desirable to reconcile with Scottish and Irish minorities. At that point, the English government proposed abolishing the Test Act. Swift responded by writing his satirical essay, "Abolishing Christianity in England," in which he equates the removal of the Test Act with an attempt to remove completely the last vestiges of Christianity in England.

TEXT: In literary criticism, formalist critics use the term text to refer to a single work of literary art (such as a specific poem, essay, short story). In formalist thinking, this text is an autonomous verbal object--i.e., it is self-enclosed and self-creating, and thus the critic need not necessarily explicate it using the biography of the author, or the historical background of its time-period, or other "extra-textual" details.

TEXTUAL CRITICISM: The collection, comparison, and collating of all textual variants in order to reconstruct or recreate a single authoritative text--especially one that reflects authorial intention.

TEXTUAL VARIANT: A version of a text that has differences in wording or structure compared with other texts, especially one with missing lines or extra lines added. In some cases, textual variants reflect the difference between an author's early version or rough draft of a work and a later version or polished final product. Variance in Shakespeare's plays might have come about in the difference between the foul papers (handwritten rough drafts) and the fair copy (the largely corrected versions sent to the printers). Variations in Chaucer's manuscripts of The Canterbury Tales might reflect an earlier, alternative scheme for structuring the work that Chaucer later abandoned in favor of a revised order for the various tales. Other textual variants in literary works are the product of error, scribal corruption, intentional censorship, or errata. See fair copy, errata, foul papers, scribal corruption, and Ur-text.

Finally, the author might deliberately make changes in later versions of a poem or story. For instance, Dr. Karen Karbiener notes significant textual variants appear in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. In the first edition of 1818, the teenage Shelley describes Elizabeth as having a strong resemblence to Shelley herself. Many of the novel's subplots had rather incestuous overtones, and the text focuses more on Victor Frankenstein's moral free will. Karbiener points out how Shelley alters or changes these elements in her 1831 edition from Colburn and Bentley's Standard Novels Series, when Shelley is an older and less radical author.

TEXTUALITY: See écriture.

TEXTURE: In the thought of John Crowe Ransom and the New Critics, "texture" involves poetic details such as the modification of the metrical pattern, associations attached to words, and the aural values of spoken sounds. These elements are separate from the structure of the poem, and they are significantly of interest in a technical sense, but they cannot be captured in a paraphrase or summary of the poem's argument or even in its literal content.

TEXTUS RECEPTUS: The text of the Greek New Testament based on Erasmus' Greek text. In spite of considerable errors and flaws, for four hundred years it was accepted as the standard or commonly received text, hence the name textus receptus. It served as the primary text used in scholarly translations (including the King James translation) and in scholarly debate until historical and textual criticism developed further in the 19th century.

THANATOS (Greek, "death"): Freud's term for a subconscious desire for self-destruction--a secret longing to die--a death wish. See also wish fulfillment.

THEATER IN THE ROUND: A performance taking place on an arena stage. See arena stage.

THEATER OF DIONYSUS: The outdoor theater in Athens where Greek drama began as a part of religious rituals on the sloped side of the Acropolis in Athens.

THEGN: A warrior who has sworn his loyalty to a lord in Anglo-Saxon society. In return for a gift of weaponry and provisions of food and drink at the mead-hall, the thegn vows to fight for his lord and die in his service. He also takes up the task of avenging his lord's death if that lord (hlaford) should die. Compare with Modern English thane. See Anglo-Saxon, hlaford, and heriot.

THEMATIC VOWEL: In linguistics, a vowel attached to the end of an Indo-European root word to form a stem.

THEME: A central idea or statement that unifies and controls an entire literary work. The theme can take the form of a brief and meaningful insight or a comprehensive vision of life; it may be a single idea such as "progress" (in many Victorian works), "order and duty" (in many early Roman works), "seize-the-day" (in many late Roman works), or "jealousy" (in Shakespeare's Othello). The theme may also be a more complicated doctrine, such as Milton's theme in Paradise Lost, "to justify the ways of God to men," or "Socialism is the only sane reaction to the labor abuses in Chicago meat-packing plants" (Upton Sinclair's The Jungle). A theme is the author's way of communicating and sharing ideas, perceptions, and feelings with readers, and it may be directly stated in the book, or it may only be implied. Compare with motif and leit-motif.

THEOCRASY: Not to be confused with theocracy, theocrasy is the process by which aspects of two or more separate gods in mythology comingle or blend in the form of one deity. For example, the Greek goddess Hera combines features from a pre-Classical cow-spirit (thus her lingering Homeric epithet boopis, or "cow-eyed"), and a high crown worn by various celestial queen figures, and aspects of her as the panton genthla, or mother-goddess. Through the slow process of theocrasy across the centuries, these three originally disparate deities merged into one, to produce the Hera known in Classical Greece. Much later, by Roman times, qualities of the Egyptian goddess Ishtar start to appear in Hera's iconography--another sign of theocrasy.

THEODICY (from Greek theo "God" + dike "right"): In theological writings, this term refers to a defense of God's goodness or justice in the face of evil being allowed to exist or innocent creatures being allowed to suffer--i.e., explanations for why bad things can happen to good people and to what degree a benevolent and omnipotent being can be held accountable for such injustice. An early work exploring this issue is the Hebrew book of Job. Here, the narrator tells the audience four times either that "in all this, Job did not sin" (Job 1:22), or asserts, "he is blameless and upright" (1:8) even as God explicitly allows the Accuser (Hebrew Shaitan or Satan) to ruin Job's health, destroy his possessions, slaughter his family, and kill his servants. In the conclusion, when Job tries to repent for non-existent wrong-doings, the character of God does not rebuke Job, but instead expresses anger at Eliphaz, Bildad, Elihu, and Zophar, who simplistically argue that God only causes suffering to the wicked and that he always protects the good. God's response to Eliphaz is "I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has" (Job 42:7). Though the reader witnesses the Shaitan's "bet" or "wager" with God, Job never receives any explanation for his sufferings because Job never witnesses the celestial events the reader is privy to. Since the question remains open-ended, many later theologians have attempted to create some theodicy to reconcile a benevolent deity and the existence of suffering, ranging from Saint Augustine (The Confessions) to C. S. Lewis ("The Problem of Pain"). The character of Doctor Pangloss (Dr. "Explain-it-all") in Voltaire's Candide concerns himself frequently with theodicy--though other characters like Martin often demolish his theories over the course of the satiric tale. The actual term theodicy, however, comes from Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibnitz's Théodicée, a more serious philosophical exploration of the problem than Voltaire's satirical tale.

THEOGONY: In mythology, an account of the gods' origins and their genealogy. Click here for an example chart.

THEOMARCHY: Strife or warfare among the gods, especially in the sense of this activity as a subplot (overplot?) in the Homeric poems such as The Iliad.

THERIANTHROPIC (Grk, therios [beast] + anthros [man]; noun form therianthroposis): This adjective refers to any mixture of human and animal traits together in a single description. This leads to two general uses:

(1) a poetic device akin to personification, but one in which animal traits are given to a human or to an inanimate object. This contrasts with the usual personification, in which human traits are given to an animal or an inanimate object. For example, poet Carl Sandburg uses therianthroposis when he writes of how "the fog comes / on little cat feet," and T.S. Eliot makes a similar analogy between cats and fog in "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock."

(2) In the case of many world mythologies, therianthropic figures are mixtures of animal and human features that result in fantastic composite monsters and composite deities combining human and animal features. Examples include the Egyptian crocodile-headed deity Sobek, or the Hindu elephant-headed deity Ganesha, or angels in the Christian tradition which combine avian wings with human bodies. Also called zoomorphic (q.v.) and theriomorphic, below.

THERIOMORPHIC (Grk, therios [beast] + morphos [shape]; noun form theriomorphosis): Another term for therianthropic, above.

THESIS: (1) In an essay, a thesis is an argument, either overt or implicit, that a writer develops and supports. (2) In classical metrical analysis, Greeks referred to the stressed syllable in a metrical foot as a thesis, and the unstressed syllable in a metrical foot as an arsis. Unfortunately, the Roman analysts used the exact opposite terminology, with the thesis being their unstressed foot and the arsis being the stressed foot. This results in much confusion for modern students.

THYIAD: Another term for the female worshippers of Bacchus, i.e., a maenad or bacchante, specifically such a figure who dances while carrying a thyrsus wand--a long stalk of wrapped fennel topped with a pine-cone.

THIASOS: In ancient Greece, a thiasos was an organized group of women devoted to the worship of Aphrodite. Early scholars have suggested that the poet Sappo may have been a member of a thiasos on the isle of Lesbos (modern day Lesbia).

THING (probably from Old Norse thingvellir, "field of the assembly"): While the althing was the closest organization the Icelandic Vikings had to America's federal or nationwide government, the thing was the equivalent of the local or regional government (i.e., althings were huge gatherings dealing with matters affecting all of Iceland, while things were smaller, scattered gatherings dealing with matters affecting a town or community). At a thing, representatives from the local area gathered to vote on policy, hear complaints, settle disputes, and designate incorrigible individuals as outlaws.

THIRD-PERSON POINT OF VIEW: See discussion under point of view.

THIRD WALL: Usually referred to as the "fourth wall," depending upon how a stagebuilder numbers the sides of the stage, the third or fourth wall is an imaginary barrier that separates the events on stage from the audience. The idea is that the stage background is constructed with a cutaway view of the house, so that the people sitting on the audience can look through this invisible "fourth wall" and look directly into the events inside. Such stages preclude theater-in-the-round and they require a modified apron stage with an expensive reproduction of an entire house or building, often complete with stairs, wallpaper, furniture, and other bits to add verisimilitude. This type of stage became increasingly common within the last two centuries, but the money involved in constructing such stages often precludes their use in drama, leaving arena stages most popular for the architectural design of the stage.

THIRTEENER: A stanza rhyming ABABABABCDDDC. The 1994 edition of the E.E.T.S. produced a version of the Wakefield Master's Second Shepherd's Play printed in thirteeners, as opposed to the more traditional printing of nine lines in which the first four lines are extended in length with the first half rhyming with the last half of each line.

THORN: A letter representing a th- sound in the Anglo-Saxon alphabet and in Norse runes. The letter looks like a "P" in which the vertical line extends above the rest of the letter. Below is a visual example of the capital and lower-case thorn:

thorn

The letter thorn represented the interdental fricative sound found in words like thin, and it contrasts with the letter eth or edh, which represents the sound found in words like then. In modern English, we use the digraph <th> to represent both sounds. Click here for more information.

THREE ESTATES: See feudalism. Or click here for expanded historical discussion of feudalism.

THREE FOLD DEATH: See threefold death.

THREE DRAMATIC UNITIES: See unities, the three.

THREE LAWS OF ROBOTICS: See Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics.

THREE UNITIES: See unities, the three.

THREEFOLD DEATH: According to Dan Wiley's entry in Duffy's Medieval Ireland: An Encyclopedia, threefold death is a motif of the early Irish aideda in which a victim is killed by three different means in rapid succession, often wounding, drowning, and burning. Examples of this motif can also be found in literature of folklore of Wales, France, and Estonia. The widespread nature of the motif makes some scholars think it began in a hypothetical Indo-European tri-functional sacrifice in which human victims were offered to a triad of divinities. Two of the best examples are found in Aided Diarnmata meic Cerbaill (The Death of Diarmait mac Cerbaill) and Aided Muirchertaig meic Erca (The Death of Muirchertach mac Erca). The tales are typically set in the early Christian period between 500 and 699 CE. The narrative pattern typically is (a) a crime is committed against the church, (b) it is prophesied the offender will die a threefold death, (c) such a death does occur. See Duffy 10-11.

THRENODY: Another term for a dirge.

THRUST STAGE: Another term for an apron stage.

THYRSUS: The holy symbol of the god Dionysus or Bacchus, his priest would carry a Thyrsus--a wand fashioned from a long stalk of wrapped fennel topped with a pine-cone. The wand had overtones of both vegetational fertility and doubled as a phallic symbol during the dances in the god's honor.

TILDE: A diacritic marking used in languages like Spanish and Portugeuse. It looks like this: ~, and the tilde appears over another letter.

TIRING-HOUSE: An enclosed area in an Elizabethan theater where the actors awaited their cue to go on stage, changed their costumes, and stored stage props. The term is an abbreviation of "attiring house" or "attiring room." This structure was located at the back of the stage and opened out onto the stage from two or more doors in the frons scenae.

TMESIS: Intentionally breaking a word into two parts for emphasis. Goldwyn once wrote, "I have but two words to say to your request: Im Possible." In the movie True Lies, one character states, "I have two words to describe that idea. In Sane." Milton writes, "Which way soever man refer to it." The poet W. H. Auden makes emotionally laden use of tmesis in "Two Songs for Hedli Anderson," where he stretches out the word forever by writing: "I thought that love would last For Ever. I was wrong." In English, this rhetorical scheme is fairly rare, since only the compounds of "ever" readily lend themselves to it, but it is much more common in Greek and Latin. An exception to this generalization is the American poet e. e. cummings (the lack of capitalization in his name is a rhetorical affectation). Critics note that cummings makes particularly potent use of tmesis in poems like "she being Brand / -new", in which words like "brand-new" and "O. K" are artificially divided across separate lines of text to create an unusual, broken reading experience. Particularly clever poets may use a sort of infixation to insert other words of phrases between the two parts that have been split apart. For instance, a southerner might say, "I live in West--by God--Virginia, thank you very much!" Shakespeare, in Troilus and Cressida, writes the phrase, "how dearly ever parted" (III.iii), when we would expect to find the phrase written as "however dearly parted" in normal grammatical usage. Tmesis is an example of a rhetorical scheme.

TOCHARIAN: A branch of the Indo-European family of languages--now extinct. Unusually, Tocharian was geographically located in central Asia, far away from most other Indo-European languages.

TODDAID: A Welsh syllabic poem written in quatrains with alternating nine- and ten-syllable lines, usually incorporating cross-rhyming in its rhyme structure.

TOKEN: (1) In literature, Nathaniel Hawthorne's term for a private symbol. He also refers to private symbols as emblems. Examples include the blasted trees and brown-grass in "The Hollow of the Three Hills" or the walking stick carried by the old man and the pink ribbon belonging to Faith in "Young Goodman Brown." (2) In the Renaissance printing industry, a stack of 250 sheets of paper used as a unit for calculating a pressman's work. Ideally, all the sheets of paper come from the same lot, which will give the resulting book a uniform appearance. Even today, most book editions are printed in runs of 250 copies.

TONADA: A tonada was a Spanish ballad poem performed between acts of auto sacramentales--usually bawdy or obscene (Cuddon 977). These poems later developed into full operettas known as tonadillas.

TONADILLA: Originally, a tonada was a Spanish ballad poem performed between acts of auto sacramentales--usually bawdy or obscene (Cuddon 977). By the 1700s, the diminutive tonadilla ("little tonada") come to denote a short operetta with two to four characters, usually lasting only a few minutes; actors would present tonadillas between the acts of more serious plays (977).

TONE: The means of creating a relationship or conveying an attitude or mood. By looking carefully at the choices an author makes (in characters, incidents, setting; in the work's stylistic choices and diction, etc.), careful readers often can isolate the tone of a work and sometimes infer from it the underlying attitudes that control and color the story or poem as a whole. The tone might be formal or informal, playful, ironic, optimistic, pessimistic, or sensual. To illustrate the difference, two different novelists might write stories about capitalism. Author #1 creates a tale in which an impoverished but hard-working young lad pulls himself out of the slums when he applies himself to his education, and he becomes a wealthy, contented middle-class citizen who leaves his past behind him, never looking back at that awful human cesspool from which he rose. Author #2 creates a tale in which a dirty street-rat skulks his way out of the slums by abandoning his family and going off to college, and he greedily hoards his money in a gated community and ignores the suffering of his former "equals," whom he leaves behind in his selfish desire to get ahead. Note that both author #1 and author #2 basically present the same plotline. While the first author's writing creates a tale of optimism and hope, the second author shapes the same tale into a story of bitterness and cynicism. The difference is in their respective tones--the way they convey their attitudes about particular characters and subject-matter. Note that in poetry, tone is often called voice.

TONE COLOR: Critics of poetry borrowed the term "tone color" from muscians to refer to performantive language in which the sound qualities of words can relate to the meaning of the words' content or context. Often this involves assonance or onomatopoeia or synaesthesia. For instance, Milton's "Il Penseroso" might assonate using many long vowels to connote heavy, ponderous thoughts. A poem talking about a fist-fight might use onomatopoeic consonants to create an impression of bangs, thumps, and cracks. We speak of a "hard" and a "soft" tone, or say some words are "rough" and others "smooth"--thus J. A. Cuddon notes that mellifluous is "soft" in tone color but crag is ""hard" or "harsh" in tone color (Cuddo 978). Compare with sound symbolism.

TOPONYM: A place-name, such as "Detroit" or "Transylvania," or "Rooster Rock." Toponyms are fascinating on a linguistic level. Often their etymology reveals an etiological narrative from local mythology or folklore (such as Arthurian legends for how some regions of Wales were named) or historical evidence concerning linguistic migrations. For instance, in the northern parts of England and the East Midlands, towns with name-endings such as "-by" or "-thorp" are all places named by the Danish Vikings, who invaded and settled in those parts around 800 CE. On the opposite shore, in southeastern parts of England, towns with name-endings such as "-chester" or "-caster" were once Roman military bases (from Latin castrum, a fort), and they were built before 410 CE. Toponyms tend to be linguistically conservative, so the name may not change even after new invaders or settlers take over the area. Hence, in the U.S.A., Canada, and Mexico, aboriginal words and phrases still survive in place names like Milwaukee, Alaska, Oklahoma, the Willamette river, Saskatchewan, Ottawa, Acapulco, Tenochtitlan, Oaxaca, and thousands more.

TORNADA: In Old Provençal poetry, a short concluding stanza similar to an envoi a poet tacks on to the conclusion of a poem in order to compliment a friend or a patron (Cuddon 979).

TORY (from Irish toraidhe, "outlaw, fugitive"; plural: Tories): As Marshall tells us, the name Tory was originally an insulting nickname given to supporters of James, Duke of York (James II) as heir to the throne in the 1680s. The original idea was that his supporters were all tax-bandits who did not fully support popular Protestant movements in England. Eventually, during the time of Swift, Addison, Steele, and Johnson in the 1700s, the terms Tory and Whig became the names of the two major political factions in England. Tories were associated with the Established Chuch of England (the Anglican Church) and conservative country gentry, and the Whigs were associated with religious dissenters (Quakers, anabaptists, Puritans, etc.) and the rising bourgeois class of industrialists wanting political change. In modern British politics, the term Tory remains informally attached to the Conservative party, but the word Whig has fallen out of political use for the Liberal Party. See also Whig (Marshall 11-12).

TOTAL DEPRAVITY: A doctrine associated with John Calvin's doctrine of Infant Damnation and Saint Augustine's and Saint Tertullian's doctrine of Original Sin. Total depravity argues that, because of Adam's fall from Grace, every person is born innately evil, and, in fact, is incapable of truly doing anything moral or good at all without the merciful, direct intervention of God. Questions surrounding total depravity form a key part of Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown," in which the protagonist, convinced that all humanity is inherently depraved, falls into despair and suspicion of his society. Total depravity contrasts with the Transcendental and Romantic notion that children in nature are born innocent and only later grow corrupt through exposure to "unnatural" and artificial surroundings provided by decadent and hypocritical civilization.

TOTEMISM (from Ojibwe odoodem): In its most specific sense, the term applies to the religious practices of the Native American Ojibiwa tribe, i.e., a religious belief in which a family or a clan would be watched over assisted by a totem-spirit. Emile Durkheim popularized the concept as a focus of anthropological study in the early twentieth century. Today, anthropologists and scholars of comparative religion apply the term generally to such beliefs among Native American tribes and find analogues in Western and Eastern Europe, Africa, Australia and the Arctic Circle.

Like shamanism, totemism sees the spirit-world as being filled with spirits that take the form of natural phenomena (especially animals, astrological or meteorological phenomena, or geographic features of the land). These spirits are personified and often treated as family members (i.e., "Brother Owl" or "Grandfather Moon") or as ancient ancestral spirits who founded the clan or tribe (for instance, one clan might claim to be descended from the Great Sea Turtle, another clan from the First Jaguar, etc.) Often the tribe has a shaman responsible for contact with the totem-spirit, and the tribe may go through elaborate hunting ceremonies to apologize for hunting their "mascot" or may develop complex taboos regarding the animal. Some scholars of mythology believe long-forgotten totemism explains otherwise inexplicable rituals and myths in classical religion. For instance, consider Athena's association with owls or the local Artemis ceremonies in which young girls would dress up as bears and dance. These may point to prehistoric times in which Athena was an owl totem or Artemis was the spirit of the great she-bear, long before these goddesses were anthropomophosized. The connotations and rituals linger even when the original meaning is forgotten. Similar background may explain the association of the Roman god Mars with wolves and woodpeckers, or the Egyptian god Thoth with the ibis, and so on.

TRACE: In literary criticism, Jacques Derrida uses the term trace to describe the remnant of all non-present meanings, sounds, or written markings on the page--especially in the sense that features are identifiable only by the absence of other features.

TRACT (from Latin, tractare, "to handle, to treat, to pull"): A brief pamphlet or leaflet dealing with a political or religious argument.

TRADITION: The beliefs, attitudes, tendencies, and ways of representing the world through art: traits widely shared by writers over a span of time, including common subject-matter, conventions, and genres.

TRAGEDY: A serious play in which the chief character, by some peculiarity of psychology, passes through a series of misfortunes leading to a final, devastating catastrophe. According to Aristotle, catharsis is the marking feature and ultimate end of any tragedy. 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). Traditionally, a tragedy is divided into five acts. The first act introduces the characters in a state of happiness, or at the height of their power, influence, or fame. The second act typically introduces a problem or dilemma, which reaches a point of crisis in the third act, but which can still be successfully averted. In the fourth act, the main characters fail to avert or avoid the impending crisis or catastrophe, and this disaster occurs. The fifth act traditionally reveals the grim consequences of that failure. See also hamartia, hubris, anagnorisis, peripeteia, Senecan tragedy, and catharsis. Click the following links to download a handout discussing medieval tragedy, some general thoughts about tragedy, or a comparison of comedy and tragedy.

TRAGIC FLAW: Another term for the tragic hero's hamartia. See discussion under hamartia and tragedy.

TRAGIC HERO: The main character in a Greek or Roman tragedy. In contrast with the epic hero (who embodies the values of his culture and appears in an epic poem), the tragic hero is typically an admirable character who appears as the focus in a tragic play, but one who is undone by a hamartia--a tragic mistake, misconception, or flaw. That hamartia leads to the downfall of the main character (and sometimes all he or she holds dear). In many cases, the tragic flaw results from the character's hubris, but for a tragedy to work, the audience must sympathize for the main character. Accordingly, in many of the best tragedies, the tragic flaw grows out of some trait we find admirable. Read here for general thoughts about tragedy. See also hamartia, hubris, anagnorisis, peripeteia, and catharsis. NB: do not confuse the epic hero with the tragic hero.

TRAGICOMEDY: A experimental literary work--either a play or prose piece of fiction--containing elements common to both comedies and tragedies. The genre is marked by characters of both high and low degree, even though classical drama required upper-class characters for tragedy and lower-class characters for comedy. Tragicomedies were of some interest in the Renaissance, but some modern dramas might be considered examples as well. Typically, the early stages of the play resembled those of a tragedy, but an abrupt reversal of circumstance prevent the tragedy.

TRANSCENDENTALISM (Latin trans + ascendere, "to climb beyond"): Transcendentalism is an American philosophical, religious, and literary movement roughly equivalent to the Romantic movement in England (see Romanticism). The transcendentalist philosophy is not systematic or sharply defined, but it generally stresses individual intuition and conscience, and it holds that nature reveals the whole of God's moral law. It suggests that ultimate truth can be discovered by a human's inmost feelings. It argues for morality guided by personal conscience rather than religious dogma or the laws of a society. Human nature in this philosophy is basically good if humans are allowed to pursue their normal desires in a natural and wholesome environment, an idea that contrasts sharply with Calvinist doctrines like total depravity. Transcendentalism also suggests the presence of an "Over-Soul," the Emersonian sense that humanity collectively has a defining spirit.

The American transcendental movement begins around 1836 and continues up until the late 1850s, starting shortly after the Romantic period ends in England. The Civil War in the 1860s caused such cultural disjuncture that the event ended the transcendental movement in America. Much of the movement's ideas grow out of the German Immanuel Kant's philosophy (1724-1804) and Goethe in Germany, or the writings of Carlyle and Coleridge in England. Later writers advanced transcendental thinking further. In New England, Emerson and Thoreau were the two most famous transcendentalists. Emerson's Nature and Thoreau's Walden best express the ideas. These two believed in living close to nature, accepted the value of manual labor, and favored self-reliance. Other transcendentalist writers include Bronson Alcott and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Hawthorne, however, later grew disillusioned with transcendentalism, and wrote a skeptical work (The Blithedale Romance of 1852) in which he critiques his experiences while living at a communal farm operated according to transcendentalist principles.

Transcendental philosophy has had a profound effect on the American psyche, including the idea of independent, do-it-yourself self-reliance, the rejection of conformity, and a deep love of nature, much as the Romantic period influenced England. Traces of its voice--albeit somewhat muted--appear in the counter-cultural rhetoric of the 1960s and in ecological writings of the late twentieth-century. In the Christian religious tradition, the transcendentalist philosophy was a powerful influence on the growth of the modern Unitarian Church. To see how transcendentalism fits in with other literary movements and time-periods, click here to download a PDF handout that places the literary periods in chronological order.

TRANSFER OF MEANING: A change in meaning--often poetic in origin--in which a word's referent alters by a figure of speech such as a synecdoche, a metaphor, or a metonym. For instance, consider the phrase, "all hands on deck." Here, the normal referent for "hands" would be a body part located on the end of the human arm. However, by synecdoche, the referent for "hands" becomes "sailors" more generally.

TRANSFORMATIONAL GRAMMAR: An influential theory of grammar associated with the linguist Noam Chomsky. This theory, also known as generative grammar, or transformational-generative grammar (and abbreviated T-G), tries to explain the ability of a speaker to create and understand the sentences in a native language--especially the ability to recognize and create sentences that the listener or speaker could never have heard before. It attempts to answer the question of how an apparently infinite variety in meaning and communication can be generated from finite vocabulary and finite grammatical forms.

TRANSITIVE: This term refers to a verb or a verbal phrase that contains or can take a direct object, which contrasts with an intransitive verb, i.e., one that cannot take a direct object. For example, hit is a transitive verb: Joey hit the wall. In this example, hit can take a direct object like wall or target or even brother if Joey hit his brother. Some transitive verbs are so strongly transitive they do not make sense without a direct object. For instance, "Joey repaired the sink." Here, the verb repaired sounds strange if we leave out the object and write, "Joey repaired." This example contrasts with intransitive verbs, i.e., verbs which need not (or in many cases cannot) take an object. For example, Joey chuckled. Here, chuckled needs no direct object. In English, transitive verbs belong to active voice verbs, but in some languages (like Greek) they can belong to any voice--active, passive, middle, or aorist.

TRANSITUS MUNDI: The theme of life's ephemeral or transient nature, especially when that thematic exploration ends by suggesting humanity should reject the world or turn its attention away from mundane life and retreat to spiritual contemplation of the next life. The term comes from the Latin phrase, Sic transit gloria mundi. ["Thus the glory of the world passes away"]. Note that if the theme of life's ephemeral or transient nature leads to a suggestion that one should embrace life more fiercely and take advantage of its pleasures before death ends the opportunity, the theme is usually referred to as a carpe diem theme instead. See also ubi sunt.

TRANSLATIO (Latin, derived from the verb translatere, "to carry across"): The medieval idea of what modern individuals might mistakenly call "translation." Translatio is the act of taking an older text in a different language and creating a new work that embodies the same ideas in a new language. Unlike modern translation, in which a translator often tries to convey each sentence, word, and phrase as literally and accurately as possible, the medieval idea of translatio was to take the gist of the original work's ideas and to convey them loosely in a new form. Examples include King Alfred's early and Chaucer's later "translations" of Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy, Chaucer's loose "translations" (i.e., new versions) of the Troy myth in Troilus and Criseyde, which in turn was adapted from earlier medieval Italian authors, or his abbreviated version of the French poem, Roman de la Rose. Medieval translators felt little compunction about keeping the same sequence of events, settings, or characters in their translations. The important element to be conveyed was the feeling and philosophy behind the original work.

TRANSLATION: The act of conveying the meaning of words in one language by attempting to say the same thing in another language, as opposed to paraphrasing, summarizing, and transliteration.

TRANSLITERATION: The representation of the symbols appearing in one language's writing system by those of another language's writing system. For instance, Anglo-Saxon had a letter called eth (), which does not exist in Modern English. To transliterate this letter, we use the digraph <th> when we write out Anglo-Saxon words. For instance, aes might become thaes. For extended examples of transliteration in Mandarin Chinese, click here.

TRAVEL LITERATURE: Writings that describe either the author's journey to a distant and alien place, or writings which discuss the customs, habits, and wildlife of a distant place. The oldest surviving travel literature is an account from 1300 BCE, an anonymous record of Egyptian naval voyages called The Journeying of the Master of the Captains of Egypt. Herodotus' Histories recount his travels in Egypt, Africa, and elsewhere in the late 400s BCE. In China, we find accounts of travels to India by a certain Fa-Hian (c. 400 CE) and Shuman Hwui-Li's travels to the farthest Eastern reaches of the Chinese Empire. Roman travel literature includes writings by Gaius Solinus (c. 250 CE).

Medieval travel writers include Marco Polo (c. 1254-1324 CE), who traveled from Italy to China, and the Arabian traveler, Ibn Battutah (1304-78 CE), who spent twenty-eight years traveling through Spain, South Russia, India, Africa, Egypt, and other locations. In roughly the same time period, Friar Jordanus of Sérac traveled to Armenia and India and recounted the stories he heard there of the Far East.

European travel writings reached their peak in the Renaissance, when the discovery of the Western hemisphere and increasingly accurate maps and navigational tools led explorers to ever-more-distant discoveries. Many, like the Spanish explorer Francisco de Alvarez (c. 1465-1541), set out in search of the fantastic places described in medieval legend, such as the fabled Kingdom of Prester John in the east; others searched for the Seven Golden Cities of Cibola in the west. In these cases, medieval travel writing served as a spur toward European expansion and colonization. Shakespeare's The Tempest shows signs of influence from this genre, as does Othello's description of his adventures abroad in Othello. Other examples of travel literature are of historical significance for the U.S.A., such as The Journals of Lewis and Clark, recounting their early expedition across America.

TRAVESTY (Latin trans + vestis, "switched clothing"): Debasement of a serious subject or serious literary work either accidentally or through intentional satire--especially through treating a dignified topic in a silly or inappropriate manner. For instance, Boileau describes one travesty of Virgil's Aeneid by stating, "Dido and Aeneas are made to speak like fishwives and ruffians." In many cases, the author of intentional travesties uses a mock-serious tone and is deliberately heavy-handed in his treatment.

TRAWS FANTACH (Welsh, "toothless"): A derogatory adjective in Welsh poetic criticism for a poetic line that contains only a single scheme, trope, or poetic correspondence with another line. Welsh poets consider such simplicity a sign of inferior poetry.

TRIA NOMINA (Lat., "three names"): The simpler three-part formation of names among Romans of the Patrician class consisting of a praenomen (given name), nomen gentile (familial name), and cognomen (nickname), in contrast with the more complex filiation, a formal recitation of lineage for voting purposes. For fuller discussion and explanation of Roman naming practices, see here.

TREATY OF WEDMORE: The agreement signed by King Alfred the Great and the Viking leader Guthrum in 878. This divided England into spheres of influence, with Alfred's kingdom of Essex safe from further Viking attacks, and it established an area of Viking control (the Danelaw) north of London and east of Chester. As part of the agreement, the invading Danes agreed to convert to Christianity.

TRENCH POETRY: Poetry and songs written by both common soldiers and professional poets focusing on the disillusionment, suffering, and ethical dismay these individuals felt at their involvement in World War I. Some seventy British poets wrote poems about World War I, and of those seventy, some fifty actively fought in it. The poetry is often bitter in tone. Often the poetic voice of the speaker mimics the voice, style, and speech of an ordinary soldier. Sometimes the poet presents the poem's speaker in the persona of a soldier, even if the poet himself was not one. Much of this "trench poetry" was published in trench newsletters. The well-known trench poets of the period include Siegmund Sassoon and Wilfred Owens. Owens' "Dulce Et Decorum Est" is one famous example of trench poetry.

TRIAD: A collection of three ideas, concepts, or deities loosely connected--as opposed to a pure trinity in which the three concepts are much more closely linked or equivalent to each other. The oldest known triad comes from the Sumerian scholastic period (circa 2400-2200 BCE). Here, the gods of heaven, earth, and water (Anu, Enlil, and Enki) would form a common group of three linked together in religious poetry and ritual (Hopper 6), as was the case with the Babylonian triad of air deities, Sin, Shamash, and Raman who ruled the moon, sun, and storms (Hopper 20). The former Babylonian triad later altered to focus on Anu, Baal, and Ea in following centuries--a formula reminiscent of the three divine brothers Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon in Greek mythology (Hopper 7). The three Greek fates (Klotho the spinner, Lachesis the measurer, and Atropos the cutter) are a triad matched by the three Germanic Norns (Urd, Verdandi, and Skuld). Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma are the Hindu triad representing destruction, preservation, and creation. Often triads revolve around the idea of the "celestial family"--such as the Egyptian Osiris, Isis, and Horus or it may consist consist of three brothers--such as the cyclopean smiths who assist Hephaestus: Brontos, Sterope, and Argus.

Note that the idea of a triad is distinct from the idea of a trinity, in which three divine persons are thought to be in some way equivalent or identical to each other--as is the case in the Christian trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost) or the Egyptian solar trinity (Horus, Ra, and Atun--the sun gods associated with the morning, noonday, and setting sun). The first Christian missionaries to Ireland were greatly aided by the fact that Irish mythology already contained an idea of trinity in the form of three-headed or three-personed gods, as MacCulloch notes in The Religion of the Ancient Celts (34, qtd. in Hopper 203).

In a looser sense, any grouping of three is a triad--including groupings such as these:

  • past-present-future
  • earth-sea-sky
  • heart-mind-body
  • beginning-middle-end
  • father-mother-child
  • heaven, earth, hell (or heaven, hell, and purgatory)
  • childhood, adulthood, and old age
  • the world, the flesh, the devil
  • the three steps of Vishnu in Hindu mythology.
  • faith, hope, and love

In Irish literature, triads are often comical when they appear in verse. They often involve bathos, with an amusing or anticlimactic item listed in the third slot.

In Welsh literature, the work known as the Welsh Triads consists of many delightful and humorous sets of three--such as the "three costly pillages," the "three frivolous bards," the "three inventors," the "three ill resolutions," even the "three well-endowed warriors."

TRIAL BY COMBAT: A means of resolving disputes between knights in which both agree to meet at an agreed-upon time and place and fight with agreed-upon weapons. The knight who was in the right and honest in his words would be the one to win the day, since in popular medieval theology, it was thought that God would favor the just. In actual point of fact, the late medieval church condemned trial by combat as barbaric, though records of it persist through the early 1300s. The habit of gentlemanly duels, which continued through the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the Early Romantic period, along with the Western American practice of the gun-fight, are vague remnants of this earlier practice among knights. Shakespeare uses this ritual in the opening scenes of Richard II. See lists, chivalry, trial by ordeal, and feudalism. Contrast with trial by ordeal.

TRIAL BY ORDEAL: Click here for more information.

TRIBRACH: In Greek poetry, a three-syllable foot in which each foot is unstressed or short--rarely used in English poetry.

TRICK ENDING: Another term for an O. Henry ending.

TRICOLON: The repetition of a parallel grammatical construction three times for rhetorical effect. See discussion under parallelism.

TRIGRAPH: A combination of three symbols or letters to indicate a single sound phonetically. For instance, the <tch> in witch represents a single sound phonetically, but English speakers use three letters together to represent that sound. See also digraph.

TRILOGY: A group of three literary works that together compose a larger narrative. Early types of trilogy resulted from the common practice of Athenian playwrights, who would submit tragedies as groups of three plays for performance in the Dionysia. Examples include the Oresteia of Aeschylus and Sophocles' trilogy of Oedipus Rex, Antigonê, and Oedipus at Colona. Contrast with tetralogy and sequel.

TRIMETER: A line consisting of three metrical feet. This short line is most common in English nursery rhymes, lullabies, and children's songs. We do find examples of it in poems like the opening lines of William Blake's "The Lamb":

Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?

TRINITY: A grouping or relationship of three divine persons thought in some way to be equivalent or identical to each other--as is the case in the Christian trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost) or the Egyptian solar trinity (Horus, Ra, and Atun--the sun-gods associated with the morning, noonday, and setting sun). The first Christian missionaries to Ireland were greatly aided by the fact that Irish mythology already contained an idea of trinity in the form of three-headed or three-personed gods, as MacCulloch notes in The Religion of the Ancient Celts (34, referenced. in Hopper 203). Contrast with a triad, a group of three loosely connected with each other in mythology, philosophy, or poetry.

In patristic and medieval literature, a number of theological treatises survive pertaining to the trinity--the most influential probably being Saint Augustine's De Trinitate. Many heretical groups originated in disputes concerning the nature of the trinity (see heresy for more information). The concept of trinity strongly influences Dante's Divine Comedy. To mimic the nature of a threefold deity, Dante writes his poem in terza rima (with sets of three interlocking rhymes); he divides the work into three sections (Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso); finally, he subdivides each section into 33 cantos. Even Satan himself in the work appears as a three-headed, six-winged monster that mimics the tripartite structure of the Godhead. Such numerology is typical of many medieval writings.

TRIOLET (French, "little trio"): A stanza of eight lines using only two rhymes, with the first line repeating three times. Here is an example by Thomas Hardy:

How great my grief, my joys how few,
Since first it was my fate to know thee!
Have the slow years not brought to view
How great my grief, my joys how few,
Nor memory shaped old times anew,
Nor loving-kindness helped to show thee
How great my grief, my joys how few,
Since first it was my fate to know thee?

TRIPLE RHYME: A trisyllabic rhyme involving three separate syllables to create the rhyme in each word. For instance, grinding cares is a triple rhyme with winding stairs. Fearfully is a triple rhyme with tearfully. Triple rhymes are not unusual in some Italian poetry, but single and double rhymes are much more common in English. However, triple rhymes and polysyllabic rhymes are frequently employed for humorous effect in English literature. Lord Byron uses polysyllabic rhyme for humorous effect when he writes an apostrophe to the husbands of pedantic women: "But--Oh! ye lords of ladies intellectual! / Inform us truly, have they not hen-pecked you all?" Ogden Nash likewise uses forced rhyme in order to produce the effect of surrendering to a difficult bit of verse when he writes, "Farewell, farewell, you old rhinocerous, / I'll stare at something less prepocerous."

TRIPLET: A tercet that forms a complete stanza by itself.

TRISTICH (Greek, "three lines"): Another term for a tercet.

TRISYLLABIC FOOT: A foot of three syllables. In quantitative verse, dactyls, cretics, anapests, and amphibrachs could be substituted for each other, as could a single spondee, though this substitution was normally fairly rare.

TRITAGONIST: In the earliest Greek dramas, the play consisted of a single actor standing on stage speaking and singing to the chorus. Later, a second actor (called the deuteragonist) was added by literary innovators, and later a third actor (called the tritagonist). In modern literary discussions, we use the term tritagonist to refer to any tertiary character who aids the protagonist (the main character or hero), but who does not serve as a deuteragonist (a constant side-kick or companion). For example, in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck Finn is the protagonist, the slave Jim is the deuteragonist, and Tom Sawyer is the tritagonist. See protagonist, antagonist, and deuteragonist.

TRIVIUM: The study of grammar, logic, and rhetoric, which in medieval education formed the basis of a bachelor's degree, as opposed to the quadrivium of arithmetic, astronomy, geometry, and music, which formed the basis of a master's degree.

TROCHAIC METER: Poetry in which each foot consists primarily of trochees (poetic feet consisting of a heavy stress followed by a light stress). See extended discussion under trochee and meter.

TROCHAIC RHYME: Another word for double rhyme in which the final rhyming word consists of a heavy stress followed by a light stress.

TROCHEE: A two-syllable unit or foot of poetry consisting of a heavy stress followed by a light stress. Many words in English naturally form trochees, including happy, hammer, Pittsburgh, nugget, double, incest, injure, roses, hippie, Bubba, "beat it," clever, dental, dinner, shatter, pitcher, Cleveland, chosen, planet, chorus, widow, bladder, cuddle, slacker, and so on. A line of poetry written in successive trochees is said to be written in trochaic meter. See extended discussion under meter. Click here to download a PDF handout that contrasts iambs with other types of poetic feet.

TROPE: Trope has two meanings: (1) a rhetorical device or figure of speech involving shifts in the meaning of words--click on the tropes link for examples, (2) a short dialogue inserted into the church mass during the early Middle Ages as a sort of mini-drama.

TROPOLOGICAL: Not to be confused with either typology or the rhetorical device of the trope, the term tropological refers to the interpretation of literature in which the interpreter focuses on the ethical lesson presented in the text, i.e., "the moral of the story." See more discussion under fourfold interpretation.

TROUBADOUR (Provençal "finder, inventor"): A medieval love poet of southern France between 1100-1350 who wrote and sang about the theme of fin amour (courtly love). Troubadours were noteworthy for their creativity and experimentation in metrical forms. They wrote in langue d'oc, and they profoundly influenced Dante, Petrarch, and the development of the love lyric in Europe. The term troubadour is sometimes used interchangeably with trouvère. Cf. trouvère, below.

TROUBLES, THE: A period of social unrest in Northern Ireland during the 1970s that profoundly influenced Irish poetry and writings. See for an example Seamus Heaney's "Casualty."

TROUVÈRE (Old French, "finder, inventor"): A medieval poet of northern France, especially Picardy, who wrote and sang in lang d'oïl and composed chasons de gestes (songs about the adventures of knights) and romans bretons as well. The term trouvère is sometimes used interchangeably with troubadour. Cf. troubadour, above.

TRUE RHYME: Another term for perfect rhyme or exact rhyme. See exact rhyme.

TRUNCATION: Also called catalexis, the act of dropping an unstressed syllable from a line where it would normally be expected to appear. See catalectic.

TSMESIS: See tmesis.

TUDOR: A reference to the period in England during which the ruling monarchs came from the Tudor family (1485-1603). Tudor was the name of a Welshman, Owen Tudor, born in the 1400s. His line became the ruling dynasty when his son Henry Tudor ended the War of the Roses by killing Richard III in 1485. The last ruling Tudor monarch was Henry Tudor's granddaughter, queen Elizabeth I, who died in 1603. After Elizabeth, the House of Stuart claimed the throne when Elizabeth's cousin James I of England (also known as James VI of Scotland) inherited her power. The Tudor period is largely synonymous with the early Renaissance in England. See Renaissance, above.

TUDOR INTERLUDE: Short tragedies, comedies, or history plays performed by either professional acting troupes or by students during the early sixteenth century.

TUMBLING VERSE: Another term for Skeltonic verse.

TURN: Also called a volta, a turn is a sudden change in thought, direction, or emotion at the conclusion of the sonnet. This invisible turn is followed by a couplet called a gemel (in English sonnets) or a sestet (in Italian sonnets).

TWIST ENDING: Another term for an O. Henry ending.

TYNGED: A magical taboo or restriction placed on a hero in Welsh literature; the Welsh equivalent to the Irish geasa. One example from The Mabinogion would be how Culwch's mother places a "destiny" on him so that he can have sex with no woman except Olwen, the daughter of the Giant-king Ysbaddaden.

TYPE: An earlier figure, event, or symbol in the Old Testament thought to prefigure a coming antitype (corresponding figure, event, or symbol) in the New Testament. See discussion under typology. The term should not be confused with Jung's idea of an archetype.

TYPE CHARACTER: A literary character with traits commonly associated with a particular class of people.

TYPOGRAPHICAL JUSTIFICATION: See justification, typographical.

TYPOLOGICAL CLASSIFICATION: In linguistics, this schema is a "grouping of languages based on structural similarities and differences rather than genetic relations" (Algeo 332). Do not confuse this linguistic term with typology and typological criticism.

TYPOLOGICAL CRITICISM: A type of literary analysis of medieval or patristic texts in which critics read characters, objects, or events according to established interpretations of similar characters, objects, or events in biblical literature. See discussion under typology. Do not confuse this term with typological classification in linguistics.

TYPOLOGY: A mode of biblical interpretation introduced by Saint Paul and developed by Patristic writers as a means of reconciling the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) and the New Testament. Saint Augustine expressed the general principle in De Doctrina Christiana, in which he writes, "In the Old Testament, the New Testament is concealed; in the New Testament, the Old Testament is revealed." Hebrew scholars would contest the Christian reading, but in patristic and medieval Latin writings, Christians eager to reconcile their faith with Hebrew antiquity widely accepted this means of interpretation. In typological theory, readers should see key persons, events, and symbols in the Old Testament as "pre-figures" or "figurations" (Latin figurae) that anticipate a matching figure in the New Testament. These figurae were seen as historically real in and of themselves, but also they served as symbols or foreshadowings of similar persons, events, and symbols in the New Testament. The Old Testament figures were known as types and the New Testament figures were known as antitypes. Here are a few examples of such types and antitypes as identified by patristic and medieval writers:

Old Testament Type New Testament Antitype
Adam's rib removed by God to create Eve. Christ pierced in his side by a Roman spear and blood flowing from his side.
The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the garden bearing the fruit that will damn humanity. The cross at Golgatha bearing as its fruit, Christ, which will redeem humanity. (In many medieval legends, the cross is cut and shaped from the same tree that grew in the Garden of Eden; in other versions, this tree instead grows from the seed of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and the cross is positioned exactly over the geographic spot where Adam was buried by his sons).
God manifesting to Moses as a burning bush, and the bush is not withered by the flames. God manifesting to the Jews in the Virgin Mary's womb, and Mary's virginity is not tarnished by this divine impregnation.
God provides the children of Israel with mana in the desert to save them from physical starvation God provides Eucharist to the faithful church, to save them from spiritual starvation.
Jonah spends three days in the belly of the whale before being vomited forth. Christ spends three days in the tomb before resurrection.
The Israelites pass through the Red Sea to emerge to a new life in the Promised Land. The faithful emerge through the waters of baptism to emerge in a new life in Heaven.
The journey to the Promised Land The pilgrimage to Heaven
Abraham's call to sacrifice his son, Isaac God's decision to sacrifice his son, Jesus
Those who would be saved coming before Noah's Ark to avoid the coming deluge, entering salvation under the cross-shaped mast. Those who would be saved coming before the crucifixion to avoid the coming fires of hell, entering salvation under the cross.

The list goes on at length, with the figurations varying greatly in terms of how plausible they seem to modern Christians and non-Christians. Typological interpretation was only one of several ways medieval readers interpreted the Bible. Others are discussed under fourfold meaning. Some scholars interpret works of medieval literature according to the typological models common in medieval religion. For instance, in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, the Miller's Tale of John the Carpenter describes how the gullible carpenter believes the trickster Nicholas' prediction of a coming flood, and John builds three boats out of tubs and hangs them from the rafters in preparation. His efforts provide sly Nicholas with an opportunity to engage in adultery with John's wife. Clearly this situation is a sort of type meant to be contrasted with the Biblical account of Noah's flood. Likewise, Dante's Inferno has passages with biblical overtones strategically placed throughout the poem. The exact extent to which readers can legitimately apply typological and tropological theory to secular literature is a matter of sharp debate among critics. The (in)famous American scholar D. W. Robertson in the last part of the twentieth-century, along with other "Robertsonian" scholars, have applied typological interpretations to secular poems such the Roman de la Rose, the works of Chrétien de Troyes, and medieval love lyrics. That application has been a source of fierce argument, however.

More recent religious poets--such as Edmund Spenser, George Herbert, John Milton, and William Blake have also used typological symbolism in their poetry. Twentieth-century Christian writers such as C. S. Lewis employ typological models in The Chronicles of Narnia and The Great Divorce.

TYRONIAN NOTA (Also Tironian note): While modern English authors use an ampersand (&) as an abbreviation for the word and, many classical Roman and medieval writers would use a tyronian nota to represent the Latin word et (modern English and). The nota looks a bit like the modern arabic number "7" (&).

The term is eponymic in origin, coming from the name of Marcus Tullius Cicero's favorite slave, the scribe Tiro, who was said to have invented the symbol as part of his short-hand note-taking. The mark is still frequently used in Irish road-signs and appears ubiquitously in medieval manuscripts.

TZ'U: A Chinese genre of poetry invented during the T'ang period. It was akin to a song libretto with a tonal pattern similar to the lu-shih, but with irregular meter. This term should not be confused with -tzu, an honorific suffix meaning "master" or "teacher" in names like the military philosopher Sun-Tzu, or Lao-Tzu, the taoist author of the Tao-te Ching.

[A] [B] [C] [D] [E] [F] [G] [H] [I] [J] [K] [L] [M]

[N] [O] [P] [Q] [R] [S] [T] [U] [V] [W] [X] [Y] [Z]


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:

Works Cited:

  • Abrams, M. H. A Glossary of Literary Terms. 6th edition. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace College Pub., 1993. [Now superseded by later editions.]
  • ---. "Poetic Forms and Literary Terminology." The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 7th edition. Volume 1. New York: Norton, 2000. 2944-61. 2 Vols.
  • Algeo, John and Thomas Pyles. The Origin and Development of the English Language. 5th edition. U.S.A., 2004.
  • Baugh, A. C. and Thomas Cable. A History of the English Language. 5th edition. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 2002.
  • Brown, Michelle P. Understanding Illuminated Manuscripts: A Guide to Technical Terms. London: The British Library and the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1994.
  • Burkert, Walter. Greek Religion. [Originally published 1977 as Griechische Religion der archaischen und klassischen Epoche.] Trans. John Raffan. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1985.
  • Catholic University of America Editorial Staff. The New Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: McGraw-Hill. 1967-79.
  • Corbett, Edward P. J. Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student. 3rd edition. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1990.
  • Cuddon, J. A. The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. London: Penguin Books, 1991.
  • Damrosch, David, gen. ed. The Longman Anthology of British Literature. 2nd Compact Edition. Volume A. New York: Pearson, 2004. 3 Vols.
  • Deutsch, Babette. Poetry Handbook: A Dictionary of Terms. Fourth Edition. New York: Harper and Row, 1974. Reprint as Barnes and Noble Edition, 1981.
  • Drout, Michael D. C. J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment. New York: Routledge, 2007.
  • Duffy, Seán. Medieval Ireland: An Encyclopedia. New York: Routledge, 2005.
  • Eagleton, Terry. Literary Theory: An Introduction. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1983.
  • Elkhadem, Saad. The York Dictionary Literary Terms and Their Origin: English, French, German, Spanish. York P, 1976.
  • Gabel, John B. and Charles B. Wheeler. The Bible as Literature: An Introduction. New York: Oxford U P, 1986.
  • Giroux, Joan. The Haiku Form. New York: Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1974. Reprinted New York: Barnes and Noble, 1999.
  • Greenblatt, Stephen. "Glossary." The Norton Shakespeare: Tragedies. New York: Norton, 1997. 1139-43.
  • Guerin, Wilfred L., et al. "Glossary." A Handbook of Critical Approaches to Literature. 2nd ed. New York: Harper and Row, 1979. 317-29.
  • Harkins, Williams E. Dictionary of Russian Literature. The New Students Outline Series. Patterson, New Jersey: Littlefield, Adams, and Co., 1959.
  • Harvey, Sir Paul and Dorothy Eagle, eds. The Oxford Companion to English Literature. 4th ed. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1969.
  • Holman, C. Hugh. A Handbook to Literature. 3rd edition. New York: The Odyssey Press, 1972.
  • Hopper, Vincent Foster. Medieval Number Symbolism: Its Sources, Meaning, and Influence on Thought and Expression. 1938. Republished Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2000.
  • Horobin, Simon. Chaucer's Language. New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2007.
  • Kane, George. The Autobiographical Fallacy in Chaucer and Langland Studies. London: H. K. Lewis, 1965.
  • Lacy, Norris J. The New Arthurian Encyclopedia. New York: Garland Publishing, 1996.
  • Lanham, Richard A. A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms. 2nd edition. Berkeley: U of California P, 1991.
  • Marshall, Jeremy and Fred McDonald. Questions of English. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1995.
  • Mawson, C. O. Sylvester and Charles Berlitz. Dictionary of Foreign Terms. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 2nd ed. 1975.
  • McManus, Damian. Ogam Stones At University College Cork. Cork: Cork U P, 2004.
  • Metzger, Bruce M. and Michael D. Coogan, eds. The Oxford Companion to the Bible. New York: Oxford U P, 1993.
  • O'Donoghue, Heather. Old Norse-Icelandic Literature: A Short Introduction. Malden, MA:Blackwell Publishing, 2004.
  • Page, P.K. "Forward." Hologram. Brick Books, London, Ontario: 1994.
  • Palmer, Donald. Looking At Philosophy: The Unbearable Heaviness of Philosophy Made Lighter. 2nd edition. Mountain View, California: Mayfield Publishing Company, 1994.
  • Peck, Harry Thurston. Harper's Dictionary of Clasical Literature and Antiquities. New York: The American Book Company, 1923. 2 vols.
  • Perelman, Ch. and L. Olbrechts-Tyteca. The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumentation. Notre Dame, U of Notre Dame P, 2000.
  • The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989.
  • Quinn, Arthur. Figures of Speech: 60 Ways to Turn a Phrase. Davis, California: Hermagoras P, 1993.
  • Rae, Gail. Guide to Literary Terms. Staten Island, New York: Research and Educational Association, 1998.
  • Roberts, Edgar V. and Henry E. Jacobs. "Glossary of Literary Terms." Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. 6th edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2001. 2028-50.
  • Scott, Kathleen L. Later Gothic Manuscripts, 1390-1490. A Survey of Manuscripts Illuminated in the British Isles 6. London: Harvey Miller Publishers, 1996. 2 Vols.
  • Shaw, Harry. Concise Dictionary of Literary Terms. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1976.
  • Shipley, Joseph T. Dictionary of World Literature: Criticism, Forms, Technique. The Philosophical Library. New York: Philosophical Library, 1943.
  • Supplement to the Oxford English Dictionary. 1989.
  • Smith, David P. "Glossary of Grammar Terms." [Miscellaneous handouts made available to students in Basic Greek at Carson-Newman College in the Fall Term of 2006.]
  • Swain, Dwight V. Creating Characters. The Elements of Fiction Writing. Cincinnati: Writer's Digest Books, 1990.
  • Williams, Jerri. "Schemes and Tropes." [Miscellaneous handouts made available to her graduate students at West Texas A & M University in the Fall Term of 1993.]
  • Yasuda, Kenneth. The Japanese Haiku: Its Essential Nature, History, and Possibilities in English. Rutland, Vermont and Tokyo, Japan: Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1957.
  • Zenkovsky, Serge A. Medieval Russia's Epics, Chronicles, and Tales. Rev Ed. New York: Meridian Books, 1974.
  • Zireaux. E-mail Communication. 21 June 2012.

 

 

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