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A Concise Dictionary of their Origin and Use
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  1. Customer Reviews
  2. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms
  3. Glossary of literary terms - Wikipedia
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More Information. Accentual verse Verse whose meter is determined by the number of stressed accented syllables—regardless of the total number of syllables—in each line. Accentual-syllabic verse Verse whose meter is determined by the number and alternation of its stressed and unstressed syllables, organized into feet. From line to line, the number of stresses accents may vary, but the total number of syllables within each line is fixed. The majority of English poems from the Renaissance to the 19th century are written according to this metrical system.

Acmeism An early 20th-century Russian school of poetry that rejected the vagueness and emotionality of Symbolism in favor of Imagist clarity and texture. Acrostic A poem in which the first letter of each line spells out a word, name, or phrase when read vertically. Allegory An extended metaphor in which the characters, places, and objects in a narrative carry figurative meaning.

Alliteration The repetition of initial stressed, consonant sounds in a series of words within a phrase or verse line. Allusion A brief, intentional reference to a historical, mythic, or literary person, place, event, or movement. Ambiguity A word, statement, or situation with two or more possible meanings is said to be ambiguous. In both cases, the meaning of the word is not obvious from its context. Anachronism Someone or something placed in an inappropriate period of time. This persona arises from outside of time to reflect on the state of American culture by recounting the history of Gloucester, Massachusetts.

Anaphora Often used in political speeches and occasionally in prose and poetry, anaphora is the repetition of a word or words at the beginning of successive phrases, clauses, or lines to create a sonic effect. This can mean magic, the supernatural, alternate worlds, superheroes, monsters, fairies, magical creatures, mythological heroes—essentially, anything that an author can imagine outside of reality.

A farce is a comedy in which everything is absolutely absurd. This usually involves some kind of deception or miscommunication. A figure of speech is a word or phrase using figurative language—language that has other meaning than its normal definition. In other words, figures of speeches rely on implied or suggested meaning, rather than a dictionary definition. Flashback is a device that moves an audience from the present moment in a chronological narrative to a scene in the past.

Folklore is typically passed down by word of mouth, rather than being written in books. The key here is that folklore has no author — it just emerges from the culture and is carried forward by constant retelling. Foreshadowing gives the audience hints or signs about the future. Genres allow literary critics and students to classify compositions within the larger canon of literature.

A haiku is a specific type of Japanese poem which has 17 syllables divided into three lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables. Haikus or haiku are typically written on the subject of nature. They may be spelled the same or differently. In literature, horror is a genre of fiction whose purpose is to create feelings of fear, dread, repulsion, and terror in the audience—in other words, it develops an atmosphere of horror.

Hyperbaton is a figure of speech in which the typical, natural order of words is changed as certain words are moved out of order. It is used for emphasis or as a way of making a description more creative and humorous. An idiom is a phrase that conveys a figurative meaning different from the words used. Imagery is language used to create images in the mind of the reader.

Jargon is the specific type of language used by a particular group or profession. It was exactly the right time to say or do a particular thing. In modern rhetoric, it refers to making exactly the right statement at exactly the right moment.

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A limerick is a five-line poem with a strict rhyme scheme AABBA, lines 1,2, and 5 rhyme together, while lines 3 and 4 rhymes togther and a reasonably strict meter anapestic triameter for lines 1, 2, and 5; anapestic diameter for lines 3 and 4. Lingo is language or vocabulary that is specific to a certain subject, group of people, or region; including slang and jargon.


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The term lingo is relatively vague—it can mean any type of nonstandard language, and varies between professions, age groups, sexes, nationalities, ethnicities, location, and so on. In literature, any technique used to help the author achieve his or her purpose is called a literary device. Malapropisms are incorrect words used in place of correct words; these can be unintentional or intentional, but both cases have a comedic effect. A maxim is a brief statement that contains a little piece of wisdom or a general rule of behavior.

Metanoia is a self-correction. A metaphor is a common figure of speech that makes a comparison by directly relating one thing to another unrelated thing though these things may share some similarities. Mnemonic devices include special rhymes and poems, acronyms, images, songs, outlines, and other tools. A monologue is a speech given by a single character in a story.

A motif is a symbolic image or idea that appears frequently in a story. Motifs can be symbols , sounds, actions, ideas, or words. A narrative is a story. The term can be used as a noun or an adjective. As a noun, narrative refers to the story being told. As an adjective, it describes the form or style of the story being told. A nemesis is an enemy, often a villain. In the loose definition, an ode is any work of art or literature that expresses high praise. A palindrome is a type of word play in which a word or phrase spelled forward is the same word or phrase spelled backward.

A parable is a short story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson. A paradox is a statement that contradicts itself, or that must be both true and untrue at the same time. Pastiche is a creative work that imitates another author or genre.

The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms

The pathetic fallacy is a figure of speech in which the natural world or some part of it is treated as though it had human emotions. Persona can refer to the characters in any dramatic or literary work. But it has another special meaning in literary studies, where it refers to the voice of a particular kind of character—the character who is also the narrator within a literary work written from the first-person point of view.

Personification is a kind of metaphor in which you describe an inanimate object, abstract thing, or non-human animal in human terms. A pleonasm is when one uses too many words to express a message. A pleonasm can either be a mistake or a tool for emphasis. The plot is the story, and more specifically, how the story develops, unfolds, and moves in time. Poetry is a type of literature based on the interplay of words and rhythm. It often employs rhyme and meter a set of rules governing the number and arrangement of syllables in each line.

In poetry, words are strung together to form sounds, images, and ideas that might be too complex or abstract to describe directly. Prose is just non-verse writing. Pretty much anything other than poetry counts as prose. A proverb is a short saying or piece of folk wisdom that emerges from the general culture rather than being written by a single, individual author. A pun is a joke based on the interplay of homophones — words with the same pronunciation but different meanings.

A quest is a journey that someone takes in order to achieve a goal or complete an important task. A rebus is a code or reference where pictures, letters, or symbols represent certain words or phrases. A red herring is a misleading clue. Quite simply, repetition is the repeating of a word or phrase. It is a common rhetorical device used to add emphasis and stress in writing and speech. Rhetoric is the ancient art of persuasion, in the broadest sense. It is the way you present and make your views convincing or attractive to your audience.

A rhetorical device is any way of using language that helps an author or speaker achieve a particular purpose.

Glossary of literary terms - Wikipedia

Usually, the purpose is persuasion , since rhetoric is typically defined as the art of persuasion. A rhetorical question is a question that is not asked in order to receive an answer, but rather just to make a point. In the strictest academic terms, a romance is a narrative genre in literature that involves a mysterious, adventurous, or spiritual a story line where the focus is on a quest that involves bravery and strong values, not a love interest. However, modern definitions of romance also include stories that have a relationship issue as the main focus.

Sarcasm is a form of verbal irony that mocks, ridicules, or expresses contempt. A self-fulfilling prophecy is a prediction that somehow causes itself to come true. The characters may try to prevent their fate, but in the end their actions simply cause that fate to come about.


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  • Setting is the time and place or when and where of the story. A soliloquy is a kind of monologue , or an extended speech by one character. In a soliloquy, though, the speech is not given to another character, and there is no one around to hear it. A sonnet is a fourteen line poem with a fixed rhyme scheme. Often, sonnets use iambic pentameter: five sets of unstressed syllables followed by stressed syllables for a ten-syllable line. In poetry, a stanza is a dividing and organizing technique which places a group of lines in a poem together, separated from other groups of lines by line spacing or indentation.

    The subtext is the unspoken or less obvious meaning or message in a literary composition, drama, speech, or conversation. Surrealism is a literary and artistic movement in which the goal is to create something bizarre and disjointed, but still somehow understandable. It could be as simple as a letter, which is a symbol for a given sound or set of sounds. When words or phrases have the same meaning, we say that they are synonymous of each other.

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    A synopsis is a brief summary that gives audiences an idea of what a composition is about. It provides an overview of the storyline or main points and other defining factors of the work, which may include style, genre, persons or characters of note, setting, and so on.

    Tautology is defining or explaining something by saying exactly the same thing again in different words. Theme is the central idea, topic, or point of a story, essay, or narrative. A thriller is a genre of literature, film, and television whose primary feature is that it induces strong feelings of excitement, anxiety, tension, suspense, fear, and other similar emotions in its readers or viewers—in other words, media that thrills the audience.

    A thesis is the main argument or point of view of an essay, nonfiction piece or narrative—not just the topic of the writing, but the main claim that the author is making about that topic. The word trope can refer to any type of figure of speech, theme, image, character, or plot element that is used many times.