Rhetorical Terms You Should Know

Literary/Rhetorical Terms You Should Know Abstract(ion) – a concept, idea, feeling. E.g., love, freedom, boredom Ad Hominem – In an argument, means at...
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Literary/Rhetorical Terms You Should Know Abstract(ion) – a concept, idea, feeling. E.g., love, freedom, boredom Ad Hominem – In an argument, means attacking a person instead of his/her ideas. Comes from Latin, meaning “against the man” Allegory -- a story in which people, objects, and events stand for abstract qualities in addition to their literal meanings in the story. Its intention is to teach a moral lesson. E.g., Animal Farm by George Orwell is an allegory about the evils of communism. Alliteration – neighboring words that begin with the same consonant sounds. E.g., “sister Suzy” Allusion -- an indirect or passing reference to some event, person, place, or artistic work, the nature and relevance of which is not explained by the writer but relies on the reader’s familiarity with what is mentioned. Allusions are historical, literary, biblical, mythological, or related to the popular culture. Ambiguity -- a word or statement which can contain two or more meanings. E.g., when the oracle at Delphi tells Croesus that if he wages war on Cyrus he will destroy a great empire, Croesus thinks the oracle means his enemy's empire. In fact, the empire Croesus destroys by going to war is his own. Analogy -- a resemblance of relations; a likeness between things in some ways, when the things are otherwise entirely different. E.g., marriage is like spending the rest of your life in a coal mine. (Analogies are like Similes, only a little more extended.) Anaphora -- repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive phrases, clauses, or sentences. "We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France.” Anecdote -- a short narrative, generally entertaining and personal or biographical, used to capture the reader/audience's attention or to support a claim. Antecedent – the noun that is referred to by a pronoun. E.g. in “Harry ate his lunch.” Harry is the antecedent of his. A related meaning is one’s ancestors. “His antecedents included the 4th king of Tasmania.” Antimetabole -- repetition of identical words, in successive clauses, in reverse grammatical order. E.g. “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” (Similar to Chiasmus, but here, the WORDS are identical.) Antithesis -- the juxtaposition of contrasting words or phrases, often in parallel structure. E.g., "Place your virtues on a pedestal; put your vices under a rock." (Often antithesis is in syntactic Parallel Structure.) Aphorism -- a brief statement which expresses an observation on life, usually intended as a wise observation. Benjamin Franklin's "Poor Richard's Almanac" contains numerous examples, one of which is Drive thy business; let it not drive thee. (Similar to Adage, Maxim, Proverb) 1

Apostrophe -- a figure of speech wherein the speaker speaks directly to something nonhuman. In Romeo and Juliet, Romeo says, “Then I defy you, stars!” Appositive – a noun or noun phrase that follows a noun and which restates or amplifies its meaning. E.g. Johnny, the boy in the red coat, is my cousin. Archaism – word/phrase that is no longer in use, out of date. E.g. many Shakespearean expressions. The adjective is archaic. Argument -- a carefully structured, well-supported representation of how a writer/speaker views an issue, subject, problem Aside -- a device in which a character in a drama makes a short speech or comment which is heard by the audience but not by other characters in the play Assonance – neighboring words with the same vowel sounds. E.g., “I cried outside when he died.” Assumption – An opinion, belief, or idea that the speaker/writer believes the audience/reader holds. If one says “It’s too cold to go to the beach,” the assumption is that one only goes to the beach when it’s warm. Asyndeton -- the omission of a conjunction from a list ('chips, beans, peas, vinegar, salt, pepper') Canon -- a Greek word that implies rule or law, and is used in literature as the source which regulates which selection of authors or works, would be considered important pieces of literature. E.g., F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby is part of the canon of American literature. Chiasmus -- [kee-AZ-mus] inverting the order of elements in two parallel phrases. E.g. “It is boring to sleep, but to eat is fulfilling.” (Similar to Antimetabole, but here the elements are NOT identical.) Clause – a group of words containing a subject and a verb (predicate). An independent clause can stand alone as a sentence, “I ate dinner.” A subordinate (dependent) clause cannot stand alone, “When I ate dinner.” Cliché – an idea or expression that has become silly or ordinary from overuse. E.g., “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!” Climax -- the decisive moment in a drama, the climax is the turning point of the play to which the rising action leads. This is the crucial part of the drama, the part which determines the outcome of the conflict. Colloquial(ism) -- spoken or written language that imitates conversational, informal speech. Often includes slang Comedy -- a literary work which is amusing and ends happily. Coming-of-age story – the main character is an adolescent who gains personal awareness in the course of the literary work, usually as a result of conflict and difficult decisions. Catcher in the Rye and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are examples. 2

Concrete detail – a specific example. E.g., “She wore an azure dress, flowing and long, with pearl buttons.” Connotation --The emotional implications and associations that words may have, as distinguished from their denotative meanings. E.g., fat and overweight have the same denotation, but different connotations. Deductive argument – organization of an argument that proceeds from a generalization to specific examples or pieces of evidence. Denotation --The basic dictionary meaning of a word, as opposed to its connotative meaning Dialect – creating the sound of a spoken language as it sounds in a geographical area or by a certain group. Diction -- author's choice of words. Since words have specific meanings, and since one's choice of words can affect feelings, a writer's choice of words can have great impact in a literary work. In describing an author's diction, DON'T say, "Capote uses diction." Specify what kind: "Capote uses 19th century elevated diction." Didactic -- designed to impart information, advice, or some doctrine of morality or philosophy. A tone or attitude that is formal, serious and instructive. Ellipsis -- the omission of words, the meaning of which is either understood by the reader or not necessary to the writer's point. Represented by three dots. Epic poem – a long narrative poem on a serious subject presented in a formal, elevated style. E.g. The Odyssey, Beowulf Epigraph -- a brief quotation which appears at the beginning of a literary work. Epigram -- a short, clever, sometimes satiric couplet or quatrain which was popular in classic Latin literature and in European and English literature of the Renaissance and the neo-Classical era. Like an aphorism, but more biting or sarcastic. (Sometimes confused with Aphorism – but Aphorisms are not meant to be witty or sarcastic, just wise.) Epiphany – sudden realization of an important idea, truth, understanding Epithet -- in literature, a word or phrase preceding or following a name which serves to describe the character. E.g., in The Odyssey, Athena is often called “gray-eyed Athena” or “Roger, leader among men,…” (When the epithet follows the noun, it has the grammatical function of an Appositive – a word or phrase that “renames” the preceding noun.) Ethos – an appeal to the audience/reader based on the credentials or credibility of the speaker/writer. Euphemism -- representing something unpleasant in a more socially acceptable way. E.g., asking "Where is the restroom" instead of "Where is the toilet."


Exposition – anything that explains. Exposition can be the part of a short story that sets up what the reader needs to know before the action begins. Expository writing, usually typical of research papers, explains ideas, positions, processes, etc. Extended metaphor – a sustained comparison, longer than just a phrase. Sometimes called a conceit. Fable -- a story where animals are the characters, and they act in ways that have ethical or moral significance. E.g., the story of the tortoise and the hare Farce -- type of comedy based on a humorous situation such as a bank robber who mistakenly wanders into a police station to hide. It is the situation which provides the humor, not the cleverness of plot or lines Figurative language -- non-literal language, often called a Figure of Speech or a Trope Flashback – interruption of the order of events to depict something that happened before. Foreshadowing – hints and clues of what will happen later. E.g. In Romeo and Juliet, Romeo states a belief in fate in Act 1, which foreshadows his later actions. Genre -- a kind of writing that is a recognizable by is form, employing such common conventions as will prevent readers or audiences from mistaking it for another kind of writing. E.g. the novel, a poem, a play, a grocery list, an email Gothic -- characterized by gloom and mystery and the grotesque; gothic works include Shelley’s Frankenstein, and the writings of Edgar Allan Poe. Hyperbole -- A figure of speech in which an overstatement or exaggeration is used for deliberate effect. E.g. “The shot heard ‘round the world.” Idiom -- A phrase used by a group of people; jargon or a style or manner of expression peculiar to a given people. E.g., “That sure beats me!” (Idioms are often colloquial, not used in more formal written or spoken language) Imagery -- descriptions that appeal to understanding through the five senses. E.g. Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic, Olfactory, Gustatory Inductive argument – an argument that proceeds from specific examples to a generalization. Inference – a conclusion one reaches based on details and evidence. Invective – a verbally abusive remark. Also, an entire speech that is angry and abusive. Inverted word order (Inverted syntax) -- reversal of the normal order of words for dramatic effect. Instead of “I’m going home today” one says “Home, I’m going today.” Irony -- A device that depends on the existence of at least two separate and contrasting levels of meaning embedded in one message. Verbal irony is when the speaker says something but means the opposite. A particularly critical or insulting use of verbal irony is Sarcasm. In dramatic irony, the audience knows something the characters don’t. Situational irony occurs when the 4

opposite of what is expected happens. This type of irony often emphasizes that people are caught in forces beyond their comprehension and control. Jargon -- specialized vocabulary of a particular group. I.e., the jargon of doctors, lawyers, teachers Latinate diction -- vocabulary characterized by words derived from Latin, often elevated and complex in meaning. Loose sentence – sentence that adds modifying elements after the main clause. E.g. John swallowed the goldfish whole, without blinking an eye, in front of everyone. Juxtaposition – two scenes, chapters, events, characters placed next to each other to show contrast Litotes – [LI-ta-tes] in general, any understatement. Specifically, the assertion of X by negating Y. E.g., saying “Not bad” as an assertion that something is actually good. Logos – an appeal to the audience/reader which relies on facts, statistics, logical organization Malapropism -- is an incorrect usage of a word, usually with comic effect. "He is the very pineapple {for ‘pinnacle’) of politeness." Metaphor -- a comparison of two unlike things. E.g., “You are a pig!” (When the comparison is made more overt, using like, as, or than, it is a Simile.) Metonymy -- a figure of speech/Trope in which a word represents something else which it suggests. E.g. “Washington announced today…” means “The President announced today…” Monologue – rather long written or spoken passage, may be humorous or serious, and the speaker directs words to an audience (Similar to Soliloquy) Motif -- A recurring image, word, phrase, represented object or action that tends to unify the literary work or that may be elaborated into a more general theme Oxymoron -- A combination of contradictory terms, like “jumbo shrimp”. Parable -- a brief and often simple narrative that illustrates a moral or religious lesson. Some of the best-known parables are in the New Testament, where Jesus uses them to teach his philosophy to his disciples. Paradox – statement that is contradictory on the surface, but upon deeper reflection, is true. E.g. “The more you know, the more you know that you don’t know.” Parallel Structure -- the repetition of words, phrases, sentences that have the same grammatical structure or that reinforce a similar idea. E.g. “We watched the fish, ate our lunch, took a nap, and drove home.” The Parallel Structure is the repetition of Verb + Object. Paraphrase – a restatement of something in one’s own words


Parody -- a literary form in which the style of an author or particular work is imitated for the sake of comic effect. Usually relies on exaggeration and distortion for is effect. Passive voice – a verb construction comprised of a form of the verb “to be” plus the past participle of another verb. The construction puts the receiver of the action in subject position. E.g. The ball was hit by John. It is known throughout the world…The crime was considered too complex to solve. Pathos – appeal to the audience/reader’s emotion as a rhetorical device. Periodic sentence – a form of sentence variety in which the main clause comes at the end, and the phrases and dependent clauses come at the beginning. E.g. Without blinking an eye, in front of everyone, in one audible gulp, John swallow a goldfish, whole. Persona -- In literature, the persona is the narrator, or the storyteller, of a literary work created by the author. (The correct plural is personae) Personification -- A figure of speech/Trope where animals, ideas or inorganic objects are given human characteristics. It is a variety of Metaphor. Phrase – a group of words that form a unit of meaning in a sentence, but does not contain both a subject and a predicate. E.g. in the house, by myself, when in doubt Polemic – a controversial argument, especially one refuting or attacking a specific opinion or doctrine. Also, a person who engages in this kind of argument Point of view -- a way the events of a story are conveyed to the reader, it is the “vantage point” from which the narrative is passed from author to the reader. In the omniscient (third-person) point of view, the person telling the story, or narrator, knows everything that's going on in the story. In the first- person point of view, the narrator is a character in the story. Using the pronoun "I" the narrator tells his or her own experiences but cannot reveal with certainty any other character's private thoughts. In the limited (third-person) point of view, the narrator is outside the story- like an omniscient narrator- but tells the story from the vantage point of only one character. Protagonist -- the central character of a literary work Pun – Similar or identical sounding words in a context where either meaning could work. “Tomorrow you will find me a grave man,” says Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, where ‘grave’ means both ‘serious’ and ‘dead, in the grave’ Restatement -- repetition of an entire idea in different words, same as Paraphrase. Rhetoric -- The art of persuasive argument through writing or speech. Sometimes rhetoric has a negative connotation when it refers to language that misleads or deceives. Also, the study of the art of eloquence and charismatic language. Rhetorical appeals -- The three strategies for persuading readers/audiences: Logos -- the appeal to reasoning or logic; Ethos -- the appeal to the credibility of the writer/speaker; Pathos -- the appeal to emotion 6

Rhetorical question – a question not intended to be answered, usually posed for dramatic effect. Romance -- literature concerned primarily with an idealized world of adventure and love. Romanticism -- Romanticism, which was a reaction to the classicism of the early 18th century, favored feeling over reason and placed great emphasis on the subjective, or personal, experience of the individual. Nature was also a major motif. Sarcasm – a form of verbal irony that aims to criticize or insult. E.g., “When I fell down, she sneered, ‘What coordination!’” Satire -- A literary work which exposes and ridicules human vices or folly, usually using humor. Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a highly satirical work. Semantics --the study of the meaning of language, as opposed to its form Simile – a form of metaphor that uses like, as, or than. E.g. She’s as pretty as a picture.” Soliloquy -- A dramatic speech in which a character talks to himself or herself or reveals his or her thoughts without addressing a listener. (Similar to Monologue.) Stream of consciousness -- (also called interior monologue) technique that records the thoughts and feelings of a character without regard to logical argument or narrative sequence. The writer attempts by the stream of consciousness to reflect all the forces, external and internal, influencing the psychology of a character at a single moment. Much of Catcher in the Rye is written in stream of consciousness. Subtext -- the hidden meaning lying behind the words of the text. Symbol – something that has both concrete and abstract meaning. E.g., In Steinbeck's The Pearl, the pearl is a symbol because it is a concrete object and it represents greed and corruption. Synecdoche -- A figure of speech/Trope in which a part of something stands for the whole or the whole for a part. E.g., "wheels" can stand for "automobile" as in "I'll get my wheels and pick you up at eight." Or, “Get your butt over here!” Synesthesia – Descriptions that use more than one of the five senses. E.g. describing the musical genre, the Blues, mixes color and sound Syntax -- The way in which words and phrases are arranged to form grammatical structures. Theme- a universal statement about the human condition, revealed in a literary work, although rarely directly. E.g., a theme of Romeo and Juliet is that parents and teenagers have trouble communicating. Tone -- the writer's attitude toward the material the characters, toward him/herself, and/or readers. Tragedy -- A serious play in which the chief figures, by some peculiarity of character, pass through a series of misfortunes leading to a final, devastating catastrophe. 7

Trope -- another term for figure of speech: any non-literal use of language. Some common tropes are irony, metaphor, understatement. Voice -- in writing, style that reveals something about the writer, his/her attitude, beliefs, feelings. E.g., a diary entry is more likely to have “voice” than a research paper.