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Literary Terms and Definitions: Y

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]

YAHOO: A coarse, filthy, smelly, bestial, barbaric, bipedal creature only vaguely resembling a human. Jonathan Swift coined the term in Gulliver's Travels, applying it to a race of humanoid brutes in contrast with the civilized race of intelligent horses, the Houyhnhnms. The term has since become a popular allusion. Mark Twain and other writers use it to refer to bumpkins, louts, or yokels. One wonders what the internet search engine Yahoo thus implies about its users. The term yahoo has also become a popular outcry or exclamation when a speaker is engaged in something boisterous.

YALE SCHOOL: A group of critics at Yale University who are known primarily for deconstructionist interpretations--the group includes Paul de Man, J. Hillis Miller, Geoffrey Hartman, and Harold Bloom.

YARD (Old English geard, closely related to OE eard, "earth"): In theater architecture during the Renaissance, the yard is the central area open to the area in theaters such as the Globe. Groundlings typically stood in this spot, unlike the more prodigal audience members who paid extra for a seat in the balconies. Admission in the yard in public theaters cost a penny in Shakespeare's day.

YARN (Old English gearn): An informal name for a long, rambling story--especially one dealing with adventure or tall-tales. The genre typically involves a strong narrative presence and colloquial or idiomatic English. The tone is realistic, but the content is typically fantastic or hyperbolic. Cf. the Chinese p'ing hua and the Russian skaz.

YAHWIST TEXT (aka J Text): In biblical studies, this textual tradition contrasts with the E Text and the P Text appearing in Genesis and other parts of the Torah. As for the abbreviation "J," in German transliteration of Hebrew, the letter "J" is used for "Y." Thus, scholars today refer to the "J Text" or the Yahwist Text when they discuss a textual tradition referring to God as Yahweh or Yahweh Elohim but which never refers to God as Elohim alone.

The J Text was once thought to have been written about 999-800 BCE, but more recent scholarship suggests it should be dated after the period of exile (597, 587/586 BCE). It is written in a dialect we associated with the city of Jerusalem and the kingdom of Judah, the more southerly of the tribal nations. This contrasts with the E Text, in which the material is associated linguistically with the region of Ephraim and which probably dates between 799-700 BCE. These two textual traditions of the E Text and the J text probably existed independently of each other for some time, but the northern kingdom of Israel was destroyed toward the end of the eighth century. The priests of Judah seem to have incorporated the E Text into their J Text tradition after that. This resulted in occasional duplications and repetition of detail in the Pentateuch; often the same tale would be told twice, once with a northern orientation and once with a southern perspective. We can see the same phenomenon in the biblical books of Kings and Chronicles. The resulting blend, complete with more recent additions such as late foreign loanwords, late religious rituals like the Sabbath, and imagery borrowed from Mesopotamian poetry and religions, is called the "P Text" or the Priestly Document. If students are reading a study Bible like the Anchor Bible series, the editors helpfully mark which sections come from the E Text, the J Text, and the P Text. A sample of material that comes from the J Text includes the material in Genesis 1:1-2:3, which probably was actually written much later than the subsequent material in Genesis 2:4 and afterward. Click here for a more detailed discussion.

YEARBOOK: An annually published book or journal, especially one containing information or statistics about that year in particular. Examples include college yearbooks and encyclopedia yearbooks. Some scholarly journals produce separately issued yearbooks with annotated bibliographies or summaries of scholarly publications for the past year within a specific field, such as The Year's Work in Anglo-Saxon Studies.

YELLOW-BACK: Another term for a dime novel.

YEOMAN (Middle English yeman, probably a contraction of "young man"): In early Middle English, the term referred to freemen or freeholders, lower-class peasants who had obtained their freedom from serfdom, and as members of the new bourgeoisie were thus free to join guilds, purchase lands, or work as day laborers for hire. The term later came to mean in particular an attendant servant or lesser official who serves in a royal or noble household for paid wages rather than feudal obligations. The yeoman in the General Prologue to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales appears to be such a servant hired to aid the Knight.

YOGH: A letter shape used in writing Middle English and some Anglo-Saxon texts. It resembled a letter "three" often partially set below the line. In some handwriting styles, the scribe would flatten the top of the letter into a horizontal line. Here is an example of an uppercase and lowercase yogh with the more common curved top:

Click here to see more discussion.

YO-HE-HO THEORY: In linguistics, the idea that language first began as a way to facilitate cooperative labor. Contrast with the bow-wow theory and the ding-dong theory.

YONIC (from Sanskrit yoni, "vagina"): A yonic symbol is a sexualized representation of femininity and reproductive power--particularly through some object vaguely reminiscent of the vagina. Common yonic symbols include cups, cauldrons, chalices, goblets, wells, caves, tunnels, circles, hoops, pots, and other containers. An example would be found in Shakespeare's sonnet 154, where we read of how a virgin takes the torch of love and stops the flame of "hot desire" when "This brand, she quenched in a cool well by, / which from Love's fire took heat perpetual." Contrast with a phallic symbol.

YOUNG MAN SONNETS: The first seventeen sonnets in the Shakespearean collection published in 1609. These sonnets break the normal sonnet conventions in that the implied situation is not a poetic speaker wooing a cold and distant female as the implied audience. Instead, the speaker is addressing a handsome young man and trying to convince him he should settle down and have children. Sonnets 18-26 may also be considered a part of this series, though these poems focus much more on the destructive aspects of time. Contrast with the "dark lady sonnets."

YOUNG VIENNA: As Shipley notes, "Young Vienna" was a movement of Austrian artists popular between 1890-1914 including Bahr, Schnitzler, Altenberg, Herzl, and Rainer Maria Rilke. The group was marked by a distrust or disillusionment with industry, science, business, politics, and imperialism more common in Germany and elsewhere in Austria. Their tales and lyrics often focuses on disillusionment, contemplation, and lost pleasures. The movement is associated with the Cafe Grienstadl as its geographic center and with the newspaper Neue Friee Presse (Shipley 632-33).

YUËH-FU (Chinese "music bureau"): A form of Chinese poetry in mixed meter and short lines, with a five-word line being most common. The number of stanzas was likewise variable. The conventions of the genre include a monologue or dialogue presented in dramatic form revolving around some misfortune. The name comes from the music bureaus that were a fixture of Chinese decoration. These bureaus contained sheets of popular songs and ballad-type lyrics. Cf. ballad.

[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.
  • 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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