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Literary Terms and Definitions: Q

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]

Q-TEXT: The term for a hypothetical ur-text or source manuscript that served as the source for the synoptic gospels (i.e., Matthew, Mark, and Luke), but which did not influence John. The abbreviation "Q" comes from German Quelle (source).

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

QUALITATIVE CHANGE: In linguistics, an alteration in the perceived quality of a sound or the basic nature of a sound. Contrast with quantitative change, below.

QUALITATIVE METER: Meter that relies on patterns of heavily stress syllables and lightly stressed meters. In English, most poems are qualitative in nature. This contrasts with quantitative meter (below), which was common in Greek and Latin. See meter.

QUANTITATIVE CHANGE: In linguistics, an alteration in the length of a sound--particularly vowel sounds. Contrast with qualitative change.

QUANTITATIVE METER: Meter that relies not on the alternation of heavily stressed or lightly stressed syllables, but rather on the alternation of "long syllables" and "short syllables" (i.e., syllables categorized accordingly to the time interval it takes for the human mouth to pronounce the syllable). For instance, under this scheme, in English, the word hour and at are both one-syllable words of similar stress. However, the word hour takes slightly longer to shape in the mouth than the more terse word at. We might thus call the word hour a "long syllable" and the word at a "short syllable." This label contrasts with the most common use of the terms in regular meter, which relies upon how heavy the stress is in each syllable. Quantitative meter has never worked well in Germanic languages like English, but it was common in Latin, Greek, Sanskrit, and Arabic poetry. Contrast with qualitative meter.

QUATRAIN: Also sometimes used interchangeably with "stave," a quatrain is a stanza of four lines, often rhyming in an ABAB pattern. Three quatrains form the main body of a Shakespearean or English sonnet along with a final couplet. See sonnet and rubaiyat.

QUARTO: A term from early bookmaking. When a single, large sheet is folded once to create two leaves (four pages counting the front and back), and then bound together, the resulting text is called a folio. If the folio is folded in half once more, the resulting size of page is called a quarto. Thus, a quarto is a sheet of material folded twice, to create four leaves, or eight pages, which results in a medium-sized book. 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. Compare quarto with bad quarto and folio and octavo (below).

QUEM QUAERITIS (Latin, "Whom do you seek?"): This Latin expression comes from the Vulgate New Testament when the angel addresses the women coming to visit Christ's empty tomb. The angel guarding the sepulchre asks, "Whom do you seek?" When told that Christ was resurrected, the women departed joyfully. In the medieval church, this phrase was part of the Roman Catholic liturgy as part of the Easter Introit and read aloud in church each year. The earliest known text of this sort was an Easter trope from the Swiss monastery of St. Gall, probably dating to about 875-900 AD. One theory is that the quem quaeritis trope grew into an entire branch of medieval drama. Mary Marshall and other early scholars like E. K. Chambers (author of The Medieval Stage, 1903) suggested that the part of the angel and the women visiting the tomb was taken up by layfolk and performed inside the church on Easter. The enactment was later enlarged and moved to the area outside the church and watched by the congregation. Eventually, the plays expanded in scope to include other Bible stories and were performed in the vernacular languages rather than Latin. These performances eventually may have evolved into mystery plays run by guilds, falling outside the church's control altogether. More recent scholars such as V. A. Kolve question this theory, however, so students should take the argument with a grain of salt.

QUEST MOTIF: A motif in which the hero must undergo an arduous or dangerous journey to fulfill a mission in order to save his or her people from disaster, and the narrative of that journey frequently becomes the primary plot for the work. The purpose of the journey or aim of the mission may be to seek lost knowledge, rescue a captured comrade or beloved, dispose of a cursed item, or (most frequently) acquire some special artifact or important treasure. In the latter case, the special artifact to be recovered is often jokingly called a "McGuffin" in popular culture tropes.

The prevalance of the quest motif through western culture is incalculable and ancient. Here are a few examples:

  • Gilgamesh's quest to find a way eternal life after the death of Enkidu in The Epic of Gilgamesh
  • Jason and the Argonauts'quest for the Golden Fleece
  • Galahad and the Arthurian knights' quest for the Holy Grail, or the hunt for the Questing Beast
  • Aeneas' quest to find Italy, where the gods wish him to found Rome in The Aeneid
  • Odysseus's ten-year journey back to Ithaca after the Trojan war in The Odyssey
  • Moses leading the Israelites for forty years in the desert to find the Promised Land in the Hebrew Bible
  • The quest for the Fellowship of the Ring to dispose of the one Ring of Sauron in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.
  • A variety of fairy tales recorded by the brothers Grimm.
  • Digory's assigned task by Edmund to bring back magic fruit from a walled garden in The Magician's Nephew, or the search to find Prince Rillian in The Silver Chair.

Water Burkert, a Swiss scholar of Greek religion, argues in Homo Necans that the reason we find quest narratives so potent comes from our prehistoric, hunter-gatherer roots. As he sees it, in pre-agricultural societies that relied on hunting for sustenance regularly required boys and young men to undergo a similar experience to that of the hero in this motif. They would have to leave the safety of mother, family, and tribe behind, arm themselves with weapons, and seek out dangerous prey to hunt. This trek might last days, weeks, or even months, as they would have to roam far afield from settled areas to find the best prey. En route to their targets, they would face the dangers of greater predators or injury from harsh terrain like cliffs and rocky fields with limited support. Even if they did find desirable herbivores, they still risked injury or death from antler, hoof, or tusk as the herbivore defended itself. If the hunters succeeded in the kill, they would return to the tribe with life-giving food, saving them from potential starvation, each receiving a hero's welcome. This hunting quest would recurr dozens or scores of times annually, requiring positive social reinforcement for the participants lest they abandon the necessary quest.

Telling stories of brave heroes who undertook such journeys to rescue their people would be a powerful mythic narrative in such societies. They would serve as a model for the young hunters, and tales of heroic hunts would reinforce the necessity of such journeys in spite of the personal anxieties about injury, death, and isolation from loved ones. Given the psychological and cultural weight of such tales, similar stories persisted through the agricultural revolution and the rise of recorded history, remaining central to our most important myths and our modern literature long after the original impetus faded away.

QUIRE: A collection of individual leaves sewn together, usually containing between four and twelve leaves per quire. This "gathering" or "booklet" of individual pages would then be sewn into the larger collection of pages to make the entire book. In manuscripts written after 1400, the quires are often systematically labeled in order to help the bookbinder place them in the correct order. They provide important evidence for the history of specific manuscripts. Missing pages cut out of a quire show modern scholars evidence of ancient censorship, and the markings of the quire can show that books have been rebound or taken apart and "recycled" into new books.

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[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.
  • Lacy, Norris J. The New Arthurian Encyclopedia. New York: Garland Publishing, 1996.
  • Lanham, Richard A. A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms. 2nd edition. Berkeley: U of California P, 1991.
  • Marshall, Jeremy and Fred McDonald. Questions of English. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1995.
  • Mawson, C. O. Sylvester and Charles Berlitz. Dictionary of Foreign Terms. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 2nd ed. 1975.
  • McManus, Damian. Ogam Stones At University College Cork. Cork: Cork U P, 2004.
  • Metzger, Bruce M. and Michael D. Coogan, eds. The Oxford Companion to the Bible. New York: Oxford U P, 1993.
  • O'Donoghue, Heather. Old Norse-Icelandic Literature: A Short Introduction. Malden, MA:Blackwell Publishing, 2004.
  • Page, P.K. "Forward." Hologram. Brick Books, London, Ontario: 1994.
  • Palmer, Donald. Looking At Philosophy: The Unbearable Heaviness of Philosophy Made Lighter. 2nd edition. Mountain View, California: Mayfield Publishing Company, 1994.
  • Peck, Harry Thurston. Harper's Dictionary of Clasical Literature and Antiquities. New York: The American Book Company, 1923. 2 vols.
  • Preminger, Alex, and T.V.F. Brogan, et al. The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. New York: MJF Books for Princeton University Press, 1993.
  • Perelman, Ch. and L. Olbrechts-Tyteca. The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumentation. Notre Dame, U of Notre Dame P, 2000.
  • Pound, Ezra. ABC of Reading. New York: Laughlin, 1960..
  • The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989.
  • Quinn, Arthur. Figures of Speech: 60 Ways to Turn a Phrase. Davis, California: Hermagoras P, 1993.
  • Rae, Gail. Guide to Literary Terms. Staten Island, New York: Research and Educational Association, 1998.
  • Roberts, Edgar V. and Henry E. Jacobs. "Glossary of Literary Terms." Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. 6th edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2001. 2028-50.
  • Scott, Kathleen L. Later Gothic Manuscripts, 1390-1490. A Survey of Manuscripts Illuminated in the British Isles 6. London: Harvey Miller Publishers, 1996. 2 Vols.
  • Shaw, Harry. Concise Dictionary of Literary Terms. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1976.
  • Shipley, Joseph T. Dictionary of World Literature: Criticism, Forms, Technique. The Philosophical Library. New York: Philosophical Library, 1943.
  • Smith, Richard Upsher, Jr. A Glossary of Terms in Grammar, Rhetoric, and Prosody for Readers of Greek and Latin. Mundelein, Illinois: Bolchazy-Caducci Publishers, Inc., 2011.
  • Supplement to the Oxford English Dictionary. 1989.
  • Smith, David P. "Glossary of Grammar Terms." [Miscellaneous handouts made available to students in Basic Greek at Carson-Newman University in the Fall Term of 2006.]
  • Swain, Dwight V. Creating Characters. The Elements of Fiction Writing. Cincinnati: Writer's Digest Books, 1990.
  • Velásquez, Lito. E-mail communication. 26 October 2015.
  • Williams, Jerri. "Schemes and Tropes." [Miscellaneous handouts made available to her graduate students at West Texas A & M University in the Fall Term of 1993.]
  • Yasuda, Kenneth. The Japanese Haiku: Its Essential Nature, History, and Possibilities in English. Rutland, Vermont and Tokyo, Japan: Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1957.
  • Zenkovsky, Serge A. Medieval Russia's Epics, Chronicles, and Tales. Rev Ed. New York: Meridian Books, 1974.
  • Zireaux, Paul. E-mail Interview. 21 June 2012.



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