WHS PAnther
Chris Cloke, WHS English Department
(509) 663-8117 ext. 260


(Contact me any time, and please let me know if you find a broken link.)

Literary and Speech Terms*


absolutes - when an author uses words or phrases without limitations such as best, worst, perfect, never, always, completely unique, etc.

abstract language - (the opposite of concrete language) words or phrases used to describe ideas, the intangible, or unobservable


acoustics - the qualities that determine the ability of an enclosure (as an auditorium) to reflect sound waves in such a way as to produce distinct hearing

ad lib - to improvise especially lines or a speech

               In Die Hard Bruce Willis's lines during the scene when he pulls the glass out of his feet were ad-libbed (made up on the spot and not in the script).

               Most commonly actors in drama often use an ad-libbed line to cover an error.

allegory - a writing where the characters, events, and settings represent abstract qualities (creates a second meaning beneath the surface story)


                              Jonathan Swift's Tale of a Tub and Gulliver's Travels

                              George Orwell's Animal Farm

                              Richard Adam's Watership Down

                              Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment"

alliteration - the repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of words or within words

               Five miles meandering with mazy motion
                                      - Samuel Taylor Coleridge (Kubla Khan)

               The turtle lives ‘twixt plated decks                                       In a somer seson whan soft was the sonne,
               Which partially conceal its sex.                                            I shope me in shroudes as I a shepe were,
               I think it clever of the turtle                                                  In habite as an hermite unholy of workes,
               In such a fix to be so fertile.                                                 Went wyde in this world wondres to here.
                                     - Ogden Nash  (“The Turtle”)                                                         - William Langland ("Piers the Plowman")

              * Notice the repetition of the “t” sound                                 * Notice the repetition of the "s" sound and

                 and the “x” sound in “The Turtle.”                                       "w" sound in "Piers the Plowman."

allusion - a passing reference to historical or fictional characters, places, events, or other works that the writer assumes the reader will recognize

               1. An ironic use can be seen in "Miniver Cheevy" when the "labors" of Hercules are alluded to.

               2. A humorous use is seen in each of the following lyrics.

                                Two brothers devised what at sight                                     A monkey sprang down from a tree
                                Seemed a bicycle crossed with a kite.                                  And angrily cursed Charles D.
                                                They predicted--rash pair!                                                       “I hold with the Bible,”
                                                It would fly through the air!                                                    He cried. “It’s a libel
                                And what do you know? They were Wright!                      That man is descended from me!”
                                                                   - Laurence Perrine                                                              - Laurence Perrine

               3. Robert Frost composed a poem about a boy with great potential who dies suddenly and without warning called “Out, Out--”.

                   This refers to a line in Macbeth by William Shakespeare where Macbeth learns of his wife’s "deathcandle!” in a speech referring

                   to the uncertainty of life.

analepsis (see flashback)

analogy - a comparison between two things that initially may not seem similar (metaphor and simile are two types of analogy)


anaphora - the repetition of words or phrases at the beginning of successive clauses or sentences


               "IT WAS the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity..."

                  - A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens


anecdote - a personal story used for effect or to prove a point and is often humorous but is not required to be

antagonist - the person or thing that causes conflict for the main character

              In William Shakespeare's Othello the Moor's antagonist is Iago.

              In Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird the final antagonist is Bob Ewell.

              In Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest R.P. McMurphy's antagonist is Nurse Ratched.

              In Tom Godwin's "The Cold Equations" the stowaway's antagonist is scientific law or the "cold equations."

              In Stephen King's The Stand the primary antagonist is Randall Flagg.

anaphora - the repetition of words or phrases in consecutive clauses or sentences for effect


              Example:  "And do you know put on your best attire?

                               And do you know cull out a holiday?

                               And do you now strew flowers in his way

                               That comes in triumph over Pompey's blood? Be gone!" (from Act I, Scene 1 of The Tragedy of Julius Caesar)


antithesis - 1. a statement that is the opposite of a thesis (often used when arguing the opposite point of view held by someone else) frequently used in pro/con debates

                   2. the establishment of two opposing ideas in parallel structure and juxtaposed together


                            Example: "To err is human; to forgive, divine." (Alexander Pope)

                            Example: "That is one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind." (Neil Armstrong)


aphorism - (also sometimes called a maxim) a concise, often witty, statement which relays a principle or universal truth, which is also serious or matter of fact in tone


              Example: "A penny saved is a penny earned." (Benjamin Frnaklin)

              Example: "Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days." (Benjamin Franklin)


apostrophe - an interruption to a work's discourse which directly addresses an absent or dead person or a personified idea or object and normally allows one's true feelings to emerge


              Example: "O, pardon me, though bleeding piece of earth,

                             That I am meek and gentle with these butchers!

                             Thou art the ruins of the noblest man

                             That ever lived in the tide of times."

                                  - Antony, speaking to Julius Caesar's corpse, in The Tragedy of Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare


Aristotlelian Appeals - the use of ethos, logos, and pathos


               Ethos - (1) can be an ethical statement or argument used to persuade an audience (often used to convey universal truths)

                           (2) and can be translated as "image" in that a speaker must create an image of credibility, expertise, and authority

               Logos - is logical reasoning, arguments, and structures used to prove an opinion and to elicit a thoughtful response from an audience

               Pathos - is an emotional argument used to elicit a passionate response from an audience

assonance - the close repetition of vowel sounds between different consonant sounds (they are not exact rhymes)

              Whinnying, neighed the maned blue wind
                                               - Edith Sitwell (“The Drum”)

             “mad as a hatter”            “time out of mind”               “free and easy”              “slapdash”

asyndeton - the omission of conjunctions for effect


                    "I came, I saw, I conquered." ("Veni, vidi, vici.") -----> Taken from Word-A-Day E-mail (Subscribe here)

autobiography - a story of a person’s life written by the subject


                          The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

                          Narrative of the Life of Frederick Dougalss, An American Slave

                          The Autobiography of Malcolm X

ballad - a sung poem about a hero usually ending in tragedy

             See "Ballad of Birmingham"                                               

             Also, see "American Pie"

             Also, see "The Ballad of Davy Crockett" (be prepared for the tune to start up)

             Also, see "The Ballad of Jesse James

             Also, see "The Devil Went Down to Georgia"

             Also, see "Hotel California"

             Also, see "House of the Rising Sun"

             Also, see "Me and Bobby McGee"

             Also, see "Sir Patrick Spens"

bias - a personal and sometimes unreasoned judgment; prejudice

             A) Two different 24 hour news networks covered the same investigation at the same time.

             Which headline shows bias since no conclusions had been reached?

             1. Oil for food scandal
             2. Oil for food probe


             B) Suffolk University has a simple web page using screenshots to illustrate how bias is used on the internet.

biography - a story of a person’s life not written by the subject


                            C. Alexander's 1998 biography, The Endurance, about Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton

                            Georges Belmont's 2000 biography, Marilyn Monroe and the Camera, about Marilyn Monroe.


blank verse - unrhymed, iambic pentameter

               1      2    3    4     5          6      7    8     9     10
             Was this the face that launched a thousand ships
               1         2       3   4    5   6    7    8   9 10
             And burned the topless towers of Illium?
                                                (from Dr. Faustus by Christopher Marlowe)

cadence - a rhythmic sequence or flow of sounds in language; the beat or pacing

caricature - descriptive writing that exaggerates a physical feature or personality facet of a person for humorous and/or satirical effect


cause-effect - a rhetorical technique that describes why an event occurs and the consequences of a series of events (shows what happened and why which may focus on the past or a possible future)


chiasmus - an inversion of parallelism to make a point


              Example: "He knowingly led and we followed blindly."

                                       (adverb verb)             (verb adverb)


              Example: "But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first." Matthew 19:30

                                                          (A)              (B)              (B)             (A)

climax - the point of highest intensity in a story (where the outcome is decided) -- (download a plot line example)

              The climax in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is when R. P. McMurphy attacks Nurse Ratched because it determines the ending of the novel.

              The climax in To Kill A Mockingbird is when the attack occurs after the pageant because it decides the ending of the novel.

colloquialism - a commonly used word or phrase that may be inappropriate for a formal writing (can include words, phrases, aphorisms, slang, jargon, etc.)



                            ain't nothin'

                            dead as a doornail

                            hella cool

                            and all

                            raining cats and dogs


compare and contrast - a form of analysis using similarities (comparisons) and differences (contrasts)


complex sentence - a sentence with at least one dependent clause and one independent clause


              Example: Despite the assurances of numerous friends and family members, Tim still doubted his ability to complete the speech. (dependent clause and independent clause)

              Example: Sarah believed she could complete the dive even though her coach and teammates voiced their doubt. (independent clause and dependent clause)


compound sentence - a sentence with at least two independent clauses and no independent clauses


              Example: The elephants marched in the parade, and their riders threw candy to the crowd. (independent clause, comma, coordinating conjunction, independent clause)

              Example: The Seattle Seahawks may be the best team in the NFL; the San Francisco 49ers may have something to say about that though. (independent clause, semicolon, independent clause)


compound-complex sentence - a sentence with at least one dependent clasue and at least two independent clauses


              Example: Tina left the party early, and even though she did not see the fire start, she knew Matt had something to do with it.

                             (independent clause, comma, coordinating conjuction, dependent clause, independent clause)


concrete language - (the opposite of abstract language) words or phrases used to describe things, the tangible, or the observable

connotation - the associated or secondary meaning of a word

               1. The word “spring” means a season of the year. This is the denotation.

               However, spring is associated with rebirth, youth, life, and energy. This is the connotation.

               2. The words “childish” and “childlike” both mean characteristic of a child (like a child). This is their denotation.

               However, “childish” is associated with pettiness, immaturity, and temper tantrums while “childlike” is associated with meekness,

               innocence, and wide-eyed wonder or awe. These would be the connotations of both words.

consonance - the close repetition of identical consonant sounds before and after differing vowel sounds

          The green frog groans to say the moon is mine

          * Notice how the ‘gr’ sound begins green and groan while the ‘n’ sound comes after the different vowel sounds.
             Also, notice how the ‘m’ sound begins moon and mine while the ‘n’ sound comes after the different vowel sounds.


countering opposition - when an author refutes the point of the opposition with evidence; revealing the limitation or weakness of a known and/or popular point of the opposition

couplets - two consecutive rhymed lines of poetry with the same meter

           1     2   3      4     5    6      7    8  9 10
       Three be the things I shall have till I die:
           1     2    3     4      5   6   7    8   9   10
       Laughter and hope and a sock in the eye.

                                     - Dorothy Parker (“Inventory”)


definition - In terms of rhetoric this is when an author defines a term to ensure understanding, redefines a common term for increased precision or nuance, or helps the audience understand a term in a new context.

denotation - the primary meaning of a word

               See connotation for a more detailed difference between denotation and connotation.

denouement - the outcome of the story (the resolution) -- (download a plot line example)

               A classic example of denouement is the final scene of Shakespeare's comedy As You Like It; couples marry, an evildoer repents,

               two disguised characters are revealed for all to see, and a ruler is restored to power. (4)


description - when an author provides details to show rather than tell which can help an audience identify with a subject and/or bring a topic or idea to life

dialect - the version of a language spoken by a particular group

               Click on this link and then click on the "sample" icon to hear Jeff Foxworthy use a southern dialect.

               Click here to read a weblog (blog) featuring a public discussion of dialects (there's no telling what might said here).


division - when an author breaks a complex topic into more easily understood parts or into categories

drama - a work of mainly dialogue meant to be performed


                             The Crucible by Arthur Miller

                             The Tragedy of Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

                             Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw

dramatic irony - when the audience has knowledge that a character does not

             1. In film dramatic irony is employed in scary movies when we see the creature sneaking up on someone, but the character does not know the monster is there.

             2. In literature dramatic irony can be seen when a character pretends to be a good guy but is actually not, and the audience knows before the other characters in the story.

             3. A classic example of dramatic ironyis in The Tragedy of Julius Caesar; when the soothsayer warns Caesar of the Ides of March, the audience realizes that is the day

              when Caesar dies, but Caesar does not know this.

dynamic character - a character who changes during the course of a story


              An example of a dynamic characterwould be Ebeneezer Scrooge from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Scrooge begins as a remorseless and selfish man, but he

              becomes a caring and remorseful man.

elegy - a poem of sorrow or mourning for the dead; also a reflective poem in a solemn or sorrowful mood

               See "Elegy for Jane: My student, thrown from a Horse"

               Also, see "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard"

end rhyme - when the rhymes in a poem appear at the end of a line

               I dare not ask a kiss,
               I dare not beg a smile,
               Lest having that, or this,
               I might grow proud the while.

              No, no, the utmost share
              Of my desire shall be
              Only to kiss that air
              That lately kissed thee.

                            - Robert Herrick (“To Electra”)

enunciation - to utter articulate or pronounce all the sounds of a word or phrase


epistrophe - the repetition of words or phrases in consecutive clauses or sentences for effect


               Example: "...this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

                              (Abraham Lincoln in "The Gettysburg Address")

essay - a composition on a specific topic

euphemism - when an author substitutes a more agreeable or less offensive phrase for an unpleasant or harsh one


              Example: "passed away" for dead

              Example: "a few fries short of a Happy Meal" for dumb


exemplification - when an author provides a number of examples to support a general position

exposition - the background information in a story (download a plot line example)

              An important scene in Sophocles' Antigone between Antigone and Ismene provides the reader with important background information: that the girls' two brothers

              are dead, and that the king will only bury one with honors while the other is left to rot outside the city. This information helpsthe reader to understand the characters'

              actions in the play.

extemporaneous - composed, performed, or uttered on the spur of the moment; impromptu

Extended Metaphor - a metaphor that is sustained for several lines or that becomes the controlling image of an entire poem

              What syrup, what unusual sweet,                                                     Life the hound
              Sticky and sharp and strong,                                                            Equivocal
              Wafting its poison through the street,                                               Comes at a bound
              Has lured this buzzing throng                                                          Either to rend me
              That swarms along the counters there                                              Or to befriend me.
              Where bargain bait is dangled--                                                        I cannot tell
              Clustered like flies in honey snare,                                                  The hound’s intent
              Shrill, cross, and well entangled?                                                     Till he has sprung
                                              - Phyllis McGinley (“Sale Today”)                  At my bare hand
                                                                                                                       With teeth or tongue.
                                                                                                                       Meanwhile I stand
                                                                                                                       And wait the event.

                                                                                                                                           - Robert Francis (“The Hound”)


external conflict - a struggle occurring outside the mind of a character

               Against nature: Carl Stephenson's "LeiningenVersus the Ants"

               Against fate: The Epic of Gilgamesh

               Against another character: Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado"

fable - a short tale ending with a moral

               Read some of Aesop's fables here.

falling action - the events after the climax leading up to the resolution (download a plot line example)

fantasy - a story set in an unreal or imaginary place


                              J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy

                              Christopher Paolini's Eragon

                              C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia series

first person - when the narrator is involved in the action and typically uses “I”

               1st person: I went to the store.

               2nd person: You know I went to the store.

               3rd person: She went to the store.

flashback - a scene occurring before the action of a story

               The television series Lost uses flashbacks in almost every episode.

foil - a character set up in opposition of another usually for comparison

               In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain the characters of Huck and Tom are foils. Huck represents pragmatism and realism

               while Tom represents excess and romanticism.

foot - the basic unit of rhythm consisting of at least one accented syllable (/) and one or more unaccented syllables (~ )

               iambic =  ~/ (one unaccented followed by one accented syllable)

               trochaic =  /~ (one accented followed by one unaccented syllable)

               anapestic =  ~~/

               dactylic =  /~~

               spondaic =   //

               paeonic = /~~~

foreshadowing - hints given by the author about future events

               In William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet the "star-crossed lovers" state that they would rather die than be separated, which foreshadows their demise.

               In William Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Julius Caesar references and imagery of battle foreshadow the civil war after Caesar's death.

formal writing - the use of heightened language and precise forms

              Formal: Your rhetoric lacks erudition and remains singular in its nature.

              Informal: You kinda talk funny.

Free Verse - poetry that is “free” of the regular beat of meter, relying on the poet’s sensitivity to the music of natural speech rhythms

               When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
               When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before
               When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide,
                   and measure them,
               When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with
                   much applause in the lecture room,
               How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
               Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
               In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
               Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

                                                            - Walt Whitman

genre - a category of artistic composition, as in music or literature, marked by a distinctive style, form, or content

haiku - a lyric and unrhymed poem that captures the sense of a moment in a simple natural image; it consists of seventeen syllables broken

             down into three lines (5 in the first, 7 in the second, and 5 in the third)

             The cold winter wind                             The falling flower

           writes it message in shivers                 I saw drift back to the branch

              on the drifting snow.                             Was a butterfly.            

                             - Georgian Tashjian                             - Moritake

hyperbole - (the opposite of understatement) obvious exaggeration for humor or emphasis

               1. Alfred, Lord Tennyson says an eagle is “Close to the sun in lonely lands” in “The Eagle.”
               2. Robert Frost says “I shall be telling this with a sigh / Somewhere ages and ages hence” in “The Road Not Taken.”
               3. A frustrated parent says, “I’ve told you a million times not to do that!”
               4. A hungry teenager says, “I’m so hungry, I could eat a horse.”

imagery - descriptive and colorful writing putting pictures in minds

               I love those skies, thin blue or snowy gray,
               Those fields sparse-planted, rendering meager sheaves;
               That spring, briefer than apple-blossom’s breath,
               Summer, so much too beautiful to stay,
               Swift autumn, like a bonfire of leaves,
               And sleepy winter, like the sleep of death.

                                                                           - Elinor Wylie (“Puritan Sonnet”)

implication - when an author hints at an idea or suggests an opinion without stating it directly


inflection - change in pitch or loudness of the voice

informal writing - the use of common language and is loosely formed

              Formal: Your rhetoric lacks erudition and remains singular in its nature.

              Informal: You kinda talk funny.

initiation - when the hero takes the first step on his journey

              When Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz places her foot on the yellow brick road and begins to walk,

                          she has initiated her journey to meet the wizard.

              When Luke Skywalker discovers his aunt's and uncle's corpses in Star Wars, he initiates his journey

                          by deciding to join with Obi Wan Kenobi.

internal conflict - a struggle occurring inside the mind of a character

              Hamlet, in William Shakespeare's Hamlet, encounters an internal conflict when he wishes to avenge

                          the death of his father but knows not when or how to do it.

              In Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Huck encounters his own internal conflict

                          when deciding whether or not to turn in Jim as a runaway slave or not.

initial rhyme - when the rhymes in a poem appear at the beginning of a line

               I watch the racers struggle by,
                   while you breeze through that arduous mile.
               May you feel the warmth of triumph upon this day,
                   and hear the cheers over the melody of the band.

                                        - Chris Cloke (“The Race”)

internal rhyme - when the rhymes in a poem appear in the middle of a line

              I am the daughter of Earth and Water,
                      And nursling of the Sky;
              I pass through the pores of the ocean and shores;
                      I change, but I cannot die.
                                    - Percy Bysshe Shelley (“The Cloud”)

jargon - the technical terminology or characteristic idiom of a special activity or group

              Examples of baseball jargon

              Examples of legal jargon

              Examples of military jargon

              Examples of poker jargon

              Examples of professional wrestling jargon


juxtaposition - when an author places two typically unassociated ideas, images, or words together for an unexpected effect; often allows for a comparison and contrast


logical fallacies - an error in reasoning, which may come in a variety of forms


              ad hominem: an argument made against the speaker rather than the speaker's ideas


              argument from ignorance: the assumption that a claim is true because it has not been proven false (or cannot be) --> "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence" -Carl Sagan


              begging the question: (circular reasoning) when a proposal which requires some sort of proof is assumed without proof

                                     --> "If such actions were not illegal, then they would not be prohibited by law."


              black or white: (either-or fallacy & us vs. them fallacy) when two opposing options are said to be the only options when more options actually exist

                                     --> "He is either all good or all bad." -or- "You're either with us or against us."


              burden of proof: when a speaker does not prove his claim to be true but tells the opponent to prove it is false


              ignoring the issue: (cherry picking) when a speaker points out certain pieces of data or specific cases to prove a particular position

                                     but ignores a significant amount of data or a number of cases that may contradict or disprove the position


              jumping to a conclusion: when a speaker judges someone or something without knowing all of the facts


              loaded question: when someone asks a question that assumes something not proven or accepted

                                     --> "Have you stopped cheating on tests?" No matter the answer, the person answering becomes guilty of cheating even if the person is innocent..


              misrepresentation of references: when a speaker uses statistics out of context or quotes only a portion of a text out of context


              post hoc ergo propter hoc: (means "after this, therefor because of this") when a false cause and effect argument is made

                                     --> "Something tipped over our boat. It must have been the Kraken."


              straw man: when a speaker misrepresents an opponent's position, then breaks that misrepresentation down, and creates an illusion of having refuted an opponent's position

                                     --> A: We should give children ice cream each day after school.    B: That would be rather bad for their health.    A: Do you want our children to starve?

                                           (Speaker B is concerned about the health of children from eating too much ice cream, and Speaker A implies that Speaker B wants to let children die of hunger.)


loose sentence - (opposite of a periodic sentence) a sentence with a string of details following the independent clause (its main idea can be grasped before finishing the sentence); often feels conversational and informal


              Example: Tim was excited since he passed his final speech as a result of his industrious nature and practiced research skills.

memoir  - a work centering on one event usually near a historic moment


                            Stephen King's On Writing

                            Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes

                            Elie Wiesel's Night

metaphor - a comparison without using “like” or “as” (also, see extended metaphor)

             Walt Whitman calls grass “the beautiful uncut hair of graves.”

             Beatrice Janosco calls a garden hose “a long green serpent / With its tail in the dahlias.”

             Eve Meriam says that “morning is / a new sheet of paper / for you to write on.”

             Chris Cloke calls the woodlands “a fortress of trees."

meter - the measurable repetition of accented and unaccented syllables in poetry

             monometer  = 1 foot

             dimeter = 2 feet

             trimeter = 3 feet

             tetrameter = 4 feet

             pentameter = 5 feet

             hexameter = 6 feet

             heptameter = 7 feet

             octameter = 8 feet

             (and so on)

mood - the feeling created by an author based on the setting, the connotation of words, or the descriptions of characters or ideas. It is usually described using a feeling adjective (mysterious, depressed, sultry, etc.)

myth - an anonymous story dealing with a culture’s beliefs (sometimes seen as legends or folk lore as well)



                                        American myth: Paul Bunyan

                                        Greek myth: Hercules

                                        Native American myth: Trickster tales

                                        Norse myth: Beowulf


narration - the telling of a story


non sequitur - translated as "that which does not follow"; an illogical sequence of statements or an absurd plot twist or piece of dialogue


                    Example: "Martin Luther King had a dream. Dreams are where Elmo and Toy Story had a party and I was invited." Ralph Wiggum on The Simpsons

                    Example: "This war is righteous because we are French!" Steve Hindes in Think for Yourself

                    Example: "All male dogs mark their territories. All dogs are pack animals. Therefore, all dogs enjoy eating peanut butter."

novel - a major literary work with many characters, locales, and events


                                        Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

                                        The Stand by Stephen King

                                        To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

novella - a work the length of a long short story usually centering on one or more major events


                                       Animal Farm by George Orwell

                                       Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote

                                       Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

                                       Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

                                       Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway  

onomatopoeia - the use of words whose sound imitates the sound of the thing being named

                    bark                    clang                      hum                     hiss

                    meow                 twitter                     buzz                    crack               


oxymoron - a figure of speech in which opposing or contradictory words are combined


                    Example: "...blue eyes were sternly merry." John Steinbeck

                    Example: "She was horribly good."


paradox - a seemingly self-contradictory statement that may nevertheless be true


                    Example: "Success is counted sweetest/ By those who ne'er succeed..." (Emily Dickinson)

                    Example: "I hated him for making me stop hating him." (Tim O'Brien)


parallelism - when two or more phrases or clauses are similar in length and grammatical form with each phrase or clause carrying equal weight


                    Example: "Timmy likes to swim, to hike, and to camp." (3 consecutive verbs in the infinitive form)

                    Example: "The teacher told his students that they should get a good night's sleep, eat a healthy breakfast, and bring extra supplies to the test." (3 items in the series with a verb and object)


parenthesis - when an author adds extra information to a sentence or essentially whispers a humorous, witty, or snarky aside


                    Example: "Twice has she condescended to give me her opinion (unasked too) on the subject!" (Jane Austen)

                    Example: "I cannot trust a liar (and Cindy is one) even when the truth is spoken."


parody - the imitative use of the words, style, attitude. tone, and ideas of an author in such a way as to make them ridiculous

                So much depends                          So much more depends

                upon                                              upon

                a red wheel                                    a universal remote

                barrow                                           control

                glazed with rain                             sitting on a coffee

                water                                             table

                beside the white                            beside the TV

                chickens                                        Guide

                       - William Carlos Williams                  - Chris Cloke


periodic sentence - (opposite of a loose sentence) a sentence with a string of details prior to the independent clause (its point can only be determined by reading it in its entirety)


        Example: As a result of a lack of practice and an absence of work ethic, Tim failed his final speech.

personification - giving non human things human traits

        I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
        Whatever I see I swallow immediately
        Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.
        I am not cruel, only truthful--
        The eye of a little god, four-cornered.
        Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.
        It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long
        I think it is part of my heart. But it flickers.
        Faces and darkness separate us over and over.

                                  - Sylvia Plath (excerpt from “Mirror”)

        “the sun smiled upon us”

        “the wind whispered my name”

        “Love captured my senses, locking them away”


piling on - when an author lists an unusually large number of examples in short succession

plagiarism - using another writer’s ideas or words as one’s own

        A University of Purdue site devoted to helping students avoid plagiarism.

poetry - a form of writing at its most imaginative and intense

        Check out this site which focuses on poetry and includes a "poem of the day."

polysyndeton - the overuse of conjunctions for effect


                Uncle Jim gobbled candy and pizza and ice cream and donuts and muffins that night!

                          -----> Taken from Word-A-Day E-mail (Subscribe here)

process analysis - when an author explains how something works in a step-by-step manner

projection - the act of control of the volume, clarity, and distinctness of a voice to gain greater audibility

protagonist - the main character

        Famous protagonists:

                Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

                R.P. McMurphy and Chief in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey

                Frodo Baggins in The Fellowship of the Ring trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien

reasoning - the use of logic to form conclusions, judgments, or inferences


               Deductive: when someone starts with a few simple ideas and moving towards more complex ideas; starting with a theory and moving to observations and confirmation

                               (from the large to the small)

               Inductive: when someone looks at specific examples, instances, or observations and then create a generalization; starting with obervations and moving to theories

                               (from the small to the large)

return - when the hero receives the “prize” and passes it on

               In The Wizard of Oz Dorothy wakes from her dream and realizes that "there is no place like home" (her prize).

               In Star Wars Luke Skywalker destroys the Death Star and brings a temporary peace to the region and saves a planet with the base of resistance (his prize).

rhetorical question - a question asked merely for effect with no answer expected

               A classic example:

                              "Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?
                              When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept:
                              Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:
                              Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
                              And Brutus is an honourable man.
                              You all did see that on the Lupercal
                              I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
                              Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?"

                                                                                          - Antony in William Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Julius Caesar (Act III, Scene 2)

              Everyday examples:

                              Are you crazy?

                              What were you thinking?

                              Who cares?

                              Are you kidding me?

rising action - the events leading up to the climax (download a plot line example)

scene - a division of an act usually with a change in time or location

              The Tragedy of Julius Caesar has five acts.

              The Crucible has four acts.

science fiction- a story usually in the future using science to predict events


                            Dune by Frank Herbert

                            Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

                            I Robot by Isaac Asimov

second person - when the narrator speaks directly to the reader

               1st person: I went to the store.

               2nd person: You know I went to the store.

               3rd person: She went to the store.

separation - when the hero sets himself apart from society

              When Dorothy is swept away to Kansas in The Wizard of Oz, she becomes separated from her society.

              When Luke Skywalker loses his family and leaves Tatooine, he becomes separated from his society.

setting - the time and place of a story

               In "The Cold Equations" the setting is the frontier of outer space in the distant future.

               In To Kill A Mockingbird the setting is 1930s Maycomb, Alabama.

short story - a story of 500-15000 words centering on one major event


                              "The Cold Equations" by Tom Godwin

                              "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry

                              "Teenage Wasteland" by Anne Tyler

simile - a comparison using “like” or “as”

                                 Here and there                                               Like a small grey
        his brown skin hung in strips                                                  coffe-pot
        like ancient wallpaper...                                                          sits the squirrel.

                          - Elizabeth Bishop                                                      - Humbert Wolfe


simple sentence - a sentence with only a single independent clause


              Example: The dog sat in the yard and chewed on its bone.

              Example: Mom sent me to the store to buy bread, milk, and eggs.

situational irony - when the opposite of what is expected occurs


                              In Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Julius Caesar one would expect Caesar to believe the soothsayer's

                                       warning since he believes in superstition (ex. Lupercal).

                              In Anne Tyler's The Accidental Tourist Macon writes travel books yet hates to travel.

slang - language peculiar to a particular group


                              making it to "the big leagues" = achieving a more prestigiuos position (baseball slang)

                              "da bomb" = the best or the coolest (another example of common slang)

                              "don't feed the bears" = don't get a ticket from the police (CB slang)

                              "hella" or "hecka" = a lot (common slang)

                              "hooch" = illegally made alcohol (country slang)

                              "the 4-1-1" = information (hip hop slang)

                              "bling" = fancy adornments (hip hop slang)

                              "LOL" = laugh out loud (internet slang)

                              "BRB" = be right back (internet slang)

                              "the head" = toilet or latrine (navy slang)

sonnet - a fourteen-line lyric poem in iambic pentameter

Petrarchan Sonnet ---> “On His Blindness” by John Milton                           Shakespearean Sonnet ----> Sonnet by William Shakespeare

When I consider how my light is spent a   When to the sessions of sweet silent thought a
    Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide, b   I summon up rememberance of things past, b
    And that one Talent which is death to hide, b   I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought, a
    Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent  a   And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste. b
To serve therewith my Maker, and present a   Then can I drown an eye, unus’d to flow, c
    My true account, lest he returning chide; b   For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night, d
    Doth God exact day-labour, light denied, b   And weep afresh love’s song since cancell’d woe, c
    I fondly ask; But patience to prevent  a   And moan the expense of many a vanish’d sight d
That murmur, soon replies, God doth not need  c   Then can I grieve at grievances foregone, e
    Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best d   And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er f
    Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best, his state e   The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan e
Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed c   Which I new pay as if not paid before. f
    And post o’er Land and Ocean without rest: d       But if the while I think on thee, dear friend, g
    They also serve who only stand and wait. e       All losses are restor’d and sorrows end. g

stanza - a section or division in a poem (a grouping of lines in a recurring pattern)

        "Annabel Lee" has six stanzas.

        "Fire and Ice" has one stanza.

        "Miniver Cheevy" has eight stanzas.

static character - a character who does not change during the course of a story

        The Widow Wycherly, Mr. Gascoigne, Colonel Killigrew, and Mr. Medbourne do not change

             in "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment" byNathaniel Hawthorne.


stereotype - a character, often lacking individuality or complexity, who represents a trait typically attributes to a specific social or racial group


              Examples: the damsel in distress, the school bully, or the funny fat kid

              Examples: Dennis Leary's character, Tommy Gavin, in Rescue Me repeats the drunken, violent Irishman stereotype

              Examples: Heather Morris' character, Brittany Pierce, in Glee repeats the ditzy, blond cheerleader stereotype

symbol - something that represents itself and something else


                1. Scales symbolize justice.

                2. A clenched fist symbolizes aggression.

                3. In "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment" by Nathaniel Hawthorne the mirror in the doctor's study symbolizes

                          his guilt over lost patients (even described as having a "gilt" frame).

syntax - the ordering of words in grammatical correctness

theme - a main idea or important idea in a work

       In To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee some themes are racism, injustice, and maturation.

third person objective - when the narrator is not involved in the action and can not reveal any characters’ thoughts

       (Think of this as the role of a reporter: he/she can only describe what is seen, not what the thoughts of the characters are.)

third person limited - when the narrator is not involved in the action and can only reveal one character’s thoughts

third person omniscient - when the narrator is not involved in the action and can reveal all of the characters’ thoughts

       (Remember: "omni-" means all.)

tone - the author’s attitude towards the subject; can be comparable to tone of voice (although often used interchangeably with mood)

            * Typically, the tone of a poem is expressed with an adjective such as sarcastic, optimistic, earnest, bitter, etc.

trite - hackneyed or boring from much use : not fresh or original : overused


understatement - (the opposite of hyperbole) when an author say less than what is meant


              Example: "We know that poverty is unpleasant." (George Orwell)

              Example: "We teachers are rather good at magic, you know." (J.K. Rowling)

              Example: "It's just a flesh wound." - The Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail

verbal irony - when the opposite of what is said is meant


              1. When someone obese walks into a room and is called "slim"

              2. When someone very tall walks into a room and is called "shorty"

              3. When Antony in Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Julius Caesar calls Brutus "an honorable man"

Verbigeration - the repetition of meaningless words and phrases


               "Abominable snowmen of androcratic academia: freezers and packagers of learning; chilling throng of frigid fellows, specialists in
               verbigeration and refrigeration of knowledge."  Audrey DeLaMartre; Bible Speaks to Fill Readers With 'Holy Chutzpah',
               The Star Tribune (Minneapolis); Nov 1, 1987.  -----> Taken from Word-A-Day E-mail (Subscribe here)

Verse - often used as a synonym for poetry but usually refers to poems of lesser literary value (though they are still metrical and rhymed)

Villanelle - a poem of five stanzas of tercets (three lines) and one final quatrain (four lines). The tercets maintain an aba rhyming pattern while the quatrain is abaa.

              Also, two refrains are used throughout the poem, consisting of the first and third lines of the first tercet. Example by Dylan Thomas:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night,
repeat of line #1
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
repeat of line #3
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night,
repeat of line #1
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight,
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
repeat of line #3
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
repeat of line #1
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
repeat of line #3


zeugma - when a word applies to more than one part of a sentence


              Example: "You are free to execute your laws, and your citizens, as you see fit." - Will Riker in Star Trek: The Next Generation

* Definitions and examples taken from:

1. Wenatchee High School's literary terms sheets,

2. NTC's Dictionary of Literary Terms by Kathleen Morner and Ralph Rausch, and

3. Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory by J.A. Cuddon

4. http://www.nisd.net/jay/la/LitTerms-RhetoricalDev.pdf

5. http://www.virtualsalt.com/rhetoric.htm

6. Wikipedia.org