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Literary Terms

To understand written and spoken communications, the following terms are used. There is more about each of them in books, Wikipedia or other encyclopedias, dictionaries, and on Internet pages. [◦Literary terms].

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ALLEGORY. A story in which the characters and their actions represent general truths about human conduct. The characters in an allegory often represent abstract concepts, such as faith, innocence, or evil. E.g. John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress.

APHORISM. A short, often witty statement that contains a serious maxim, opinion, or general truth.

CONNOTATION. The suggested or implied meaning of a word, as contrasted with its literal meaning or denotation. These additional associations may be personal (the result of individual experience) or universal (the product of the collective human experience)

DENOTATION. The literal dictionary definition of a word, apart from any emotional or intellectual association or connotation

EMBLEM. An object or picture with a symbolic meaning, often representing some abstract quality. Emblems are often used as badges, representing membership in a family, group, or nation. In Renaissance emblem books, a picture with an accompanying explanatory maxim, usually expressing a moral.

FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE. Language which is based on, or uses, figures of speech such as similes and metaphors.

HERMENEUTIC. A method or theory of interpretation; interpretive or explanatory; concerning interpretation.

IMAGERY. The use of words or figures of speech to create a mental picture. Imagery exploits the senses to produce a smart impression or to create a cluster of impressions that convey an attitude or mood, as the case may be. The imagery may appeal to the sense of hearing, taste, sense of motion, sense of smell, of touch. Verbal imagery is created with words (often with a visual analogue, or mental pictures. Visual imagery is created with pictures, and many visual images are pictures of things representing well-known sayings or phrases).

METAPHOR. In a metaphor a word or expression which normally denotes one thing is applied to a different thing, without explicitly making a comparison.

MYTH. A fictitious narrative usually containing supernatural beings who interact with mortal heroes and heroines, and which usually relate the origins of nations and cultures. See Northrop Frye's The Great Code and The Critical Path for an account of the place of myth in Western Literature. Many critics, following Frye, regard myth as a narrative whose purpose is to help explain the world as we perceive it.

PARADOX. A rhetorical device making an assertion which on one level appears to be a contradiction but which on another level or in special circumstances may be actually true.

POINT OF VIEW. The vantage point or perspective from which a story is told. Point of view refers to both position (the narrator's proximity to the action in time and space), and person (the narrator's character and attitude). There are four basic points of view.

PUN. A play on words that are similar in sound but have different meanings.

RHETORIC. In ancient Greece and Rome, the art of using language to persuade or influence others; in medieval scholasticism, the rules followed by a writer or speaker who wished to express him or herself eloquently; in modern common usage, speech or writing expressed in terms intended to persuade.

SIMILE. A comparison between two distinctly different things, using the word "like" or "as."

SYMBOL. A person, act, or thing that has both literal significance and additional abstract meanings. Unlike an allegory, where such things are equated with one or two abstract ideas, a symbol usually refers to several complex ideas that may radiate contradictory or ambiguous meanings. See ALLEGORY.

SYMBOLISM. The use of SYMBOLS, persons, acts, or things that have both literal significance and additional abstract meanings.

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