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Literary Terms and Definitions: F

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]

FABLE: A brief story illustrating human tendencies through animal characters. Unlike the parables, fables often include talking animals or animated objects as the principal characters. The interaction of these animals or objects reveals general truths about human nature, i.e., a person can learn practical lessons from the fictional antics in a fable. However, unlike a parable, the lesson learned is not necessarily allegorical. Each animal is not necessarily a symbol for something else. Instead, the reader learns the lesson as an exemplum--an example of what one should or should not do. The sixth century (BCE) Greek writer Aesop is most credited as an author of fables, but Phaedrus and Babrius in the first century (CE) expanded on his works to produce the tales we know today. A famous collection of Indian fables was the Sanskrit Bidpai (circa 300 CE), and in the medieval period, Marie de France (c. 1200 CE) composed 102 fables in verse. After the 1600s, fables increasingly became common as a form of children's literature. See also allegory, beast fable, and parable. Click here for a PDF handout discussing the difference between fables and parables.

FABLIAU (plural, fabliaux): A humorous, frequently ribald or "dirty" narrative popular with French poets, who traditionally wrote the story in octosyllabic couplets. The tales frequently revolve around trickery, practical jokes, sexual mishaps, scatology, mistaken identity, and bodily humor. Chaucer included several fabliaux in The Canterbury Tales, including the stories of the Shipman, the Friar, the Miller, the Reeve, and the Cook. Examples from French literature include Les Quatre Souhais Saint Martin, Audigier, and Beranger au Long Cul (Beranger of the Long Ass).

FACETIAE: A bookseller's term for obscene or humorous books.

construction FAËRIE: Tolkien contrasted the fairy (the mythic creature) with Faërie, the latter being both the Otherworld realm where elves and fey creatures held sway and more generally the sense of magic and wonder associated with that place. Tolkien's understanding of the term changed over the years of his writing and scholarship, and he happily used the term as both a noun and an adjective, but in general the following were traits of Faërie:

  • (1) Faërie connected with the natural or wild word rather than urban or industrial life.
  • (2) In spite of those connections with nature, the area was innately supernatural, connecting more with imagination than with rationality or the mundane.
  • (3) It was a perilous realm that humans could temporily visit (but where they did not belong), an area of both great beauty and great danger. In following with Celtic tradition, however, creatures of that realm had the power occasionally to invade our mundane world if they so chose.
  • (4) The term Faërie connected directly to the spoken word in literature through its etymology going back to Latin fata (fate), the past participle of fari, to speak, i.e., "that which is spoekn") (Drout 184). One of the ways to enter into or experience Faërie was to read stories about aventures that occured there when humans entered that Otherworld.
  • (5) The magic of the place by definition was a serious enchantment--experiencing Faërie was incompatible with satire and humor, which distinguishes it from other imaginary worlds such as those of Jonathan Swift and so forth.
  • (6) Frequently, time passes differently in this Otherworld than it does in the mundane world, as is common in Irish legends about Fairy Circles, or Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia.

In Tolkien's scholarly writings, he focuses on examples such as the Fairy Queen of Spenser, Annvwyn in Welsh legends like the Mabinogion, the Land of the Ever-Young (Tir-na-nOg) in Irish legend, and so forth. Arguably, Lórien and the various Elf Kingdoms in The Lord of the Rings and the land of Faery in Smith of Wootton Major are examples of Tolkien's fiction where we see the influence of this idea. See also Other World and fantastic sublime.

FAIR COPY: A corrected--but not necessarily entirely correct--manuscript that a dramatist might submit to a theatre company, as distinct from the draft version known as "foul papers."

FAIRY TALE: In common parlance, a tale about elves, dragons, hobgoblins, sprites, and other fantastic magical beings set vaguely in the distant past ("once upon a time"), often in a pseudo-medieval world. Fairy tales include shape-shifting spirits with mischievous temperaments, superhuman knowledge, and far-reaching power to interfere with the normal affairs of humanity. Other conventions include magic, charms, disguises, talking animals, and a hero or heroine who overcomes obstacles to "live happily ever after." The most famous compilers include Hans Christian Anderson (Denmark), the Grimm brothers (Germany), and Charles Perrault (France). Fairy tales grew out of the oral tradition of folktales, and later were transcribed as prose narratives. Examples from the European tradition include the tales of Prince Charming, Red Riding Hood, Puss in Boots, and Cinderella. An example from Middle-Eastern tradition would be Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. In scholarly literature, fairy tales are also referred to by the German term märchen. In spite of the stories' surface simplicity, many critics note that fairy tales often contain psychological depth, especially in terms of childhood anxiety and wish fulfillment. Modern writers such as Thackeray, Oscar Wilde, Ruskin, Anne Rice, Ursula Leguin, and Jean Ingelow have tried their hand at writing fairy tales. Some critics have suggested that the Wife of Bath's narrative in The Canterbury Tales and the lais of Marie de France also have qualities of the fairy tale--especially wish fulfillment.

FAIR UNKNOWN, THE: See discussion under bel inconnu, le.

FALSE COGNATE: See discussion under cognate. Cf. "faux amis," below.

FAME/SHAME CULTURE: The anthropological term for a culture in which masculine behavior revolves around a code of martial honor. These cultures embody the idea of death before dishonor. Such civilizations often glorify military prowess and romanticize death in battle. Typically, such a society rewards men who display bravery by (a) engaging in risk-taking behavior to enhance one's reputation, (b) facing certain death in preference to accusations of cowardice, and (c) displaying loyalty to one's king, chieftain, liege lord, or other authoritative figure in the face of adversity. Those in power may reward such brave followers with land, material wealth, or social status, but the most important and most typical reward is fame or a good reputation. Especially in fatalistic fame/shame cultures, fame is the most valuable reward since it alone will exist after a hero's death. Just as such cultures reward bravery, loyalty, and martial prowess with the promise of fame, they punish cowardice, treachery, and weakness in battle with the threat of shame and mockery. A fame/shame culture is only successful in regulating behavior when an individual's fear of shame outweighs the fear of death. This dichotomy of fame/shame serves as a carrot and stick to regulate behavior in an otherwise chaotic and violent society. Sample behaviors linked with fame/shame cultures include the beot in Anglo-Saxon culture, the act of "counting coup" among certain Amerindian tribes, displays of trophies among certain head-hunting tribes and the Irish Celts, and the commemoration of war-heros in national monuments or songs in cultures worldwide.

We can see signs of fame/shame culture in the heroic poetry of the Anglo-Saxons, where the poem "The Battle of Maldon" praises by name those warriors who stood their ground with Byrtnoth to die fighting the Viking invaders and condemns by name those men who fled the battle and survived. Characteristically, the poem lists the men's lineage in order to spread the honor or shame to other family members as well. The poem Beowulf also shows signs of fame/shame culture in the behavior of Hrothgar's coast-guard, who challenges over a dozen gigantic armed men, and the boasts (beot) of Beowulf himself.

It is interesting that not all militaristic or violent cultures use the fame/shame social mechanism to ensure bravery and regulate martial behavior. Fame/shame cultures require men to deliberately seek the rewards of bravery and consciously fear the social stigma of cowardice. The point isn't that a hero is unafraid of death. The point is that the hero acts in spite of being afraid. In contrast, some martial cultures seek to short-circuit fear by repressing it or by encouraging warriors to enter altered states of consciousness. Medieval Vikings had the tradition of the berserker, in which the warrior apparently entered a hypnogogic, frenzied state to lose his awareness of fear and pain. Similarly, the path of bushido among the Japanese samauri was heavily influenced by the Buddhist doctrine of nirvana (mental and emotional emptiness), in which the warrior enters combat in a Zen-like emotional state, a mindset in which he is divorced from his emotions and thoughts so that his martial behavior is reflexive and automatic rather than emotional. The samauri class went so far as to have a funeral for living warriors as soon as they entered the service of a Japanese lord because the samauri accepted their own deaths as soon as they took the path of bushido, and were thus accordingly cut off from the ties of family and loved ones. See also kleos.

FAMILIAR ADDRESS: Not to be confused with the animal known as a witch's familiar (see immediately below), the familiar address is the use of informal pronouns in Middle English and Early Modern English. Pronouns such as "Thou, thy, thee, and thine" are familiar or informal pronouns used to speak either affectionately to someone of equal or lesser rank, or to speak contemptuously and callously to a lesser. Pronouns such as You [nominative], your, you [objective], and yours imply a more formal and respectful sort of address. This division in Middle English and Early Modern English is akin to the division in Spanish between tu and usted, or the similar observance of tu and vous in French. In Shakespeare's plays and in Middle English literature, these pronouns provide actors with a strong hint concerning the tone in which words should be spoken.

FAMILIAR, WITCH'S: In the eyes of medieval and Renaissance churchmen, and in much of medieval and Renaissance literature, it was a common belief that witches kept familiars. These familiars were thought to be demonic spirits masquerading as small animals--perhaps a black cat, goat, dog, or toad. Inquisitors and churchmen held that such spirits presented themselves to witches and served them after the witches struck a bargain with diabolical powers. The three Weird Sisters in Macbeth open the play in a scene in which their familiars summon them away to work mischief.

FAMILY RHYME: In “family rhyme," rhyming is based on phonetic similarities. For the sake of contrast, consider what most people consider "normal" rhymes. In common perception, the rhyming syllables must have the same vowel sounds, and the consonant sounds after the vowel (if any do appear) must also have the same sounds, and the rhyming syllables typically begin differently. However, in family rhyme, the poet tries to replace one phoneme with a member of the same phonetic family. So, a plosive (such as b, d, g, p, t, or k) will “rhyme” with another plosive. A fricative (such as v, z, zh, j, f, th, s, sh, or ch) will “rhyme” with another fricative. Finally, a nasal like m, n, or ng will “rhyme” with another nasal. Thus, in family rhyme, the following words would be considered rhymes with each other: cut/pluck, rich/fish, fun/rung. Often the terms “half-rhyme” and inexact rhyme are used loosely and interchangeably for family rhyme.

FANCY: Before the 19th Century, the word fancy meant roughly the same thing as imagination as opposed to the mental processes of reason, logic, and memory. The Romantic poets, however, made a pivotal distinction between the two terms that proved integral in their theories of creativity. They used fancy to refer to the mental process in which memories or sensory perceptions are jumbled together to create new chimerical ideas. This process was similar but inferior to the higher mental faculty of imagination, which in its highest form, would create completely new ideas and entirely novel images rather than merely reassemble memories and sensory impressions in a different combination. Coleridge, in chapter thirteen of Biographia Literaria (1817), suggests that "Fancy . . . has no other counters to play with, but fixities and definites. The Fancy is indeed no other than a mode of Memory emancipated from the order of time and space." The fancy was limited to taking already-assembled ideas, images, and memories, and then reassembling them without altering or improving the components. Imagination, however, produced truly original work. Imagination was seen as (as Coleridge says) "essentially vital," functioning less like the Fancy's mechanical sorting and instead growing in a more organic manner. He claims imagination "generates and produces forms of its own," and it is capable of merging opposites together in a new synthesis. He claims: "imagination . . . reveals itself in the balance or reconciliation of opposite or discordant qualities of sameness, with difference; of the general, with the concrete; the idea, with the image" [sic]. Hence, imagination assimilates unlike things to create a new unity. This unity would be constituted of living, interdependent parts that could not function in a literary manner independent from the organic form of the whole, an idea that proved quite important to the New Critics of the early twentieth-century.

Many lesser critics of the late 19th Century misunderstood Coleridge, and they used the word fancy in reference to the process of producing a light-hearted, simple, or fanciful poetry and reserve the term imagination for more serious, passionate, or intense poetry. However, for the original Romantic critics and poets, the distinction in terminology marked two different types of creativity. They valued imaginative creativity more than fanciful creativity regardless of whether the poetry was serious or light-hearted.

construction FANTASTIC SUBLIME: David Sandner's term for the way 19th century Romantic poetry, fantasy literature, and children's literature partakes of the sublime. In ancient Roman aesthetics, Longinus long ago commented on the way that especially tall mountains, especially deep ravines, especially dark caverns, or especially bright lights can inspire in the viewer a sense of the sublime--a mixture of awe, beauty, and fear that could be simultaneously attractive and repellant or overwhelming. Although Sandner Sandner's focus was on 19th-century writers like George Macdonald, Kenneth Grahame, and Christina Rossetti, his observations are applicable to fantasy literature more broadly, in which fantasy writers often create in their works geographies and events in which overwhelming size, depth, distance, and so forth are striking features of those works..

FANTASY LITERATURE: Any literature that is removed from reality--especially poems, books, or short narratives set in nonexistent worlds, such as an elvish kingdom, on the moon, in Pellucidar (the hollow center of the earth), or in alternative versions of the historical world--such as a version of London where vampires or sorcerers have seized control of parliament. The characters are often something other than humans, or human characters may interact with nonhuman characters such as trolls, dragons, munchkins, kelpies, etc. Examples include J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, J. R. R. Tolkien's synthetic histories in The Silmarilion, Michael Moorcock's The Dreaming City, or the books in Stephen R. Donaldson's series, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. See also escapist literature. Contrast with magic realism, science fiction and speculative fiction.

FANTASY NOVEL: Any novel that is removed from reality--especially those novels set in nonexistent worlds, such as an elvish kingdom, on the moon, in Pellucidar (the hollow center of the earth), or in alternative versions of the historical world--such as a version of London where vampires or sorcerers have seized control of parliament. The characters are often something other than humans, or human characters may interact with nonhuman characters such as trolls, dragons, munchkins, kelpies, etc. Examples include J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, Ursula LeGuin's A Wizard of Earthsea, Michael Moorcock's The Dreaming City, or T. H. White's The Once and Future King. See also escapist literature. Contrast with magic realism, science fiction and speculative fiction.

FARCE (from Latin Farsus, "stuffed"): A farce is a form of low comedy designed to provoke laughter through highly exaggerated caricatures of people in improbable or silly situations. Traits of farce include (1) physical bustle such as slapstick, (2) sexual misunderstandings and mix-ups, and (3) broad verbal humor such as puns. Many literary critics (especially in the Victorian period) have tended to view farce as inferior to "high comedy" that involves brilliant dialogue. Many of Shakespeare's early works, such as The Taming of the Shrew, are considered farces. Contrast with comedy of manners.

FARSA: A medieval Spanish religious play, usually performed in sets rather than alone, with a comic interlude between plays or between acts. An example is Lucas Fernández's Farsas y eglogas al modo y estilo pastoril y castellano (Cuddon 333). Farsa should not be confused with fârsa, a type of boasting poem in the African Galla tribe that recites a catalog of heroes and their deeds (Cuddon 333).

FATRASIE (French, "medley," or "rubbish"): Nonsense verse popular between 1200-1400 in medieval France, usually in eleven-line verse form, often in macaronic text. Their purpose appears to be mocking traditional closed-form poetry.

FAUSTIAN BARGAIN: A temptation motif from German folklore in which an individual sells his soul to the devil in exchange for knowledge, wealth, or power. Marlowe's The Tragical Historie of Doctor Faustus revolves around this motif.

FAUX AMIS (French, "false friends"): (1) Words in two languages that might technically be cognates with each other (i.e., descended down two separate etymological branches to a common root word), but which are not equivalent in meaning because one or both of them have changed meaning over time from the original root word. For instance, the Spanish word embarazar and the English word embarrass look like cognates, and in fact, the English term was borrowed by way of French from the Spanish word. However, the English word has changed meaning to refer to humiliation, but in the original Spanish, the word embarazar means "impregnate." Even though technically descended from a common ancestor, and thus cognates, the two words are faux amis if we try to translate them as equivalents. (2) In a looser sense, faux amis can also refer to any false cognates in which two words look so similar morphologically they lure amateur linguists into believing they are related etymologically. Faux amis and false cognates are the bane of speakers learning a second language. Cf. cognate and false cognate under cognate discussion.

FEATHERING: As Kathleen Scott describes this sort of decoration, it is "a spray form of decoration, consisting of short, slightly curving pen lines often ending in a lobe (after c. 1410 usually tinted green), gold motifs, and coloured motifs; [. . .] a basic element of 15th-century book decoration" (Scott 371).

FEMININE ENDING / FEMININE RHYME: See under discussion of meter.

FEMINIST WRITING: Writing concerned with the unique experience of being a woman or alternatively writing designed to challenge existing preconceptions of gender. Examples of feminist writings include Christine de Pisan's medieval work, The City of Ladies; Aemilia Lanyer's Renaissance treatise, Salve Deus, Rex Judaeorum (which presented the then-shocking idea that Adam was just as much to blame for the fall of man as Eve was in the Genesis account); Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication, and Susan B. Anthony's nineteenth-century essays (which presented the equally shocking idea that women in America and Canada should have the right to vote).

Many female students in my class preface their discussions of feminist writings by stating, "I'm not a feminist, but . . . ." This tendency always puzzled me, since it implies that feminism is something negative, radical, or always liberal. Worse yet, it implies that it's bad for women to want crazy, misguided things like education, equal health insurance, similar pay to what men earn in similar professions, freedom from harassment, and funding for medical problems concerning women, such as breast and uterine cancer research, which are the primary concerns of feminism. Somewhere toward the end of the twentieth-century, detractors of such writers have caricatured these demands as "man-hating" or "anti-family." As an antidote to such thinking, keep in mind the broader definition: a feminist is anyone who thinks that women are people too.

FESTSCHRIFT (Ger. "Celebration-Writing"; plural festschriften): A festschrift is a collection of essays or studies in book form, dedicated to a former teacher or professor in his or her advanced age--often when that scholar retires or reaches the rank of emeritus professor. The individual scholarly writings come from his or her students, who typically collaborate to organize the work and contact the publisher, and present the collection to the teacher upon its publication. They can be as small a single slender volume or as large as a multi-volume work. Typically, the last section includes a tabula gratulatoria, an extended list of academic colleagues and friends who send their regards and good will to the scholar. See dedication.

FEUDALISM: The medieval model of government predating the birth of the modern nation-state. Feudal society is a military hierarchy in which a ruler or lord offers mounted fighters a fief (medieval Latin "beneficium"), a unit of land to control in exchange for a military service. The individual who accepted this land became a vassal; the man who granted the land became known as the vassal's liege or his lord. The deal was often sealed by swearing oaths on the Bible or on the relics of saints. Often this military service amounted to forty days' service each year in times of peace or indefinite service in times of war, but the actual terms of service and duties varied considerably on a case-by-case basis. For instance, in the late medieval period, this military service was often abandoned in preference for cash payment or an agreement to provide a certain number of men-at-arms or mounted knights for the lord's use.

In the late medieval period, the fiefdom often became hereditary, and the firstborn son of a knight or lesser nobleman would inherit the land and the military duties from his father upon the father's death. Feudalism had two enormous effects on medieval society. (1) First, it discouraged unified government because individual lords would divide their lands into smaller and smaller sections to give to lesser nobles and knights. These lesser noblemen in turn would subdivide their own lands into even smaller fiefs to give to even less important rulers and knights. Each knight would swear his oath of fealty (loyalty) to the ones who gave him his lands, which was not necessarily the king or higher noblemen, let alone an abstraction like "France" or "England." Feudal government was always an arrangement between individuals, not between nation-states and citizens. (2) Second, it discouraged trade and economic growth. Peasant farmers called serfs worked the fields; they were tied to individual plots of land and forbidden to move or change occupations without the permission of the lord. The feudal lord might claim one-third to one-half of the serf's produce in taxes and fees, and the serfs owed him a set number of days each year in which they would work the lord's fields in exchange for the right to work their own lands. Often, they were required to grind their grain in the lord's mill and bake all their bread in the lord's oven in exchange for other fees. In theory, the male members of the community might be divided into bellatores (the noblemen who fought), arratores or laboratores (the agricultural laborers who grew the food), and oratores (the clergy who prayed and attended to spiritual matters). In contrast, women were divided into their states commonly by sexual or marital status as widows, virgins, or wives. Ultimately, this simple tripartite division known as the three estates of feudalism proved unworkable by the 1300s, and the necessity of skilled craftsmen, merchants, and other occupations was quite visible in spite of the theoretical model espoused in some sermons and political treatises.

FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE: A deviation from what speakers of a language understand as the ordinary or standard use of words in order to achieve some special meaning or effect. Perhaps the two most common figurative devices are the simile--a comparison between two distinctly different things using "like" or "as" ("My love's like a red, red rose")--and the metaphor--a figure of speech in which two unlike objects are implicitly compared without the use of "like" or "as." These are both examples of tropes. Any figure of speech that results in a change of meaning is called a trope. Any figure of speech that creates its effect in patterns of words or letters in a sentence, rather than twisting the meaning of words, is called a scheme. Perhaps the most common scheme is parallelism. For a more complete list of schemes and tropes, see the schemes and tropes pages.

FIGURE OF SPEECH: A scheme or a trope used for rhetorical or artistic effect. See figurative language, above.

FILI: A class of learned Irish poet in pre-Christian and early Christian Ireland. Legally, a fili had similar status to a Christian bishop, and in pagan times, the fili carried out some spells and divinations appropriate to the druids, the priestly class among the Celts.

FILK: A specialized type of folk music or alternative music, often with narrative lyrics, that usually deals with science fiction or fantasy themes and characters. The subject-matter is often not original to the musician, but rather taken from literature, pulp fiction, movies, and pop culture. In some cases, the song retells a story written by a famous science fiction author or explores in greater detail a particular scene or character first created by that author. Because this subgenre often is an homage to another's published work, it is usually performed informally rather than mass-marketed, thus avoiding copyright infringements. An example might be a song about Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek Enterprise set to the tune of "Jingle Bells," or a song about H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds meant to be performed to the tune of Handel's "Ode to Joy." Other filk songs might involve completely original music, and they might deal with technological or fantastic themes more generally rather than paying homage to a particular science fiction story. Likewise, a single filk song might make allusions to several different works simultaneously. The only prerequisite convention of the genre is that it be appealing to the people who frequent science fiction conventions and enjoy such literature and movies.

Filk is often written by amateur musicians or hobbyists. Fans traditionally perform the songs at science fiction conventions late at night after other scheduled events have ended. The filk movement first began in the 1950s, though it never became particularly widespread until the mid 1970s. The adjective/noun term filk comes from a typo--a misspelling of "folk music" in Lee Jacobs' essay, "The Influence of Science Fiction on Modern American Filk [sic] Music." The incorrect designation stuck and science fiction authors like Poul Anderson and Robert Asprin helped popularize the name through their friendly encouragement. Back formation or linguistic functional shift resulted in the verb to filk, which implies both "to sing or perform filk songs" and "to write songs about science fiction subjects." Various annual science conventions like the Ohio Valley Filk Festival (OVFF), the Nashville Musicon, and FilkOntario schedule regular filking events. Every year, OVFF offers a Pegasus award for excellence in Filk music.

FILIGREE WORK (also called vinework or vinery): A common type of decoration in medieval manuscripts. Scott defines it in the following manner: "Delicate, conventional designs, usually in gold, on a flat coloured surface, in overall patterns of curling vines, branches, and sprigs and/or leaves; used as a background to miniatures and initials and on band borders and miniature frames" (Scott 371).

FINNO-UGRIC: One of several language families outside the Indo-Euorpean family of languages. This family includes Hungarian, Estonian, Lappish, and Finnish.

FIRMAMENT (Septuagint Greek, stereoma "the beaten or hammered thing," Latin firmamentum, "the solid thing"): In Genesis, a mysterious substance described as "separating the lower waters from the upper waters" before the separation of dry land from the rest of the lower waters. In ancient cosmology, the firmament was thought to be a semi-translucent dome or vault of the sky. By medieval times, the theory arose that this firmament was the first of several translucent spheres encompassing the earth called the crystaline mobile. Extended discussion can be found here.

FIRST FOLIO: A set of Shakespeare's plays published in 1623. The "First Folio" included some thirty-six plays, and the editor of this publication took some care in the selection and accuracy of his texts, or at least more care than those editors who published earlier quartos. See folio and quarto below.

FIRST LANGUAGE: The preferred or normal language a speaker chooses to communicate in--i.e., one's native or fluent language. Bilingual individuals might have more than one.

FIRST SOUND SHIFT: In Grimm's Law, the systematic transformation of the Proto-Germanic Indo-European stop sounds.

FIT (also spelled fitt, possibly from Old Norse fit, "a hem," or German Fitze, "a skein of yarn or the thread used to mark off a day's work"): A fit is a numbered division of a a poem, much like a canto. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is divided into four fits, and Chaucer's "Sir Thopas" contains three fits. Lewis Caroll's The Hunting of the Snark consists of eight fits. The practice of dividing a narrative poem into fits has fallen into disuse in most modern poetry. Cf. canto.

FITT: See fit, above.

FIVE WOUNDS OF CHRIST: Medieval writers typically describe Christ as suffering five wounds, though they vary somewhat in which wounds they number. The most common numbering system lists the nail wound in Christ's hands and feet as four wounds, with the spear-puncture in his side as the fifth wound. This model does not count the crown of thorns as a puncturing wound. Another rarer system numbers these as moments in which Christ bleeds, listing them as (1) Christ's circumcision or, alternatively, Christ's sweating of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane, (2) the flogging at the hands of the Roman soldiers, (3) his being nailed to the cross, (4) the crown of thorns, and (5) the spear in his side. The Pearl Poet refers to the five wounds of Christ as numerologically significant as he expounds upon the pentangle on Sir Gawain's shield in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

FIXED-FORM: Another term for closed-form poetry. See closed poetic form.

FLASHBACK: A method of narration in which present action is temporarily interrupted so that the reader can witness past events--usually in the form of a character's memories, dreams, narration, or even authorial commentary (such as saying, "But back when King Arthur had been a child. . . ."). Flashback allows an author to fill in the reader about a place or a character, or it can be used to delay important details until just before a dramatic moment.

FLAT CHARACTER: Also called a static character, a flat character is a simplified character who does not change or alter his or her personality over the course of a narrative, or one without extensive personality and characterization. The term is used in contrast with a round character. See character, round character, and characterization.

FLESH SIDE: In medieval manuscripts, this term refers to the side of a leaf of parchment or vellum that originally faced the internal organs of the animal, as opposed to the hair side, which was the side of the skin that faced outward. Usually, the flesh side is whiter and softer than the hair side. The two sides are usually distinguishable in continental manuscripts, but it is often harder to distinguish them in insular texts (texts from Britain), because the custom in the British isles was to refrain from scraping the skins very deeply, so that both sides retain a suedelike surface and sometimes a stiff, cellulose character. See discussion of parchment, vellum, and manuscript.

FLOURISHER: In medieval times, this was a professional artist who works in conjunction with illuminators and rubricators to design pen-work decoration on initials and /or flourishwork on the borders of decorated books. See flourishing, below.

FLOURISHING: In medieval codices, this refers to "Ornamentation in pen-work, often red on a blue initial (but sometimes in lavender and occasionally in green), by means of sweeping lines and loops descending from patterns, often 'saw-tooth' at this period [1300 CE through 1499 CE], adjoining the letter" (Scott 370).

FLYTING: A contest of wits and insults between two Germanic warriors. Each tries to demonstrate his superior vocabulary, cleverness, and bravery. The verbal rivalry between Unferth and Beowulf in Beowulf is one such example in Anglo-Saxon literature.

FOCALIZATION: Dutch literary theorist Mieke Bal coined the term focalization to describe a shift in perspective that takes place in literature when an author switches from one character's perspective to another. She preferred the term focalization to the more traditional phrase "point-of-view" because the term called attention to the way a reader's focus shifts even as the point-of-view shifts. The term has become widespread in the school of literary theory known as narratology.

FOIL: A character that serves by contrast to highlight or emphasize opposing traits in another character. For instance, in the film Chasing Amy, the character Silent Bob is a foil for his partner, Jay, who is loquacious and foul-mouthed. In Shakespeare's Hamlet, Laertes the unthinking man of action is a foil to the intelligent but reluctant Hamlet. The angry hothead Hotspur in Henry IV, Part I, is the foil to the cool and calculating Prince Hal.

FOLIO: A term from the early production of paper and vellum in the medieval period. When a single large sheet is folded once and sewn to create two leaves, or four pages, and then bound together, the resulting text is called a "folio." On a single sheet, the page visible on the right-hand side of an open book or the "top" side of such a page is called the recto side (Latin for "right"), and the reverse or "bottom" side of such a page (the page visible on the left-hand side of an open book) is called the verso side (click here to see this visually). Folios are typically large books, twice the size of a quarto and four times the size of an octavo printing. Compare folio with quarto and octavo.

FOLK ETYMOLOGY: An incorrect but popular explanation for the origins of a word. For instance, popular folk etymology states that the word posh is an acronym for "Port Outbound, Starboard Homebound"--the part of a luxury liner with the best view on either journey on a particular sealiner. In actual fact, the term posh predates the formation of the company supposed to have invented the term.

FOLKLORE: Sayings, verbal compositions, stories, and social rituals passed along by word of mouth rather than written down in a text. Folklore includes superstitions; modern "urban legends"; proverbs; riddles; spells; nursery rhymes; songs; legends or lore about the weather, animals, and plants; jokes and anecdotes; rituals at births, deaths, marriages, and yearly celebrations; and traditional dance and plays performed during holidays or at communal gatherings. Many works of literature originated in folktales before the narratives were written down. Examples in American culture include the story of George Washington chopping down the cherry tree; George Washington throwing a silver dollar across the Potomac river; Paul Bunyon cutting lumber with his blue ox, Babe; Pecos Bill roping a twister; and Johnny Appleseed planting apples across the west over a 120-year period. Many fairy tales in Europe originate in folklore, such as "Snow White" and "Jack and the Beanstalk." In modern days, much academic work with folklore focuses on reports of UFO abductions, the Chupacabra [goat-chewing monster] legends of Mexico, urban legends, and outbreaks of public hysteria regarding nonexistent mass ritualized child-abuse and cannibalism. Contrast with mythology. See also folkloric motifs and folktales.

FOLKLORIC MOTIFS: Recurring patterns of imagery or narrative that appear in folklore and folktales. Common folkloric motifs include the wise old man mentoring the young warrior, the handsome prince rescuing the damsel in distress, the "bed trick," and the "trickster tricked." Others include "beheading games," "the exchange of winnings," and the loathly lady who transforms into a beautiful maiden (all common in Celtic folklore). These folkloric motifs appear in fabliaux, in fairy tales, in mythology, in archetypal stories (see archetype), and in some of Shakespeare's plays.

FOLKTALE: Folktales are stories passed along from one generation to the next by word-of-mouth rather than by a written text. See further discussion under folklore.

FOOL: Originally a jester-at-court who would entertain the king and nobles, the court jester was often a dwarf or a mentally incompetent individual. His role was to amuse others with his physical or mental incapacity. (While this may sound cruel to a modern reader, the practice also constituted a sort of medieval social security for such individuals who would otherwise be left to starve; a fool at court would at least be assured of food, shelter, and clothing.) In later centuries, the court fool was often a professional entertainer who would juggle, tell jokes, and generally amuse the king and his guests with keen wit. Such performers were often given an unparalleled degree of freedom in their speech. As long as they spoke their words in rhyme or riddle, the fool theoretically had the freedom to criticize individuals and mock political policy. In Shakespearean drama, the fool becomes a central character due to this immunity. The fool is also sometimes referred to as the clown, though "clown" can refer to any bumpkin or rural person in Elizabethan usage (see clown above).

FOOT: A basic unit of meter consisting of a set number of strong stresses and light stresses. See meter.

FORESHADOWING: Suggesting, hinting, indicating, or showing what will occur later in a narrative. Foreshadowing often provides hints about what will happen next. For instance, a movie director might show a clip in which two parents discuss their son's leukemia. The camera briefly changes shots to do an extended close-up of a dying plant in the garden outside, or one of the parents might mention that another relative died on the same date. The perceptive audience sees the dying plant, or hears the reference to the date of death, and realizes this detail foreshadows the child's death later in the movie. Often this foreshadowing takes the form of a noteworthy coincidence or appears in a verbal echo of dialogue. Other examples of foreshadowing include the conversation and action of the three witches in Shakespeare's Macbeth, or the various prophecies that Oedipus hears during Oedipus Rex.

FORESTAGE: The part of the stage "in front" or closest to the viewing audience.

FORM: The "shape" or organizational mode of a particular poem. In most poems (like sonnets), the form consists of a set number of lines, a set rhyme scheme, and a set meter for each line. In concrete poetry, the form of a poem may reflect the theme, topic, or idea of the words in the actual shape of the text on a piece of paper. In the free verse or open-form poetry common to the modernist and postmodernist movements, the rigid constraints of form are often discarded in order to achieve a variety of effects.

FORNYRTHISLAG: An Old Norse Eddic metrical form (in alliterative verse) with four-line stanzas in which a caesura splits each line. Each half-line has two accented syllables and either two or three unstressed syllables. Most of the Eddas are written in this structure.

FORSTERIAN: Informal, ironic, relaxed, and resembling the style, attitude, or tone found in E. M. Forster's writings.

FOUL PAPERS: Rough drafts of a manuscript that have not been corrected and are not to be sent to the printers. They are typically full of blotted out passages and scribbled revisions. Some of Shakespeare's surviving manuscript variants theoretically might be the result of the difference between his foul papers and "fair copy" (see above). Unfortunately, no definite sample of Shakespeare's foul papers actually survive to the present day except a possible autograph in the play Sir Thomas Moore.

FOUR ELEMENTS: See elements, the four.

FOURFOLD INTERPRETATION: In the twelfth century, fourfold interpretation was a model for reading biblical texts according to one of four possible levels of meaning. The idea had a profound influence on exegesis and theology, but its principles also influenced medieval literature and medieval writers. Dante (c. 1300), for instance, claimed that his writings can be interpreted according to four possible levels of meaning (The Divine Comedy being the classic example). The text can be read as (1) a literally or historically true and factual account of events (2) an allegorical text revealing spiritual or typological truths, (3) a tropological lesson that makes a moral point, or (4) an anagogical text predicting eschatological events in the last days or revealing truths about the afterlife--often seen as a mystically unique revelation for each reader. Often medieval interpreters saw a single passage or verse as operating on multiple levels simultaneously. For instance, consider the following Biblical excerpt:

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks, and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take and eat; this is my body" [Matthew 26:26].

Here, when Christ takes the piece of bread and offers it to his disciples, many readers would argue we cannot read his words literally. (Christ is not saying, "I am literally a piece of bread" or "My body is made up of bread," or even "Engage in cannibalism by eating my body while I hand you this piece of bread.") The statement is not meant to be understood that way, according to many theologians and exegetes, but rather it is symbolic in meaning. The passage symbolically indicates events yet to come, a prefiguration of both (1) Christ's crucifixion, in which his body would be broken and torn upon the cross, and (2) the coming ritual of Eucharist, in which the disciples will eat communion bread in commemoration of that sacrifice.

Oddly enough, this idea that Biblical literature can be read on multiple levels often unsettles some Christians who argue that every word is meant to be taken literally in the Bible. I personally suspect that, when people make such claims, they do not understand what the word literal means (either that, or they haven't read the Bible very astutely). They themselves do not interpret the Bible in such a manner, for they do not believe that the story of the Good Samaritan is literally a mere historical account about a person living in Samaria, but they readily interpret the passage tropologically as a hypothetical lesson Christ presents concerning neighborly behavior and Christian charity. Nor do they think that the Beast with seven heads and ten crowns in the book of Revelation will literally rise from the sea to ravage the land like some gigantic hydra-headed mutant Godzilla, but instead they typically read the beast as an eschatalogical symbol of a human Antichrist yet to come who will dominate the world. Neither do they read Psalm 46:1, "A mighty fortress is our God, an ever present bulwark in time of trouble," as a claim that God is literally a military installation or building. They (like most intelligent readers) intuitively know sometimes to make the leap from the literal meaning to the level of figurative, symbolic, or metaphorical meaning. They just don't admit that they are doing so--claiming they simply read every word in the holy text as a literal statement.

On the other hand, many of the schisms in Church history result from the tricky question of when to make the jump from literal to allegorical interpretation. The Petrine Doctrine, for instance, originates in the Catholic church's literal reading of Matthew 16:17-19 and John 21:15-17. Protestant branches of Christianity do not tend to read the passage literally as an indication that Saint Peter and his papal successors have special authority over spiritual matters and the church. The Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation (the idea that communion wafers and communion wine literally turn into the blood and body of Christ on the level of substancia while remaining unchanged in incidentals like appearance and taste) is another example in which the Catholic decision to read literally such scripture contrasts with Wycliffite doctrines of consubstantiation, in which the bread and wine remain materially bread and wine, but only symbolically or spiritually become the body and blood of Christ, or real presence--the doctrine that the essence of God permeates the bread and wine while leaving it physically unchanged. Other differences between Protestant sects originate in the same question. Should Christians interpret literally those passages in Corinthians and Timothy in which women are forbidden to have their hair uncovered in public, speak aloud in churches, or hold teaching jobs or positions of authority over males? Few modern Christians would, given the contextual evidence, but some denominations do read the passages literally and thus forbid women to be pastors or Sunday School teachers, or even to hold managerial positions in businesses, or act as elementary school teachers for male students, for instance. The question becomes at what point one should set aside a particular level of fourfold interpretation in favor of another.

In the same way, fourfold interpretation of medieval literature is equally tricky. Among medieval scholars, the term "Robertsonian" is often used in reference to critics who seek to apply exegetical principles of interpretation to secular texts--especially typological readings. (The name "Robertsonian"comes from an American scholar, D. W. Robertson, who is the most outspoken and well-known of such critics in the last half of the twentieth-century.) Other critics hotly contest such readings of literary text, especially when the literal subject-matter seems greatly at odds with the exegetical material.

FOURFOLD MEANING: Another term for fourfold interpretation, this word refers to the medieval idea that every passage in the Bible can be interpreted according to at least one of four possible levels of meaning. The text can be read as (1) a literally or historically true account of events (2) an allegorical text revealing spiritual or typological truths, (3) a tropological lesson that makes a moral point, and (4) an anagogical text predicting eschatological events in the last days or the afterlife, or mystical revelations concerning spiritual matters unique to each individual reader. See discussion under fourfold interpretation.

FOURTH WALL: Sometimes referred to as the "third wall," depending upon how a stagebuilder numbers the sides of the stage, the fourth wall is an imaginary wall that separates the events on stage from the audience. The idea is that the stage 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 (see below), and they require a modified apron stage set up in 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 fairly popular.

FRAGMENT: An incomplete piece of literature--one the author never finished entirely--such as Coleridge's "Kubla Khan"--or one in which part of the manuscript has been lost due to damage or neglect--such as the Finnesburgh Fragment or "The Battle of Maldon." Chaucerian scholars also use the term fragment to describe the individual sections of the Canterbury Tales in which the various tales have links to each other internally but lack links to the other sections of the Canterbury Tales so that scholars cannot reassemble them all into a single cohesive text. At the time of Chaucer's death, he left behind ten fragments that can be organized in various ways to make a larger narrative. These fragments are bits of narrative linked together by internal signs such as pieces of conversation or passages referring to an earlier story or the story about to come next. The fragments are usually designated with Roman numerals (I-X) in modern editions of the text, but the Chaucer Society uses alphabetical designations to refer to these fragments (i.e., Fragments A-I). Only between Fragments IX-X and (in the case of the Ellesmere family) between Fragments IV-V do we find explicit indication of an order. Consequently, modern editors differ in the order the tales are presented. Click here to download a PDF handout discussing the order of these fragments and the controversial Bradshaw Shift.

FRAME NARRATIVE: The result of inserting one or more small stories within the body of a larger story that encompasses the smaller ones. Often this term is used interchangeably with both the literary technique and the larger story itself that contains the smaller ones, which are called pericopes, "framed narratives" or "embedded narratives." The most famous example is Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, in which the overarching frame narrative is the story of a band of pilgrims traveling to the shrine of Thomas a Becket in Canterbury. The band passes the time in a storytelling contest. The framed narratives are the individual stories told by the pilgrims who participate. Another example is Boccaccio's Decameron, in which the frame narrative consists of a group of Italian noblemen and women fleeing the plague, and the framed narratives consist of the tales they tell each other to pass the time while they await the disease's passing. The 1001 Arabian Nights is probably the most famous Middle Eastern frame narrative. Here, in Bagdad, Scheherazade must delay her execution by beguiling her Caliph with a series of cliffhangers.

FRAME STORY: See frame narrative.

FRAMING METHOD: Using the same features, wording, setting, situation, or topic at both the beginning and end of a literary work so as to "frame" it or "enclose it." This technique often provides a sense of cyclical completeness or closure.

FRANKENSTEIN MOTIF: A motif in which a created being turns upon its creator in what seems to be an inevitable fashion. The term comes from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, a nineteenth-century novel in which Victor Frankenstein stiches together the body parts of condemned criminals and then reanimates the resulting patchwork creature using electricity. However, the motif itself dates back much earlier to medieval legends of the Golem, an animated clay figure controlled by Hebrew kabbalists. The Frankenstein motif warns against hubris in human creators. This admonishment occasionally appears in thoughtful science fiction exploring the ethical responsibility of creating new life, but it even more frequently appears in anti-intellectual diatribes against knowledge "mankind was not meant to know." In the later case, the Frankenstein motif expresses general anxieties about the rapidity of technological change. Examples of the Frankenstein motif appear in H. G. Wells' The Island of Doctor Moreau, Crichton's Jurassic Park, and Greg Bear's novella Blood Music. The power of the motif is such that, when Hollywood adapts science fiction literature into film, the resulting movie often incorporates the Frankenstein motif even if the original literature did not--such as the adapation of Isaac Asimov's I, Robot and associated stories into the 2004 movie i, Robot starring Will Smith. (The latter adaptation is particularly striking in that Asimov's original short stories in the I, Robot collection usually depict robots positively as a foil to morally flawed humanity, a departure and antithesis to the Frankenstein motif found in earlier works like R.U.R.)

FRANKLIN: A medieval profession akin to a cross between a landlord and a real estate agent. In the early medieval political system of feudalism, society was divided theoretically into three estates: (1) knights and the nobility, (2) the clergy, and (3) agricultural laborers known as serfs. This unrealistically simple tripartite division gave way to increasing complexity in later centuries. The growth of craftsmen guilds, the increasing number of yeoman, the development of town charters and metropolitan life, and labor shortages caused by the Black Death--these all contributed to the demise of the pure feudal system. Scarcity of labor forced noblemen to pay their laborers, and the aristocrats became increasingly strapped for cash to support their lavish lifestyles. The only wealth they possessed was land, so an increasing number of them began selling land for cash. The nouveau riche members of the bourgeoisie, rich merchants in silk, wool, wine and other goods, seized upon this opportunity to buy large swathes of land from ever more impoverished nobility, which they in turn rented out to other freemen. The new landowner, the franklin, was usually snubbed as parvenu by the typical aristocrat, especially since the franklins were famous for dressing up like noblemen and putting on aristocratic airs in spite of the sumptuary laws against such dress. The reputation for being social climbers was perhaps well deserved, given that many of these new landowners attempted to "buy" their way into aristocratic ranks by marrying their sons and daughters into the ranks of nobility in return for cash payments. Probably the most famous franklin in literary history is Chaucer's Franklin, whose lavish displays of generosity in the General Prologue are only matched by his blatant attempts to flatter the Knight (through complimenting the Knight's son, the Squire) and his attempt to redefine the qualities of nobility later in the Canterbury Tales.

FREE INDIRECT DISCOURSE: A style of third-person narration that mingles within it traits from first-person narration, often shifting pronouns, adverbs, tense, and grammatical mode. The term comes from the French "style indirect libre," and Flaubert's use of this technique in French literature strongly influenced English-speaking authors like James Joyce. M. H. Abrams provides a hypothetical example for illustrative purposes in A Glossary of Literary Terms:

Thus, a direct, "He thought, 'I will see her home now, and may then stop at my mother's," might shift, in an indirect representation, to: "He would see her home then, and might afterward stop at his mother's" (Abrams 169).

Though most scholars of nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature emphasize Flaubert's contribution, the technique does predate him. Chaucer himself uses it in the General Prologue of The Canterbury Tales, where the narrator Geoffrey describes the Monk's attitude to monastic rules [I (A) 183-88], and moves from direct quotation of dialogue into a paraphrased list of the Monk's main arguments presented as if the narrator were the one speaking.

FREE METER: Not to be confused with free verse, free meter refers to a type of Welsh poetry in which the meters do not correspond to the "strict meters" established in the 1400s. Cf. free verse, strict meter, awdl, cywydd, and englyn.

FREE MORPHEME: Any morpheme that can function by itself as a word, such as the two morphemes it and self found in the word itself. This is the opposite of a bound morpheme, one that only makes sense when it is part of a larger word--such as the bound morpheme ept in the word inept, or the morpheme gruntle in the word disgruntled.

FREE VARIATION: A sound substitution that does not hinder understanding or meaning--such as pronouncing the first syllable of either with an /I/ or an /aI/.

FREE VERSE: Poetry based on the natural rhythms of phrases and normal pauses rather than the artificial constraints of metrical feet. Commonly called vers libre in French (the English term first appears in print in 1908), this poetry often involves the counterpoint of stressed and unstressed syllables in unpredictable but clever ways. Its origins are obscure. Early poetry that is similar to free verse includes the Authorized Bible translations of the Psalms and the Song of Songs; Milton clearly experimented with something like free verse in Lycidas and Samson Agonistes as well. However the Enlightenment's later emphasis on perfect meter during the 1700s prevented this experimentation from developing much further during the 18th century. The American poet Walt Whitman first made extended successful use of free verse in the 19th century, and he in turn influenced Baudelaire, who developed the technique in French poetry. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, we find several poets using some variant of free verse--including Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, William Carlos Williams, and e. e. cummings. Do note that, within individual sections of a free verse poem, a specific line or lines may fall into metrical regularity. The distinction is that this meter is not sustained through the bulk of the poem. For instance, consider this excerpt from Amy Lowell's "Patterns":

I shall go
Up and down,
In my gown.
Gorgeously arrayed,
Boned and stayed.
And the softness of my body will be guarded from embrace
By every button, hook, and lace.
For the man who should loose me is dead,
Fighting with the Duke in Flanders,
In a pattern called a war.
Christ! What are patterns for?

Here, we find examples of rhythmical regularity such as the near-anapestic meter in one line ("and the SOFTness of my BOdy, will be GUARDed from em BRACE"). However, the poet deviates from this regularity in other lines, which often vary wildly in length--in some passages approaching a prose-like quality.

FRENCH SCENE: A numbering system for a play in which a new scene is numbered whenever characters exit or enter the stage. Cf. scene.

FREUDIAN CRITICISM: A psychoanalytical approach to literature that seeks to understand the elements of a story or character in a story by applying the tripartite model of the psyche developed by the late nineteenth-century psychologist, Sigmund Freud. In Freud's thinking, the mind was divided into three components:

  • the ego (conscious mind and sense of self, from the Latin word for "I")
  • the superego (a subconscious collection of inhibitions, guilty feelings, and anxieties superimposed on the mind by half-forgotten parental punishments, social rebukes, instilled ethics and the necessary conventions of civilized behavior)
  • the id (a mindless, self-destructive tangle of instinctive unverbalized desires and physical appetites, from Latin "it")

Closely linked to this tripartite division were concepts such as wish fulfillment, the Freudian slip, the Oedipal complex, and thanatos (the death wish).

FREUDIAN SLIP: A slip of the tongue in which a person means to say one thing, but accidentally substitutes another word or phrase in a suggestive or revealing manner. For instance, suppose a young man were attracted to the physical features of a young woman. He tries to make nonchalant small-talk about the cold weather rather than gawk at her breasts. He means to say, "Awful nippy out, isn't it?" He actually states, "Awful nipply out, isn't it?" This error is a Freudian slip in which his subconscious desires have revealed themselves through verbal errors.

FREYTAG'S PYRAMID: A diagram of dramatic structure, one which shows complication and emotional tension rising like one side of a pyramid toward its apex, which represents the climax of action. Once the climax is over, the descending side of the pyramid depicts the decrease in tension and complication as the drama reaches its conclusion and denouement. A sample chart is available to view. Freytag designed the chart for discussing tragedy, but it can be applied to many kinds of fiction.

FREYTAG'S TRIANGLE: Another term for Freytag's Pyramid (see above).

FRICATIVE (also called spirant): In linguistics, any sound made by tightening but not completely closing the air passage.

FRONS SCENAE: At the back of the stage, this wall faced the audience and blocked the view of the players' tiring-house. In Shakespeare's heydey, the Globe Theater had two doors flanking the central discovery space with a gallery above (see Greenblatt 1139).

FRONT VOWEL: In linguistics, a vowel made with the ridge of the tongue located near the front of the oral cavity.

FU POETRY: Flowery, irregular "prose-poem" form of Chinese literature common during the Han period. It was first perfected around the year 100 BCE, and it became increasingly common thereafter. Cf. shih poetry.

FULL RHYME: Another term for perfect rhyme, true rhyme, or exact rhyme, see above.

FUNCTIONAL SHIFT: The linguistic equivalent of poetic anthimeria, in which one part of grammatical speech becomes another. An especially common type of functional shift in everyday grammar is taking a noun and treating it as an adjective. For instance, we might take the noun clay and use it to modify another noun like statue, resulting in a clay statue. Functional shift has been a rich source of new word usages in English--especially in the Renaissance; however, many traditionalists today frown on function shifts, insisting dialogue and e-mail are nouns but not verbs, and so on.

FUNCTION WORD: A part of speech--usually abstract and existing in a limited number of examples--which marks grammatical structure rather than referring to something concrete. Examples include prepositions, articles, and conjunctions.

FURIES: Three bloody chthonic spirits in Greek and Roman belief charged with tormenting individuals who murdered family members. Named Tisiphone, Euryale, and Alecto, these spirits would fly up from the underworld invisibly to punish murderers and those who contaminated holy places with miasma. They would track down offenders via scent and then whisper madness and insanity in the ears of that guilty party. Like harpies (distinct but vaguly similar supernatural creatures), the Furies' forms mingled aspects of vultures and women. It was thought they would dance or stamp on the roofs of houses where such murderers lived, and they were associated with the cycle of bloodshed and vengeance rather than justice. They play prominent roles in the Oresteia trilogy, including Agamemnon.

Later in the medieval tradition, Dante reinvents or rebrands the Furies (along with the gorgon Medusa) as symbols of madness. These spirits end up guarding the ramparts of Dis, the city of demons where intellectual sin faces Hellish punishments. In the encounter with the Furies, Virgil has to cover Dante's eyes to prevent his petrefaction. As a symbol of reason, Virgil is helpless against them and cannot bypass them until the divine intervention of an angel thrusts the evil spirits out of the way and forces open the drawbridge or gates blocking the path through the Inferno.

FUTHORC: The runic alphabet used by the Norse and other Germanic tribes. The Anglo-Saxon letters ash, thorn, wynn, and edh (or -eth) used in early medieval England were borrowed from futhorc. Click here for more information.

FUTURISM: As Harkins describes it, a modernist poetic movement begun in Italy under Marinetti's tutelage in 1910, later spreading to Russia under the leadership of Velemir Khlebnikov. The Russian Futurism movement reacted against the mysticism and aetheticism of the symbolism movement. The Russian Futurists sought to shock the audience at any cost, to scrap the "stifling" cultural tradition of Russia's past, and to reinvent Russian vocabulary through neologisms (127).

[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.
  • 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.
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