{updated 9.23.05}

Literary Terms





[quote from YourDictionary.com:] An address to a personified object or to a person who is absent. . . . This is a literary term. Alfred Lord Tennyson's "In Memoriam, A.H.H." is a very long apostrophe to a deceased friend. Suggested Usage: We have all done it. You are in a supermarket with many distractions discussing the week's needs with your spouse, when you turn around and see that all of your preceding words have been an apostrophe. "As George enjoyed the evening out alone, he often uttered apologetic apostrophes for his overindulgence to his wife." From Greek apostrephein "to turn away," from apo- "off, away" + strephein "to turn, twist." The prefix apo- shares the same origin as German as "auf," English "off," and Latin ab- found in "abstract." The stem is related to strophe "a turn, stanza," also found in catastrophe "an overturning, ruin." <http://www.yourdictionary.com/wotd/wotd.pl?word=apostrophe>



literary genre


[quote from Wikipedia:] A literary genre refers to the divisions of literature into genres according to particular criteria. Literary genres are also categories of marketing, literary criticism and consumption. One of the areas in the study of literature is the difference between literary fiction on the one hand and genre fiction or escapist fiction on the other. . . . Genres are often divided into sub-genres. Literature can be organized according to the "poetic genres" and the "prose genres". Poetry might be subdivided into epic, lyric, and dramatic, while prose might be subdivided into fiction and non-fiction. Further subdivisions of dramatic poetry, for instance, might include comedy, tragedy, melodrama, and so forth. This parsing into subgenres can continue: "comedy" has its own genres, for example, including farce, comedy of manners, burlesque, and satire.






[quote from Mark Canada:] An extravagant exaggeration. From the Greek for "overcasting," hyperbole is a figure of speech that is a grossly exaggerated description or statement. In literature, such exaggeration is used for emphasis or vivid descriptions. In drama, hyperbole is quite common, especially in heroic drama. Hyperbole is a fundamental part of both burlesque writing and the “tall tales” from Western America. The conscious overstatements of these tales are forms of hyperbole. Many other examples of hyperbole can be found in the romance fiction and comedy genres. Hyperbole is even a part of our day-to-day speech: "You’ve grown like a bean sprout" or "I’m older than the hills." Hyperbole is used to increase the effect of a description, whether it is metaphoric or comic. In poetry, hyperbole can emphasize or dramatize a person’s opinions or emotions. Skilled poets use hyperbole to describe intense emotions and mental states. Othello uses hyperbole to describe his anger at the possibility of Iago lying about his wife’s infidelity in Act III, Scene III of Shakespeare’s play Othello:

If thou dost slander her and torture me,
Never pray more; abandon all remorse;
On horror’s head accumulate;
Do deeds to make heaven weep, all earth amazed;
For nothing canst thou to damnation add
Greater than that.

In this passage, Othello is telling Iago that if he is lying then Othello will have no pity and Iago will have no hope for salvation.  Adding horrors with still more horrors, Othello is describing his potential rage. Othello even declares that the Earth will be confounded with horror at Othello’s actions in such a state of madness. [Canada, Mark. All American: Glossary of Literary Terms. N.d. University of North Carolina at Pembroke. 23 Sep. 2005 <http://www.uncp.edu/home/canada/work/allam/general/glossary.htm>.]



literal and figurative language


[quote from Mark Canada:] One of the practices "that distinguishes poets from writers of nonliterary prose is their heavy use of metaphors, personification, symbols, hyperboles, apostrophes, and many other forms of figurative language. Figurative language does not mean exactly what it says; rather, it suggests meanings. In the phrase quoted above ['Love, all alike, no season knows.'], Donne does not literally mean that love is unfamiliar with spring, summer, fall, and winter. As a thing, love cannot know anything at all; only people can know something--that is, be conscious of it. Thus, Donne is personifying love, giving it human qualities. The figurative language in poetry helps us to understand new or complex concepts. Thinking of love as a person who treats all seasons in the same way helps us to appreciate the universality of love. Once you have completed the steps above, you may not understand every word or even every sentence, but you should have a fairly good idea of the poet's overall message, or the content of the poem." [Canada, Mark. Understanding and Explicating Poetry. 17 Aug. 1999. University of North Carolina at Pembroke. 1 June 2004 <http://www.uncp.edu/home/canada/work/markport/best/study/poetry.htm>.]


[quote from answers.com:] Many traditional academic analyses of language divided linguistic expressions into two classes: literal and figurative. Expressions said to be in figurative language are called figures of speech. . . . In the traditional analyses, words in literal expressions denote what they mean according to common or dictionary usage, while words in figurative expressions denote something other than what they mean according to common or dictionary usage. Often, in this framework, a particular instance of figurative language can/must be reduced to literal language in order to find out what the expression might be intended to mean. Sometimes the literal meaning of a particular figure of speech is clear. We can confidently interpret the figure, "The ground is thirsty," to mean "the ground is dry" because we know that the ground cannot literally feel thirst (or anything else, for that matter). Other times, it is harder to pinpoint the literal meaning of a figure of speech. If someone says, "When I first saw her, my soul began to quiver," he might mean, "When I first saw her, I began to fall in love," or "When I first saw her, I began to panic," or something else entirely. Whereas the ground's thirst can only sensibly apply to its dryness, the soul's quivering could refer to a whole range of feelings, including mutually exclusive ones. Only someone familiar with the speaker's feelings could accurately interpret this statement. . . . Note that most modern academic analyses of language no longer maintain a strict distinction between literal and figurative language. Cognitive linguistics, in particular, may ultimately declare all distinction between literal language and figurative language outdated. How many kinds of figurative language are there? Classical and traditional linguistics by some counts identified more than two hundred and fifty different figures. More recently, some have boiled the number into a much smaller number; some, for example, claim to be able to classify all figurative language as either metaphor or metonymy.





[quoted from knowgramming.com:] A comparison of two dissimilar things which does not use "like" or "as," e.g., "my love is a red, red rose" (Lilia Melani) <http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/lit_term.html>. Metaphor is defined as the substitution of one idea or object with another, used to assist expression or understanding. The definition of metaphor is generally divided into "living" and "dead" metaphors, which refer to metaphors which are still considered "novel" versus those which have been incorporated into normal usage. The dividing line between these two is very hazy, and may depend on the culture, language, region, dialect or jargon it is found in. Metaphor is often used as a teaching tool, or to convey difficult concepts. It is found throughout languages and is considered by many to be essential to language. Since metaphor allows for the substitution of ideas across differing areas of study, it is considered by some to be an interdisciplinary Rosetta Stone. Common examples of metaphor include "the Internet is an information superhighway" as a living metaphor and "I am open to suggestions" as a dead metaphor. Metaphor is often confused with simile, the difference being that the metaphor draws a parallel between concepts, while the simile points to poetic similarities. Click here for an extended explanation of the difference between the two <http://knowgramming.com/metaphor.htm>.





[quoted from answers.com:] A figure of speech in which one word or phrase is substituted for another with which it is closely associated, as in the use of Washington for the United States government or of the sword for military power.





[quote from wordnet.princeton.edu:] A statement that contradicts itself: "'I always lie' is a paradox because if it is true it must be false" <http://wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=paradox>.  [quote from mistupid.com:] Statement or sentiment that appears contradictory to common sense yet is true in fact. Examples of paradox are "mobilization for peace" and "a well-known secret agent" <http://www.mistupid.com/literature/litterms.htm>.




[quote from thefreedictionary:] A figure of speech in which inanimate objects or abstractions are endowed with human qualities or are represented as possessing human form, as in Hunger sat shivering on the road or Flowers danced about the lawn <http://www.thefreedictionary.com/personification>. Also, anthropomorphism, or the "attribution of human motivation, characteristics, or behavior to inanimate objects, animals, or natural phenomena" <http://www.answers.com/topic/anthropomorphism>. Also, prosopopeia, which "is used most frequently today as a synonym of personification, a very common rhetorical device whereby we speak as though inanimate objects are human: 'My car prefers high-test gasoline.' 'Justice is blind,' is prosopopeia in this sense. The common phrase 'Mother Nature' personifies nature and when we claim that a piece of software is unforgiving, we are doing the same" <http://www.yourdictionary.com/wotd/wotd.pl?date=2004-05-07>.





[quoted from academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu:] A stated comparison (usually formed with like or as as) between two fundamentally dissimilar things that have certain qualities in common. [For example] "He was like a cock who thought the sun had risen to hear him crow" (George Eliot, Adam Bede) <http://www.nt.armstrong.edu/term6.htm>. A comparison of two dissimilar things using "like" or "as", e.g., "my love is like a red, red rose" (Robert Burns) <http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/lit_term.html>.





[quoted from www.virtualsalt.com:] Something that on the surface is its literal self but which also has another meaning or even several meanings. For example, a sword may be a sword and also symbolize justice. A symbol may be said to embody an idea. There are two general types of symbols: universal symbols that embody universally recognizable meanings wherever used, such as light to symbolize knowledge, a skull to symbolize death, etc., and constructed symbols that are given symbolic meaning by the way an author uses them in a literary work, as the white whale becomes a symbol of evil in Moby Dick. <http://www.virtualsalt.com/litterms.htm>