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Literary Terms and Definitions: E

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.

[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]

E TEXT, THE (Also called the E Document or the Elohist Text): In biblical scholarship, the editorial abbreviation for the Elohist Text (see below or or click here for more detailed discussion.)

EARLY MODERN ENGLISH: Modern English covers the time-frame from about 1450 or so up to the present day. However, linguists sometimes subdivide Modern English into "Early Modern" (c. 1450-1800) and "Late Modern" (c. 1800 to the present).

EASE OF ARTICULATION: The linguistic concern for how certain sound changes in words might be motivated by how easy or hard the word is to pronounce.

EAST GERMANIC: A sub-branch of the Germanic language family. Gothic was an East Germanic language.

EASTER RISING: On Easter Monday in 1916, about 1,200 Irish revolutionaries armed with only rifles engaged in an aborted rebellion against English domination of their country. They attempted to capture the fourteen most prominent buildings in Dublin (including most famously the General Post Office). The British responded by using heavy cannon to flatten the buildings in rebel hands. The rebels attempted a final stand near (ironically) King's Street, but they were wiped out with significant loss of life among Irish civilians and noncombatants who attempted to hide from the fighting. Secret military courts tried and executed rebel leaders--some apparently tied up to chairs and shot in spite of being previously wounded. The Easter Rising was significant because it lead to anti-British sentiment in Ireland. It built up a greater sense of Irish national identity apart from English control, and it rekindled the failing republican movement. Several prominent Irish poets and authors wrote works based on or inspired by this incident, including W. B. Yeats' "Easter 1916." The violence and bloodshed probably also influenced Yeats' "The Second Coming" in a more abstract sense.

ECHOIC WORDS: Another term for onomatopoeia, i.e., when the actual sound of the word resembles its referent--like fizz or hiss. See onomatopoeia under tropes.

ECLIPSIS (Greek "leaving out," cf. Modern English eclipse): A type of enallage in which an author or poet omits essential grammatical elements to create a poetic or artful effect. One example might be the following: "This sentence no verb!" In this example, the necessary verb has vanishes, but the intentional effect is to highlight its omission. This term is not to be confused with ellipsis, below.

ECLIPSIS MUTATION: See discussion under mutation.

ECLOGUE (Greek "selection"): A short poem or short section of a longer poem in the form of a dialogue or soliloquy--especially one with pastoral elements. The term was first applied to Virgil's pastoral poems, but the term covers Renaissance imitators as well. Examples include Spenser's The Shepheard's Calendar (1579). After the 1700s, the term increasingly came to mean any poem having the structural form of the earlier eclogues--even works that were not pastoral. Examples of these eclogues include Swift's A Town Eclogue, Frost's Build Soil, or W. H. Auden's The Age of Anxiety: A Baroque Eclogue. The term should not be confused with epilogue, below.

ECPHRASIS (plural, ecphrases): A passage of literature or poetry in which the writer disrupts the narrative and writes a lengthy passage describing, representing, or "translating" another type of art such as a painting, a piece of architecture or sculpture, or music. This ecphrasis is the "translation" of one type of non-verbal art into words. See discussion under mimesis.

ÉCRITURE: In deconstruction, writing as a social institution and as a group of inter-related texts. This results in textuality--a term for the idea that no single literary work can be studied as an autonomous object, but that each text is part of of a larger, culturally endorsed collection of texts, conventions, codes, and meanings.

EDH: Another spelling of the word eth.

EIRON: In Greek comedy, the eiron was a stock male character known for his ironic understatement. This character deliberately pretended to be less clever than he actually was, yet his superior verbal skills and cunning allowed him to win out over braggarts and bullies. In many ways, the techniques of the eiron mirror those of Socratic irony used in philosophical debate.

EJACULATION, VERBAL: A sudden verbal outburst or interjection expressing a strong emotion, surprise, dismay, disbelief, or pain--such as teehee, ha-ha, tush, faugh, yuck, ho-ho, and ouch.

EKSTASOS (Greek, "ecstasy"): In Greek thinking, ekstasos is a non-rational state of mind that people achieve by losing themselves in an experience--becoming so engrossed in a sensation or a moment that one forgets about one's ego, one's life, and all other considerations beyond that emotion or feeling. That ekstasos can be provided by wild dancing, profound mourning and weeping, alcoholic intoxication, sexual pleasure, or religious enthrallment. This mental state contrasted with logos (rationality and logic). Ekstasos was a dangerous condition due to that irrationality, but it was a necessary and holy one for the ancient Greeks--a transcendental experience that took the initiate beyond the normal bounds of behavior and his or her mortal limitations for a short time. Unlike the English word "ecstasy," which implies pleasure, the Greeks thought of ekstasos as coming from any sufficiently strong emotion whether positive or negative. Grief and pain could be gateways to it as easily as pleasure. A worshipper of Aphrodite in the Acrocorinth would undergo ekstasos in the arms of a temple prostitute, but a theater-goer would experience ekstasos while watching a tragic play and feeling pity and fear through catharsis, and the worshippers of Dionysus/Bacchus would experience ekstasos while dancing drunkenly, or a Maenad priestess while tearing an animal apart in a frenzy. While most English translations think of Dionysus or Bacchus as being a god of "revelry," the Greek term ekstasos indicates a far different and more complex phenomenon to describe his domain.

ELECT, THE: John Calvin's Puritan doctrines emphasized God's prescience and omnipotence and de-emphasized human free will. Accordingly, for Calvin, the vast majority of humanity is fated for damnation because of their total depravity and original sin, and only a small percentage of humanity has been pre-selected for salvation in Christ. God has predestined this small sliver of the faithful, called "the elect," to turn to Puritanism and repent of their sins. They are predestined to be materially prosperous and successful in this life, and fated to enter heaven in the next. The idea of the Elect plays a significant part in literary works like The Scarlet Letter and in Puritan sermons.

ELEGY: In classical Greco-Roman literature, "elegy" refers to any poem written in elegiac meter (alternating hexameter and pentameter lines). More broadly, elegy came to mean any poem dealing with the subject-matter common to the early Greco-Roman elegies--complaints about love, sustained formal lamentation, or somber meditations. Typically, elegies are marked by several conventions of genre:

(1) The elegy, much like the classical epic, typically begins with an invocation of the muse, and then continues with allusions to classical mythology.

(2) The poem usually contains a poetic speaker who uses the first person.

(3) The speaker raises questions about justice, fate, or providence.

(4) The poet digresses about the conditions of his own time or his own situation.

(5) The digression allows the speaker to move beyond his original emotion or thinking to a higher level of understanding.

(6) The conclusion of the poem provides consolation or insight into the speaker's situation. In Christian elegies, the lyric reversal often moves from despair and grief to joy when the speaker realizes that death or misfortune is but a temporary barrier separating one from the bliss of eternity.

(7) The poem tends to be longer than a lyric but not as long as an epic.

(8) The poem is not plot-driven.

In the case of pastoral elegies in the 1600s, 1700s, and early 1800s, there are several other common conventions:

(1) The speaker mourns the death of a close friend; the friend is eulogized in the highest possible terms, but represented as if he were a shepherd.

(2) The mourner charges with negligence the nymphs or guardians of the shepherd who failed to preserve him from death.

(3) Appropriate mourners appear to lament the shepherd's death.

(4) Post-Renaissance poets often include an elaborate passage in which flowers appear to deck the hearse or grave, with various flowers having symbolic meaning appropriate to the scene.

Famous elegies include Milton's "Lycidas," Shelley's "Adonais," and Arnold's "Thyrsis." Closely related to the pastoral elegy, the dirge or threnody is shorter than the elegy and often represented as a text meant to be sung aloud. The term monody refers to any dirge or elegy presented as the utterance of a single speaker. Various Anglo-Saxon poems such as "The Wife's Lament" and "The Wanderer" are also considered elegies, though the term might not be perfectly applicable since the influence of the Greek elegy was never pervasive in Anglo-Saxon literature, making it unlikely the anonymous authors were familiar with the genre per se.

ELEMENTS, THE FOUR: The alchemical theory that all matter was composed of four components: earth, air, fire, and water. Each element had two spectrums of quality: hot/cold and dry/wet. For instance, earth was cold and dry. Water was cold and wet. Fire was hot and dry, and so on. Varying combinations of elements resulted in the four bodily humors (see below) of the physical body. Like the Chain of Being, the elements were arranged hierarchically, with varying elements given qualities that made them subordinant or dominant. The lowest, earth, was beneath all the other elements. The highest, fire, was above all the others. References to the elements appear frequently in medieval and Renaissance literature, and these allusions often have complex but easily overlooked political, spiritual, and cosmological significance if one does not recall the hierarchical nature of the elements in alchemical models. Click here for a downloadable PDF chart of the elements.

chart of elements

ELEOS (Grk, "pity"): The emotional purgation of negative feelings known as catharsis involved, according to Aristotle's Poetics, two emotions: eleos (pity) and phobos (fear). If the audience did not feel pity for the tragic hero in a play, or feel fear at his downfall, the play failed in its purpose. See discussion under catharsis.

ELF-SHOT: In British folklore, a mythical weapon used by wicked elves or invisible spirits to cause illness. As Leslie Donovan and Richard Scott Nokes summarize it, in neolithic times, Celtic hunters in Britain typically flaked flint to create their arrowheads. These artifacts appear scattered over large parts of the island, and in later centuries, when iron-age inhabitants like the Anglo-Saxons or Normans found the arrowheads, they were uncertain of their origin or purpose, as the wooden shaft of the arrows had long since rotted away leaving the triangular shaped head. The legend developed that these were magic weapons that evil elves or witches would use while invisible. The common belief is that elves would place the arrowhead between thumb and index finger and launch the stone-weapon toward a target by flicking the thumb. Our oldest records specifically mentioning this form of attack appear in the 1500s, but circumstantial references to the belief in appear in older Anglo-Saxon leech-books (medical treatises), where elf-shot refers to sudden pains or diseases localized on specific spots in the body. Some Anglo-Saxon apotropaic charms such as "For a Sudden Stitch" compares elf-shots to injuries of thrown spears. The idea was that the hostile elf or witch would flick the elf-shot at a victim, and it would penetrate his body and either poison the target with illness and muscle spasms or else gradually work its way through the victim's flesh until it penetrated the heart, killing the target. The myth appears directly in J.R.R. Tolkien's Smith of Wootton Major, but Donovan also sees signs of it in The Fellowship of the Ring, in which the Nazgûl blade injuring Frodo seems to poison him or leave a shard behind to gradually kill him (see Donovan 148-49 and Nokes 266 for their entries in Drout). The largest change here is that Tolkien switches elf-shot weaponry to the Ring-Wraiths and associates the elves with healing, as opposed to traditional folklore (Nokes 266).

ELISION (verb form, elide): (1) In poetry, when the poet takes a word that ends in a vowel, and a following word that begins with a vowel, and blurs them together to create a single syllable, the result is an elision. Contrast with synaeresis, syncope, and acephalous lines. To download a PDF handout that discussing elision and other techniques in conjunction with meter, click here. (2) In linguistics, elision refers more generally to the omission of any sound in speech and writing, such as the word Hallowe'en (from "All Hallows Evening") or in contractions like shan't (from "shall not").

ELIZABETHAN: Occurring in the time of Queen Elizabeth I's reign, from 1558-1603. Shakespeare wrote his early works during the Elizabethan period. This term is often juxtaposed with the Jacobean Period, the time following Elizabeth's reign when King James I ruled, from 1603 to 1625.

ELLESMERE MANUSCRIPT: Usually referred to as "the Ellesmere," this book is one of the most important surviving fifteenth-century manuscripts of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. The beautiful Ellesmere manuscript contains the best illumination and a set of portraits of each pilgrim. It is currently housed in the Huntington Library at San Marino, California. Later versions of the Canterbury Tales that appear to be based on this manuscript are called "the Ellesmere familiy." Cf. Hengwrt Manuscript.

ELLIPSIS (plural, ellipses): (1) In its oldest sense as a rhetorical device, ellipsis refers to the artful omission of a word implied by a previous clause. For instance, an author might write, "The American soldiers killed eight civilians, and the French eight." The writer of the sentence has left out the word soldiers after French, and the word civilians after eight. However, both words are implied by the previous clause, so a reader has no trouble following the author's thought. See schemes. An ellipsis is similar to an eclipsis, but differs in that an eclipsis has a word or words missing that may not be implied by a previous clause. (2) In its more modern sense, ellipsis refers to a punctuation mark indicated by three periods to indicate material missing from a quotation . . . like so. This mark is common in MLA format for indicating partial quotations.

ELOHIST TEXT, THE (Also called the E Document or the Elohist Text): Not to be confused with "electronic" or digital texts, the term E Text comes from biblical scholarship of the Torah. Based on the date of its language, elements of anthropomorphism, and certain folkloric qualities, most biblical scholars think the section from Genesis 2:4-3:3 comes from an older textual tradition than the material found in Genesis 1:1-2:3. Scholars think the section from Genesis 2:4 onward was once part of a separate textual tradition known as the "E Text" or the Elohist Text because the writer in this tradition uses Elohim as the plural name of God (singular El) and because it is written in a dialect probably associated with the Northern kingdom of Israel around Ephraim. Paleography and linguistics would date this section to about 799-700 BCE in the northern kingdom of Israel. Contrast with the P Text and the J Text, or click here for more detailed discussion. If students are reading a study Bible like the Anchor Bible series, the editors helpfully mark in the margins which sections come from the E Text, the J Text, or the P Text.

EMBLEM: Nathaniel Hawthorne's term for a private symbol. He also refers to private symbols as tokens. 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."

EMETH (Hebrew ): (1) The Hebrew word for "truth." According to a version of the Golem legen in medieval folklore, a Kabbalist living in Chelm named Rabbi Elijah Ba'al Shem crafted an artificial man out of clay and animated him by using his finger to write the word emeth in the its forehead. After being brought to life, the golem served as his worker, but when it later grew rebellious, the Kabbalist reaches up and used one finger to wipe out the letter Aleph (the "e" at the front of emeth), which changed the text to read meth (Hebrew for "corpse"). The Golem's clay instantly collapsed upon the rabbi. (2) In C.S. Lewis's The Last Battle, Emeth is the name of the young Calormene soldier who enters the stable seeking Tash, only to find Aslan. The character of Emeth is an idolater who worshipped a bloodthirsty deity, but he apparently achieves salvation in spite of his misplaced religious devotions, a detail that has proven controversial among many fundamentalist readers of Lewis. For lengthier discussion, see the "implications in Christian theology" section of Wikipedia's entry on Emeth.

ENALLAGE (Greek, "interchange"): Intentionally misusing grammar to characterize a speaker or to create a memorable phrase. Boxing manager Joe Jacobs, for instance, became immortal with the phrase, "We was robbed!" Or, the editors of Punch magazine might tell their British readers, "You pays your money, and you takes your chances." Similarly, in Shakespeare, we find "And hang more praise upon deceased I" (Sonnet 72). We also find the intentional misuse of subject-verb agreement when a Shakespearean character asks, "Is there not wars? Is there not employment?" (2nd Henry IV, I, ii). Cf. eclipsis. See schemes.

ENCLITIC: A linguistic formation in which a separate word, during the process contraction, becomes part of the word preceding it. Algeo offers the examle of 'll for will in the contraction I'll (317).

ENCLOSING METHOD: Another term for framing method.

ENCYCLICAL: An official statement by the papacy. Individual encyclicals lack titles in the modern sense, and they are normally refered to by their opening words (in Latin).

ENDLINK: See discussion under link.

END RHYME: Rhyme in which the last word at the end of each verse is the word that rhymes. This contrasts with internal rhyme, in which a word in the middle of each line of verse rhymes, or so-called head rhyme, in which the beginning consonant in a word alliterates with another beginning consonant in a different word.

END-STOPPED RHYME: In poetry, a line ending in a full pause, often indicated by appropriate punctuation such as a period or semicolon. This contrasts with enjambement or run-on lines, in which the grammatical sense of the sentence continues uninterrupted into the next line. Here is an example of end-stopped rhyme from Robert Browning's "Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister":

G-r-r-r--there go, my heart's abhorrence!
Water your damned flowerpots, do.
If hate killed men, Brother Lawrence,
God's blood, would not mine kill you!
What? your myrtle bush wants trimming?
Oh, that rose has prior claims--
Needs it leaden vase filled brimming?
Hell dry you up with its flames!

Readers will note that at the end of each line, the reader finds a punctuation mark that indicates a pause in speech or a break in grammatical structure. The sentence-structure has been deliberately designed to fall naturally with the end of each line. Contrast this technique with enjambement, below.

ENGLISH SONNET: Another term for a Shakespearean sonnet. See discussion under sonnet, or click here to download a PDF handout.

ENGLYN: A group of certain Welsh tercets and quatrains written in strict Welsh meters including monorhyme and cywydd, especially in poems that make use of cynghanedd. The simplest example of an englyn is the soldiers' englyn, a rhymed tercet in which each line has seven syllables.

ENJAMBEMENT (French, "straddling," in English also called "run-on line," pronounced on-zhahm-mah): A line having no pause or end punctuation but having uninterrupted grammatical meaning continuing into the next line. Here is an example from George S. Viereck's "The Haunted House":

I lay beside you; on your lips the while
Hovered most strange the mirage of a smile
Such as a minstrel lover might have seen
Upon the visage of some antique queen. . . .

You will note there is no punctuation or pause at the end of lines one, two, and three. Instead, the meaning continues uninterrupted into the next line. Contrast this technique with end-stopped rhymes, above.

ENLIGHTENMENT (also called the neoclassic movement): the philosophical and artistic movement growing out of the Renaissance and continuing until the nineteenth century. The Enlightenment was an optimistic belief that humanity could improve itself by applying logic and reason to all things. It rejected untested beliefs, superstition, and the "barbarism" of the earlier medieval period, and embraced the literary, architectural, and artistic forms of the Greco-Roman world. Enlightenment thinkers were enchanted by the perfection of geometry and mathematics, and by all things harmonious and balanced. The period's poetry, as typified by Alexander Pope, John Dryden, and others, attempted to create perfect, clockwork regularity in meter. Typically, these Enlightenment writers would use satire to ridicule what they felt were illogical errors in government, social custom, and religious belief.

For me, I have found one useful exercise to understand the difference between the Enlightenment and the Romantic aesthetic that followed. This exercise is examining the architecture of English and continental gardens in each period. In the Enlightenment, the garden would be kept neatly trimmed, with only useful or decorative plants allowed to grow, and every weed meticulously uprooted. The trees would be planted according to mathematical models for harmonious spacing, and the shrubbery would be pruned into geometric shapes such as spheres, cones, or pyramids. The preferred garden walls would involve Greco-Roman columns perfectly spaced from each other in clean white marble, smoothly burnished in straight edges and lines. If a stream or well were available, the architect might divert it down a carefully designed irrigation path, or pump it into the spray of a marble fountain. Such a setting was considered ideal for hosting civilized gatherings and leisurely strolls through the grounds. Such features were common in gardens from the 1660s up through the late 1790s. Nature was something to be shaped according to the dictates of human will and tamed according to the rules of human logic.

On the other hand, the later Romanticists might be horrified at the artificial design imposed upon nature. The ideal garden in the Romantic period might be planted in the ruins of an ancient cloister or churchyard. Wild ivy might be encouraged to grow along the picturesque, rough-hewn walls. Rather than ornamental shrubbery, fruit trees would be planted. The flowers might be loosely clustered according to type, but overgrown random patterns caused by the natural distribution of wind and rain were considered more aesthetically pleasing. Even better, rather than planting a garden, a Romanticist nature-lover would be encouraged to walk in the untamed wilderness, clambering up and down the uneven rocks and gullies of a natural stream. Many Romanticists who inherited Enlightenment gardens simply tore the structures down and allowed the grounds to run wild. Nature was considered something larger than humanity, and the passions it inspired in its untamed form were considered healthier (more "natural") than the faint-hearted passions originating in falsely imposed human design. Cf. aufklärung. To download a PDF handout that lists the major literary movements or periods in chronological order, click here. To download Kant's definition of Enlightenment, click here.

ENVIRONMENTAL WRITINGS: Writings focused on nature or man's relationship to nature, especially the transcendental essays and meditations of Thoreau and Emerson in the nineteenth century and the ecological writings of Barry Lopez, Edward Abbey, and Diane Ackerman in the twentieth century.

ENVOI: An alternative French spelling for envoy, below.

ENVOY: Also spelled, envoi, the word envoy refers to a postscript added to the end of a prose writing or a short verse stanza (often using different meter and rhyme) attached to the conclusion of a poem. An example appears at the end of Chaucer's "Clerk's Tale."

EPANADOS: Repeating a word in the middle of a clause in either the opening or the conclusion of the same sentence for artistic effect. Philip Sidney uses this technique in this line from Arcadia: "Hear you this soul-invading voice, and count it but a voice?"

EPANALEPSIS: Repeating a word from the beginning of a clause or phrase at the end of the same clause or phrase: "Year chases year." Or "Man's inhumanity to man." As Voltaire reminds us, "Common sense is not so common." As Shakespeare chillingly phrases it, "Blood will have blood." Under Biblical lextalionis one might demand "an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life."

EPENTHESIS (also called infixation): Adding an extra syllable or letters in the middle of a word. Shakespeare might write, "A visitating spirit came last night" (instead of "visiting" spirit). This choice perhaps highlights the unnatural status of the visit, or perhaps shows the speaker is being pretentious or flustered in his diction. More prosaically, Ned Flanders from The Simpsons might say, "Gosh-diddly-darn-it, Homer" (instead of "gosh-darn-it, Homer"). Epenthesis has resulted in new words in English--such as the word thimble, which developed from the earlier word thimel.

EPIC: An epic in its most specific sense is a genre of classical poetry. It is a poem that is (a) a long narrative about a serious subject, (b) told in an elevated style of language, (c) focused on the exploits of a hero or demi-god who represents the cultural values of a race, nation, or religious group (d) in which the hero's success or failure will determine the fate of that people or nation. Usually, the epic has (e) a vast setting; it covers a wide geographic area, (f) it contains superhuman feats of strength or military prowess, and gods or supernatural beings frequently take part in the action. The poem begins with (g) the invocation of a muse to inspire the poet and, (h) the narrative starts in medias res (see above). (i) The epic contains long catalogs of heroes or important characters, focusing on highborn kings and great warriors rather than peasants and commoners.

J. A. Cuddon notes that the term primary epic refers to folk epics, i.e., versions of an epic narrative that were transmitted orally in pre-literate cultures; the term secondary epic refers to literary epics, i.e., versions that are actually written down rather than chanted or sung (284). Often, these secondary epics retain elements of oral-formulaic transmission, such as staggered intervals in which the poet summarizes earlier events, standardized epithets and phrases originally used by singers to fill out dactylic hexameters during extemporaneous performance, and so on.

The term epic applies most accurately to classical Greek texts like the Iliad and the Odyssey. However, some critics have applied the term more loosely. The Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf has also been called an epic of Anglo-Saxon culture, Milton's Paradise Lost has been seen as an epic of Christian culture, and Shakespeare's various History Plays have been collectively called an epic of Renaissance Britain. Other examples include Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered and the anonymous Epic of Gilgamesh, which is the oldest example known. Contrast with mock epic. See epic simile below. Click here to a download a PDF handout discussing the epic's conventional traits.

EPIC HERO: The main character in an epic poem--typically one who embodies the values of his or her culture. For instance, Odysseus is the epic hero in the Greek epic called The Odyssey--in which he embodies the cleverness and fast-thinking Greek culture admired. Aeneas is the epic hero in the Roman epic The Aeneid--in which he embodies the pietas, patriotism, and the four cardinal virtues the Romans admired. If we stretch the term epic more broadly beyond the strict confines of the Greco-Roman tradition, we might read Beowulf as loosely as an epic hero of Beowulf and Moses as the epic hero of Exodus. See epic above, and avoid confusing the epic hero with the tragic hero. See also the Russian equivalent, the bogatyr.

EPIC SIMILE: A formal and sustained simile (see under tropes). Like a regular simile, an epic simile makes a comparison between one object and another using "like" or "as." However, unlike a regular simile, which often appears in a single sentence, the epic simile appears in the genre of the epic and it may be developed at great length, often up to fifty or a hundred lines. Examples include Homer's comparison between Odysseus clinging to the rocks and an octopus with pebbles stuck in its tentacles, or Virgil's comparison between the city of Carthage and a bee-hive. For an example of a Homeric epic simile from The Odyssey, click here. See epic, above.

EPICENE PRONOUN: A gender-neutral pronoun for human beings. English does have gender-neutral pronouns for objects (it, its), but it does not have epicene pronouns for people--only masculine and feminine ones (he, him, his or she, her, her). Increasingly, common speech has been using the plural pronouns they, them, and their to fulfill this function, though this often grates on the ears of traditional grammarians when this plural pronoun is applied to a singular antecedent.

EPICUREANISM: The Greek philosophy of Epicurus, who espoused a life of gentle hedonism ameliorated by rational moderation. His idea of epicureanism was so refined as to almost be ascetic. For instance, he urged that pleasures should be best tasted one at a time, and strung out with slow relish. Gorging, over-indulgence, and excess defeated the point because it would lead to future miseries like indigestion, hangover, and exhaustion. Epicurus accordingly argued that the wise hedonist would balance immediate pleasure with long-term comfort. In common modern usage, however, the bit about "rational moderation" usually gets left out, reducing the philosophy to one of unadulterated pleasure-seeking. Epicurus also advocated avoiding public life or stressful work.

In late Roman times, aristocrats adopted and perverted the older Greek Epicurean doctrine. They focused on overindulgence. Food, wine, entertainment, and slave girls became the chief pleasures--and in the later days of the Roman Empire, social phenomena like the vomitorium and the orgy arose. See further discussion under Roman Stoicism. We can see an epicurean influence on Chaucer's "General Prologue," where the aging Franklin is described as a son of Epicurus.

EPIGRAM (from Greek epigramma "an inscription"): (1) An inscription in verse or prose on a building, tomb, or coin. (2) a short verse or motto appearing at the beginning of a longer poem or the title page of a novel, at the heading of a new section or paragraph of an essay or other literary work to establish mood or raise thematic concerns. The opening epigram to Edgar Allan Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher" is one such example. (3) A short, humorous poem, often written in couplets, that makes a satiric point. Coleridge once described this third type of epigram using an epigram himself: "A dwarfish whole, / Its body brevity, / and wit its soul."

EPILOGUE: A conclusion added to a literary work such as a novel, play, or long poem. It is the opposite of a prologue. Often, the epilogue refers to the moral of a fable. Sometimes, it is a speech made by one of the actors at the end of a play asking for the indulgence of the critics and the audience. Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream contains one of the most famous epilogues. Contrast with prologue. Do not confuse the term with eclogue.

EPIMYTHIUM: A summary of the moral of the fable appearing at the end of the main narrative. If it is found at the beginning of the narrative, it is called a promythium. Contrast with prologue and epilogue.

EPIPHANY: Christian thinkers used this term to signify a manifestation of God's presence in the world. It has since become in modern fiction and poetry the standard term for the sudden flare into revelation of an ordinary object or scene. In particular, the epiphany is a revelation of such power and insight that it alters the entire world-view of the thinker who experiences it. (In this sense, it is similar to what a scientist might call a "paradigm shift.") Shakespeare's Twelfth Night takes place on the Feast of the Epiphany, and the theme of revelation is prevalent in the work. James Joyce used the term epiphany to describe personal revelations such as that of Gabriel Conroy in the short story "The Dead" in Dubliners.

EPISODE: A scene involving the actors' dialogue and action rather than the chorus's singing, or sections of such scenes in a Classical Greek tragedy. Divisions separating the episodes were called stasima. During the stasima, the chorus sang. Note that Greek tragedies were performed without any breaks or intermissions.

EPISODIA: The Greek word for episode. See above.

EPISODIC: Occurring in a long string of short, individual scenes, stories, or sections, rather than focusing on the sustained development of a single plot. These episodes may be unrelated to each other directly, or they may be loosely connected together in terms of overall events. Picaresque narratives, medieval romances, and collections like 1001 Arabian Nights are often said to be episodic.

EPISTEMOLOGY: The branch in philosophy dealing with how humans know what they know, or in what ways we can know the things we know. This term often contrasts with ontology--the branch in philosophy describing what things really exist and in what ways such things can exist.

EPISTLE: (1) A poem addressed to a patron, friend, or family member, thus a kind of "letter" in verse. (2) An actual prose letter sent to another. (3) A distinct part or section of such a poem or letter.

EPISTOLARY: Taking the form of a letter, or actually consisting of a letter written to another. For instance, several books in the New Testament written by Saint Paul are epistolary--they were originally letters written to newly founded Christian churches. Sometimes, novelists will write an epistolary novel, in which the story is unveiled as a series of letters between the characters. Some examples include C. S. Lewis's Screwtape Letters, Richardson's Pamela (1740), Fanny Burney's Evelina, Rousseau's La Nouvelle Héloïse, Hannah W. Foster's The Coquette, and John Barth's Letters.

EPISTOLARY NOVEL: Any novel that takes the form of a series of letters--either written by one character or several characters. The form allows an author to dispense with an omniscient point of view, but still switch between the viewpoints of several characters during the narrative. See epistolary, above.

EPISTROPHE (Greek, "upon turning"): Repetition of a concluding word or word endings: "He's learning fast; are you earning fast?" When the epistrophe focuses on sounds rather than entire words, we normally call it rhyme. Epistrophe is an example of a rhetorical scheme.

EPITHALAMION (Greek, "at the Bridal Chamber," plural epithalamia): A wedding hymn sung in classical Greece outside the bride's room on her wedding night. Sappho is traditionally believed to have been the first poet to begin the tradition. Renaissance poets revived the custom, including Sir Philip Sidney, Spenser, Donne, Ben Jonson, Herrick, Crashaw, Dryden, and Marvell. The genre largely fell out of favor during the Enlightenment, but it enjoyed a brief respite during the Romantic period. The Latin equivalent is called an epithalamium.

EPITHALAMIUM: The Latin term for an epithalamion. See above.

EPITAPH: Not to be confused with epithet or epigram, an epitaph refers literally to an inscription carved on a gravestone, aka, cenotaph. In a more general sense, an epitaph is the final statement spoken by a character before his death. In many of Shakespeare's plays, it is common for the last words a character speaks to come true, especially if he utters a curse. Shakespeare's own epitaph in the chancel of Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon is rather famous: GOOD FREND FOR IESVS SAKE FORBEARE TO DIGG THE DVST ENCLOASED HEARE BLESTE BE Y MAN Y SPARES THES STONES AND CVRST BE HE Y MOVES MY BONES." The Norton Facsimile of the First Folio of Shakespeare provides the best available photo-facsimile of it. Other famous epitaphs include John Keats' grave inscription: "Here lies one whose name was writ in water." A long list of such literary epitaphs can be found here.

EPITHET: A short, poetic nickname--often in the form of an adjective or adjectival phrase--attached to the normal name. Frequently, this technique allows a poet to extend a line by a few syllables in a poetic manner that characterizes an individual or a setting within an epic poem. (1) The Homeric epithet in classical literature often includes compounds of two words such as, "fleet-footed Achilles," "Cow-eyed Hera," "Grey-eyed Athena," or "the wine-dark sea." In other cases, it appears as a phrase, such as "Odysseus the man-of-many-wiles," or whatnot. Click here for more examples. (2) The historical epithet is a descriptive phrase attached to a ruler's name. For instance, King Alfred the Great, Duke Lorenzo the Magnificent, Robert the Devil, Richard the Lionheart, and so on. (3) The generally descriptive epithet would appear in Old Norse and Germanic cultures to help distinguish individuals, thus giving us (in Njal's Saga) colorful names such as Hallbjorn Half-Troll, Ulf the Squinter, Hjorleif the Womanizer, and Ketil Flat-Nose. We often see fantasy-writers imitate classical or medieval epithets, such as Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, where Aragorn catalogs his various names on encountering the riders of Rohan: "I am Aragorn son of Arathorn, and am called Elessar, the Elfstone, Dúnadan, the heir of Isildur Elendil's son of Gondor." (433). Do not confuse the epithet with the epitaph or epigram.

EPIZEUXIS (also called diacope): Uninterrupted repetition, or repetition with only one or two words between each repeated phrase. Typically, the purpose of epizeuxis is to show strong emotion. Peacham writes, "My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed." A character in a gothic novel might cry out, "Oh, horror, horror, horror!" Probably the most dramatic use of epizeuxis is found in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Bells," in which Poe writes,

To the swinging and the ringing
Of the bells, bells, bells--
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells--

Epizeuxis is an example of a rhetorical scheme.

EPONYM: A 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.

EPONYMOUS ARCHON: See archon, eponymous.

EQUIVOQUE: See discussion under pun.

EREMITE: A religious hermit. Eremites are stock character in vitae and in chivalric romances. See discussion under eremitic tradition, below.

EREMITIC TRADITION: An eremite is a hermit--one who deliberately lives alone seeking spiritual enlightenment in the desert, forest, or wilderness. The first five centuries of Christianity were marked by a number of eremitic (hermitic) traditions and cenobitical (monastic) traditions in which devout Christians attempted to remove themselves from what they saw as a corrupt, materialistic world in favor of spiritual contemplation either alone in the wilderness or together with like-minded folk within a monastery's walls. They often modeled themselves on Old Testament prophets or on the example of Christ spending forty days and nights in the wilderness facing Satan's temptations. Examples of eremites from The New Catholic Encyclopedia include John the Baptist, Saint Athanasius, Saint Basil, Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, Saint Jerome (the translator of the Bible into Latin), Saint Nilus, Saint Isidore of Pelusium, Saint Epiphanius, Saint Mary Magdalene, and countless others.

The eremites became the basis for many early Christian legends. Many saints' lives (vitae) and hagiographical writings focus on the miracles and sufferings of these isolationist mystics. Saint Anthony, for instance, was famed for physically wrestling with demons in the Egyptian desert, as described in his vita by Saint Athanasius. Saint Kevin (Irish Coemghen) was renowned for a series of miracles (and his infamous "nettle-bathes," when he would roll naked in thorn bushes).

Likewise, in medieval Romance, one of the stock characters is the hermit. The knight-errant encounters him in the forest, and the hermit conventionally provides food, shelter, medical care, and spiritual advice for wounded knights in medieval literature. In later protestant works like Spenser's The Fairy Queen, the hermit might be an evil sorcerer (like Archimago) in disguise, however! This change in characterization reflects the difference in protestant attitudes and catholic attitudes towards eremites.

The figure of the hermit (often depicted as mad or magical) has almost become an archetype in literature and film. Witness the Star Wars character of Yoda in the Dagobah swamps, for instance. For extended discussion of hermits, see the entry for hermit in The New Catholic Encyclopedia.

EROTEMA (also called erotesis): Asking a rhetorical question to the reader, i.e., "What should honest citizens do?" Often the question is asked in order to get a definite answer from the reader--usually, "no," as J. A. Cuddon suggests. The erotema often implies an answer, but usually does not provide one explicitly. Examples include Laertes' rant about Ophelia's madness, when he asks, "Do you see this, O God?" (Hamlet 4.5). American politicians still make use of this technique in debate, as evidenced by Senator Edward Kennedy's arguments before the senate concerning the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968:

How can the poor feel they have a stake in a system which says that the rich may have due process but the poor may not? How can the uneducated have faith in a system which says that it will take advantage of them in every possible way? How can people have hope when we tell them that they have no recourse if they run afoul of the state justice system?

EROTOSIS: Another term for erotema. See erotema, above.

ERRATA (singular: erratum): Errors or mistakes in a printed text. See discussion under erratum, below.

ERRATUM (plural: errata): An error in a printed text that comes about from transposed letters, missing lines of text, or simple typesetting errors resulting from a printer or a printer's apprentice's mistake while assembling the text on the press. In Ben Franklin's Autobiography, he refers to the various mistakes in his own life charmingly as "errata," and he refers to his own life as a book written by God or the Deity.

ERSE (from Irish Erische): (1) Another name for Scots Gaelic, particularly the name popularly used in 16th-19th centuries to refer to the Highland dialects of Scots Gaelic, or (2) an alternative name for any Goidelic language--especially Irish Gaelic or Scots Gaelic.

ESCAPE LITERATURE: Not to be confused with escapist literature, escape literature (also called literature of escape) includes books and short stories about desperate protagonists escaping from confinement--especially from prisoner-of-war camps during the First and Second World Wars. These books and stories are usually designed to be suspenseful and focus on the psychological effects of imprisonment. Examples include H. G. Durnford's The Tunnellers of Holzminden and Eric Williams' The Wooden Horse. More generally, any narrative with a significant involvement in escaping from confinement might be called escape literature, including Stephen King's novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, or the first part of Alexander Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo.

ESCAPISM: The desire to retreat into imaginative entertainment rather than deal with the stress, tedium, and daily problems of the mundane world. See discussion under escapist literature.

ESCAPIST LITERATURE: Not to be confused with escape literature, escapist literature is designed primarily for imaginative entertainment rather than readings designed for provoking thought or addressing serious social issues. The term is derogatory in connotation, though one might argue such writing serves a psychological purpose by offering a relief from the stresses or tedium of mundane life. Arguably, the vast bulk of popular reading is escapist in nature. Sir Philip Sidney's Defence of Poesy famously describes the appeal of such escapist work: "He cometh unto you with a tale which holdeth children from play and old men from the chimney-corner." See also wish fulfillment.

ESCHATOLOGICAL NARRATIVE: Eschatalogy in Christian theology is the study of the end of things, including the end of the world, life-after-death, and the Last Judgment. An eschatalogical narrative refers to a story dealing with these matters, a story which explains what the ultimate ending or conclusion of something. The term should not be confused with scatological narratives. Contrast with etiological narrative, below.

ESCHATOLOGY: The branch of religious philosophy or theology focusing on the end of time, the afterlife, and the Last Judgment. See discussion under eschatological narrative.

ESTATES: See discussion under feudalism.

ESTATES SATIRE: A medieval genre common among French poets in which the speaker lists various occupations among the three estates of feudalism (nobles, peasants, and clergy) and depicts them in a manner that shows how short they fall from the ideal of that occupation. In the late medieval period, the genre expanded to discuss the failings of bourgeois individuals as well. The genre was not unknown in England. John Gower's Vox Clamantis and Confessio Amantis have passages similar to those in continental estates satire. Jill Mann suggests in her famous book, Chaucer and Medieval Estates Satire, that the General Prologue of The Canterbury Tales is itself an example of this genre. See also satire and three estates. The genre is also called medieval estates satire.

ESTUARY ENGLISH: A recently identified English dialect (or shift in dialect) in the southeastern portions of the British Isles that combines features of Cockney and RP.

ETH (also spelled edh): A letter in the Anglo-Saxon, Old Norse, and modern Icelandic alphabet. As a capital letter, it is written as a capital "D" with a horizontal line across the left edge of the D, often called a "crossed D." As a lower-case letter, it is written as a curving lower-case d with a horizontal line midway across the vertical stroke. Below is a visual example of the capital and lower-case eth:


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

ETHNIC DIALECT: A dialect used by a racial or national group, as opposed to a caste dialect or regional dialect.

ETIOLOGICAL NARRATIVE: Etiology is the branch of philosophy dealing with the origins of things or how things came to be. An etiological narrative in folklore, mythology/religion, or literature is a story that explains how a social custom, geographical feature, animal, or plant came into existence. For instance, Ovid's Metamorphosis explains that so many serpents exist in India because Perseus spilled some Gorgon's blood there, and where each drop of blood fell, a serpent arose; Ovid also explains how Mount Olympus came to be so tall--giants and titans piled one mountain on top of another in order to reach the heavens and battle Jupiter. Unusual rock formations in Wales are often explained in etiological narratives. For instance, an unusual rock formation might be explained using a story about King Arthur riding his horse over the rocks, resulting in the geological formation. Some Scandinavian legends about trolls and giants are etiological narratives explaining how a mountain range or a valley came into existence. For instance, an ice-giant damned a river to create a lake, or a troll dug up a valley to create a moutain pass. Often toponyms and onomastic legends contain etiological functions. Contrast with eschatological narrative, above.

ETIOLOGY: See discussion under etiological narrative.

ETYMOLOGICAL RESPELLING: Revising spelling to reflect or match how a word's etymon was spelled, or the actual word so altered. For instance, the words debt and doubt gained their silent <b> letters in the Renaissance when revisionists/reactionaries wanted to "correct" the Middle English spellings (det and dout) to match the Latin roots, debitum and dubitare (Algeo 158).

ETYMOLOGY: (1) The origin of a word. (2) The study of word origins and the history of words--especially how words can be traced back to a root, i.e., an earlier source word. See etymon. Contrast with folk etymology.

ETYMON (plural, etyma): An older word that is a source for a newer one. See etymology.

EUCATASTROPHE (Grk. eu+catastrophe, "happy or fortunate ending"): As Christopher Garbowski describes in the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia, Tolkien coined this term in his Andrew Lang Lecture entitled "On Fairy-stories." It applies to a final resolution in fantasy literature that evokes a sense of beauty, hope, and wonder in readers. Tolkien uses it as an antonym for the catastrophe that traditionally ends a tragedy.

EUPHEMISM: Using a mild or gentle phrase instead of a blunt, embarrassing, or painful one. For instance, saying "Grandfather has gone to a better place" is a euphemism for "Grandfather has died." The idea is to put something bad, disturbing, or embarrassing in an inoffensive or neutral light. Frequently, words referring directly to death, unpopular politics, blasphemy, crime, and sexual or excremental activities are replaced by euphemisms.

Examples from medieval French include the euphemism "a wound in the thigh" to describe a wound to a knight's genitals. Examples from the Elizabethan period include the exclamation zounds! as a euphemism for the curse, "God's wounds!" Similarly, we now use euphemisms such as "Gosh darn!" instead of "God damn!" or "Gee whiz!" instead of "Jesus!" For an extraordinarily thorough list of sexual euphemisms in Shakespeare's plays, see Eric Partridge's Shakespeare's Bawdy (1960). Note that euphemism should not be confused with euphuism, below.

EUPHONY (from Greek "good sound"): Attempting to group words together harmoniously, so that the consonants permit an easy and pleasing flow of sound when spoken, as opposed to cacophony, when the poet intentionally mixes jarring or harsh sounds together in groups that make the phrasing either difficult to speak aloud or grating to the ear. Here is an example of euphony from John Keats' The Eve of St. Agnes (1820):

And lucent syrops, tinct with cinnamon;
Manna and dates, in argosy transferred
From Fez; and spiced dainties, every one
From silken Samarcand to cedar'd Lebanon.

EUPHUISM: Not to be confused with euphemism, above, euphuism is a highly ornate style of writing popularized by John Lyly's Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit (1578). The style is sententious, relies heavily on balanced syntax, makes frequent use of antithesis, parallelism, rhetorical tropes, and learned allusions. A sample passage illustrating this style appears in Philautus's speech in Lyly's work:

I see now that as the fish Scholopidus in the flood Araris at the waxing of the Moon is as white as the driven snow, and at the waning as black as the burnt coal, so Euphues, which at the first encreasing of our familiarity, was very zealous, is now at the last cast become most faithless.

EUPOLIDIAN (Grk., "well varied"): In classical literature, any varied metrical form such as a tetrameter with mixed choriambic and trochaic feet (Cuddon 314).

EUTREPISMUS: Adding numbers to the various points in an argument or debate so the audience can better follow the rhetor's thinking.

EXACT RHYME: Exact rhyme or perfect rhyme is rhyming two words in which both the consonant sounds and vowel sounds match to create a rhyme. The term "exact" is sometimes used more specifically to refer to two homophones that are spelled dissimilarly but pronounced identically at the end of lines. Since poetry is traditionally spoken aloud, the effect of rhyme depends upon sound rather than spelling, even words that are spelled dissimilarly can rhyme. Examples of this sort of exact rhyme include the words pain/pane, time/thyme, rein/reign, and bough/bow. However, it is equally common to use the term exact rhyme in reference to any close rhyme such as line/mine, dig/pig, and so on. Contrast exact rhyme with eye rhymes, and inexact rhymes or imperfect rhymes. The last two of these three contrasting terms include subtypes such as half rhyme, near rhyme, or slant rhyme. Exact rhyme is also referred to as perfect rhyme, full rhyme, or true rhyme.

EXCLUSUS AMATOR (Lat., "Locked-Out Lover"): A theme in Greco-Roman love poetry in which the male speaker of the poem depicts himself as locked outside from a woman's affection, and he stands before the paraklausithyron (a barred or closed door) begging her to admit him. Usually the imagery involves implicit or explicit metaphors about sexual access. Ovid makes use of it in his Latin work, and later Renaissance poets like John Donne famously invert the situation in the Holy Sonnets, in which the "Batter my Heart" sonnet depicts God as the locked-out male lover seeking entrance to the heart, and the speaker becomes the feminine soul unwilling to open the door herself.

EXCURSUS: (1) A detailed analysis of a particular point or argument--epecially when added as an appendix at the back of a book. (2) A scholarly digression or an additional discussion.

EXEGESIS: (1) In Roman times, the term exegesis applied to professional government interpretation of omens, dreams, and sacred laws, as Cuddon notes (315). (2) In post-Roman times, more commonly exegesis is scholarly or theological interpretation of the Bible. See discussion under fourfold interpretation.

EXEGETICAL CRITICISM: Another term for Robertsonian criticism of medieval literature. See discussion under fourfold interpretation.

EXEMPLUM (plural: exempla): The term exemplum can be used in two general ways.

(1) In medieval literature, an exemplum is a short narrative or reference that serves to teach by way of example--especially a short story embedded in a longer sermon. An exemplum teaches by providing an exemplar, a model of behavior that the reader should imitate, or by providing an example of bad behavior that the reader should avoid. In medieval argumentation, a writer might use biblical stories and historical allusions as exempla. Often an entire medieval argument might consist of two individuals asserting exempla to prove their arguments, and the one who comes up with the most exempla is the default winner. We see samples of this type of debate in "The Wife of Bath's Prologue," in which Jankin provides long lists of wicked women to put the Wife in her place, and in "The Nun's Priest's Tale," in which Chauntecleer proves that dreams have significance by asserting a long list of cases in which oneiromantic visions predicted the future.

(2) In classical rhetoric, an exemplum is simply any example that serves to prove a point whether the example is couched in story-form or not. In this sense, exempla work in a variety of persuasive ways in addition to providing a model of behavior. They can, like medieval exempla, provide a model for a reader to imitate, they can demonstrate the reality of a problem, they can serve a pedagogical function by providing illustrative examples or they can demonstrate subtle differences in categorization, and so on, and so on.

EXETER MANUSCRIPT: The Codex Exoniensis, Exeter Cathedral Book MS 305, commonly referred to as the "Exeter Book" or the "Exeter Manuscript" by loving scholars. The manuscript was a gift to Exeter Cathedral in the year 1072 (hence the name). Today, it is one of the four primary surviving medieval books of Anglo-Saxon poetry. The Exeter Manuscript includes elegies, saint's lives, animal poems, and other verse compositions such as "The Wanderer," "The Whale," "Deor," "The Wife's Lament," "Juliana," "Widsith," a number of riddles, and various other literary artifacts.

EXILLITERATUR (Ger. "Exile-literature"): German literature written by authors who fled Nazi Germany during World War II. Authors who are part of the Exilliteratur movement include Bertolt Brecht and Thomas Mann

EXISTENTIALISM: A twentieth-century philosophy arguing that ethical human beings are in a sense cursed with absolute free will in a purposeless universe. Therefore, individuals must fashion their own sense of meaning in life instead of relying thoughtlessly on religious, political, and social conventions. These merely provide a façade of meaning according to existential philosophy. Those who rely on such conventions without thinking through them deny their own ethical responsibilities. The basic principles of existentialism are (1) a concern with man's essential being and nature, (2) an idea that existential "angst" or "anguish" is the common lot of all thinking humans who see the essential meaninglessness of transitory human life, (3) the belief that thought and logic are insufficient to cope with existence, and (4) the conviction that a true sense of morality can only come from honestly facing the dilemma of existential freedom and participating in life actively and positively. The ethical idea is that, if the universe is essentially meaningless, and human existence does not matter in the long run, then the only thing that can provide a moral backdrop is humanity itself, and neglecting to build and encourage such morality is neglecting our duty to ourselves and to each other.

The major existential philosophers include the Danish theologian Kierkegaard, Martin Heidegger, and Hans Georg Gadamer. The major existential literary figures include Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Simone de Beauvoir, Samuel Beckett, and Franz Kafka. While the movement is largely atheistic, a profound branch of Christian existentialism has emerged in writers such as Jacques Maritain, Paul Tillich, and Gabriel Marcel.

EXIT / EXUENT: Common Latin stage directions found in the margins of Shakespearean plays. Exit is the singular for "He [or she] goes out." Exuent is the plural form for multiple individuals. Often the phrase is accompanied with explanatory remarks, such as Exuent omnes ("Everybody goes out"), or Exit solus ("He alone goes out").

EXODOS (Greek "leaving," cf. Latin exodus): The last piece of a Greek tragedy, an episode occurring after the last choral ode and ended by the ceremonial exit of all the actors.

EXORDIUM: In classical rhetoric, this is the introductory part of a speech.

EXPLOSIVE (also called a plosive or a stop): In linguistics, a sound made by completely blocking and then quickly unblocking the flow of air.

EXPOSÉ (French past part., "revealed"): A journalistic or literary revelation or exposure--especially of something discreditable or scandalous. Examples of non-fiction exposés include All the President's Men by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, which revealed Nixon's involvement with the Watergate scandal, and Edwin Markham's Children in Bondage, which exposed the evils of child labor. Fictional narratives can also reveal real-world scandals, such as Upton Sinclair's 1906 novel, The Jungle, which exposed consumers to the exploitation of meat-packing workers, and the poetry of William Wordsworth and William Blake which also acted in many ways as exposes of child labor practices in London.

EXPOSITION: The use of authorial discussion to explain or summarize background material rather than revealing this information through gradual narrative detail. Often, this technique is considered unartful, especially when creative writers contrast showing (revelation through details) and telling (exposition). For example, a writer might use exposition by writing, "Susan was angry when she left the house and climbed into her car outside." That sentence is telling the reader about Susan, i.e., using exposition. In contrast, the writer might change this to the following version. "Red-faced with nostrils flaring, Susan slammed the door and stomped over to her car outside." Now, the writer is showing Susan's anger, rather than using exposition to tell the audience she's angry.

EXTRA-TEXTUAL MEANING: Meaning that originates not in the text being read, but in another related text. The most common type of extra-textual meaning is an allusion, in which an author briefly refers to a character, event, place, or object from the Bible, mythology, history, or another literary work. Since the author does not necessarily explain this allusion, it is up to the reader to recognize the reference and supply the significance from the outside text. Contrast with intra-textual meaning.

EYE DIALECT: A type of metaplasmus using unconventional spellings to represent conventional pronunciation: for instance, "He shud of left sooner" instead of "He should have left sooner."

EYE RHYME: Rhyming words that seem to rhyme when written down as text because parts of them are spelled identically, but which are pronounced differently from each other in modern English. Examples include forth/worth, come/home, bury/fury, stove/shove, or ear/bear. There are two common origins for eye rhyme. (1) The first origin is in the Great Vowel Shift. The pronunciation of certain words has varied from century to century, and in the 1400s, English underwent radical changes in the pronunciation of vowels. Similar (though less dramatic) changes have been creeping through pronunciation in later centuries as well. For instance, in the sixteenth century, the words Rome/loom were pronounced similarly enough to create a rhyme. In older literature, what appear to be eye-rhymes to modern readers may simply be full rhymes in the original speaker's dialect. (2) A second cause brings about eye rhymes in later centuries. In these later times, as literacy grew increasingly common, and poetry was more frequently experienced visually on the page rather than aloud as an oral performance, eye rhymes became a popular technique amongst literate poets--a way of displaying one's familiarity with the written word. Thus, in the late seventeenth-century, we find poets like Andrew Marvell writing the following verse:

Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor in thy marble vault shall sound
My echoing love song. Then worms shall try
That long-preserved virginity. . . .

We see a similar example in Alexander Pope's An Essay on Man:

Why doing, suffering, checked, impelled; and why
This hour a slave, the next a deity?

Note that found/sound are examples today of exact rhyme, while the rhymes try/virginity (in Marvell) and why/deity (in Pope) are eye rhymes. Contrast with exact rhyme, above and slant rhyme, below.

[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.
  • Anderson, Douglas. "Note on the Text" in J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings. 50th anniversary edition. Houghton Mifflin, 2004.
  • Baugh, A. C. and Thomas Cable. A History of the English Language. 6th edition. Boston: Pearson Publishing, 2013.
  • 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.
  • Carrick, Jake. E-mail interview. 28 April 2016.
  • 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.
  • Crow, Martin and Virginia E. Leland. "A Chronology of Chaucer's Life and Times." As condensed and reproduced in Larry Benson's The Canterbury Tales, Complete. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000. xxiii-xxv.
  • 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.
  • Feeney, Denis. "Introduction." Ovid: Metamorphóses Trans. David Raeburn. London: Penguin Books, 2004.
  • 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.
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