Understanding literature terminology

Being an English Language and Literature major, I like to think I have a relatively firm understanding of some of the terms used within the realm of literature. Many of us are unfamiliar with these terms, though, and what exactly they mean, so I thought it might be interesting to take a look at some of them in hopes of providing some clarification.

Keep in mind as you’re skimming through these that the definitions below of these terms are my own personal understandings. They’re not textbook standard, but through my own observations, I would say many of us appreciate a simplified interpretation when it comes to things we don’t really ‘get.’ Maybe someone will benefit from my personalized definitions. Enjoy!

Caesura: A pause created by a mark of punctuation in a line of poetry or prose, for example, a semicolon or a hyphen.

Prose: Everyday language.

Poetry: Rhythmical language.

Alliteration: Repetition of a sound or a letter in a single prose or poetic sentence, for example, the black bear brought the blue ball back to base.

Anaphora: Repetition of a word, sentence or phrase throughout multiple sentences or phrases, for example, Martin Luther King’s use of “I have a dream” in his speech.

Enjambment: When a sentence carries over into another line of poetry.

Irony: A refraction of meaning.

Situational irony: When we expect something to happen in a given situation and the opposite does.

Dramatic irony: When we are aware of something in a dramatic context, for example in a play or a film, but those in the play or film are not aware.

Verbal irony: When we, or someone else, say(s) something but means something entirely different.

Pathos: Emotion.

Logos: Logic.

Bathos: Depth.

Pathetic Fallacy: When weather reflects mood.

Foreshadowing: Hinting at what is to come.

Oxymoron: The pairing together or two words that are opposing in meaning, for example, jumbo shrimp.

Satire: Mockery.

Catharsis: Purging.

Ballad: A story passed down orally throughout generations that eventually takes on the format of a song.

Simile: A comparison using ‘like’ or ‘as,’ for example, she swims like a fish.

Metaphor: A direct comparison, for example, she is a fish.

These are just a few terms used in the realm of literature, but it’s my hope that you have a better understanding of what they represent after reading this.





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