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AP English Lit terms

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abstract words
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words used to discuss intangible qualities like good and evil
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accent
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the stressed portion of a word in poetry
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ad hominem argument
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argument that appeals to emotion rather than reason; may attack the messenger rather than the message
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aesthetic
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appealing to the senses (adj.), a coherent sense of taste (n.), the study of beauty (n.)
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aestheticism
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devotion to the idea of beauty in art
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aleatory
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an alogical poem seems composed by chance
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allegory
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a story in which each aspect has symbolic meaning outside the story
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alliteration
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repetition of initial consonant sounds
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allusion
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reference to a famous work or figure outside the poem
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amplification
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repeating a word, and adding more modifiers each time
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anachronism
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an object misplaced in time
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anacoluthon
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finishing a sentence with different grammatical structure from that with which it began
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analogy
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a comparison, involving two or more symbolic parts, employed to clarify an action or a relationship
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anapestic
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metrical measurement of two unstressed syllables and then one stressed one (u u ‘)
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anaphora
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repetition of the same words at the beginning of successive sentences or clauses
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anecdote
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a short story
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antagonist
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one that contends with or opposes another
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antecedent
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a word, phrase, or clause that determines what a pronoun refers to
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anthropomorphism
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inanimate objects are given human characteristics, but no human shape
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anticlimax
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an action produces far smaller results than one had led to expect, comic
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antihero
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a protagonist who is markedly unheroic
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antimetabole
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reversing the order of repeated words/clauses to intensify the sentence, present alternatives, or show contrast
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antiphrasis
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one word irony (calling a beautiful girl “ugly)
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antistrophe
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repetition of a word or phrase at the end of successive lines
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antithesis
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juxtaposition of opposites, e.g., heaven and hell
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aphorism
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a short and witty saying
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apocopated rhyme
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a cut-off rhyme; last syllable of one of the rhymes is missing (pain/gainless)
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apologia
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a defense of one’s opinions, actions, or life (Think Socrates’ The Apology)
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apologue
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moral fable using animals to comment on human condition
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aporia
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expression of doubt about conclusions
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aposiopesis
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stopping abruptly and leaving statement unfinished
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apostrophe
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speech is directed to a nonhuman object or one that is not present
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appositive
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a noun or phrase placed next to another noun, for the purpose of further describing
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archaism
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use of deliberately old-fashioned diction
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archetype
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the original pattern or model of which all things of a similar nature are copies
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ars poetica
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a poem written on the subject of poetic art, usually explaining poet’s reasons for writing
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aside
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a speech made by an actor to the audience as though momentarily stepping outside the action on stage
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assonance
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the repeated use of internal vowel sounds
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atmosphere
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the emotional tone or background that surrounds a scene
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aubade
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a love song or poem greeting the dawn
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ballad
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a long narrative poem in regular meter and rhyme
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bathos
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writing that strains for grandeur it can’t support
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blank verse
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unrhymed iambic pentameter
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bildungsroman
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a novel of self-development or personal formation
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bombast
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pretentious, exaggeratedly learned language
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burlesque
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broad parody that takes on a specific style and makes fun of it
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cacophony
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using deliberately harsh, awkward sounds
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cadence
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the beat or rhythm of poetry
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caesura
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a pause in a line of poetry (indicated or not)
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camera eye narrator
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third-person narrator who describes what would be visible to a camera; objective
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canto
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a section division in a long work of poetry
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caricature
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a portrait that exaggerates a facet of personality
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carpe diem
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the enjoyment of the pleasures of the moment without concern for the future
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catalogue
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a complete enumeration of items, arranged systematically, with descriptive details
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catharsis
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cleansing of emotion an audience member experiences, having lived through the experiences on stage
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Chaucerian stanza
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7 lines, rhyme ababbcc
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chorus
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the group of citizens who stand outside the main action on stage and comment on it
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classicism
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a tendency to reflect he principles manifested in the art of ancient Greece and Rome
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climax
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the point of highest tension, or a major turning point in a play
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coinage
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a new word, usually invented on the spot
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colloquialism
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a word or phrase used in everyday conversational English
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conceit
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an extended metaphor, developed and expanded upon over several lines
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concrete poetry
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a poem wherein shape of words and lines conveys the meaning
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confessional poetry
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makes frank, explicit use of incidents in the poet’s life
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connotation
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the association with a word; the word suggests/implies meaning beyond the literal
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consonance
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repetition of consonant sounds within words
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continuous form
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a poem in which lines follow each other without stanza breaks
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couplet
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a pair of lines ending in rhyme
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dactylic
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a metrical measurement of one accented syllable and two unaccented (‘ u u)
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decorum
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the attitude one should display according to his social/economic status
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denotation
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a word’s literal meaning
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denoument
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conclusion, the outcome of a plot
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determinism
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belief that man is fated to defeat under indifferent natural forces; emphasizes vanity of free will
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deus ex machina
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“god from the machine” – conflicts quickly resolved at end of last act, often by sudden introduction of a power who solves all
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diacope
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repetition of words before and after syntactical break (We will do it, I tell you, we will do it.)
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dialect
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the characteristic speech of a particular region or group
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diction
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the author’s choice of words
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didactic
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primary purpose is to teach
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dirge
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a song for the dead
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dissonance
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the grating of incompatible sounds
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doggerel
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crude, simplistic verse, often in sing-song rhyme
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dramatic monologue
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single speaker in literature talks to silent audience
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dramatic poem
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a poem that has a conflict
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dualistic
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two-valued, e.g., good/evil
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dystopia
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opposite of utopia, society where social and technological advances have served to aid corruption
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elegy
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poem on death or mortality
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encomium
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a laudatory poem for a legendary or real person
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enjambment
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continuation of syntax over line break
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enumeratio
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listing parts, cause, effect, for added emphasis
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epic
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a long narrative poem on a serious theme in a dignified style; often describes glorious or profound subject
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epigram
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a short poem intended to impart wisdom
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epigraph
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a quotation that is placed at the start of a work or section that expresses what will be said
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epiphany
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a sudden realization or comprehension of the meaning of something
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epistle
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a letter directed or sent to a group of people
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epistrophe
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repeat of same word(s) at the end of sentences
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epitaph
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lines that commemorate the dead at the burial place
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epithalamium
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a poem that is written for the bride; celebration of a wedding
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epithet
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a word preceding or following a name which serves to describe (fleet-footed Achilles or wine-dark sea)
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epizeuxis
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repetition of the same word for emphasis
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eponym
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substituting the name of a famous person for a description (He’s a real Einstein)
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eulogy
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formal expression of praise, usually given at a funeral
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euphemism
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a word that takes the place of a more harsh or inappropriate word (physically challenged rather than crippled)
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euphony
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sounds blending harmoniously
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euphuism
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elegant Victorian prose style (filled with alliteration and similes)
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exemplum
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citing an example
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expletive
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word interrupting syntax to give emphasis to words around it
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expressionism
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emphasizes the life of the mind and feelings rather than the realistic external details of everyday life
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eye of the poem
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the central focus of the poem
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eye rhyme
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words that look similar, but pronounced differently (wind/find)
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falling rhyme
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feminine rhyme; ending with unaccented last syllable
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farce
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a comedy of unlikely, but possible situations
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feminine rhyme
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falling rhyme; ending with unaccented last syllable
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figurative image
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representation of one thing by another
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first person narrator
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character in the story who tells the tale from his/her point of view
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flashback
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scene that interrupts the action to show an event that happened earlier
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foil
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a secondary character whose purpose is to highlight the characteristics of a main character
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foot
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basic rhythmic unit of a line of poetry, formed by two or three syllables, stressed or not
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foreshadowing
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an event or statement that, in miniature, suggests a larger event that comes later
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free verse
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poetry without regular rhyme or meter
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genre
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a sub-category of literature; categorizes literature by types
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gothic
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use of eerie themes and images (shrieking women, ghosts)
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haiku
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Japanese poetry with 3 lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables
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half rhyme
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words that almost rhyme; slant rhyme (dizzy/easy)
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hamartia
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tragic flaw or error which brings down the protagonist of a tragedy
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Harlem Renaissance
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flowering of African American art and music in the 1920s; center was in Harlem, New York
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head rhyme
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another word for alliteration
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heptameter
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poem of seven metrical feet
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heroic couplet
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a rhyming couplet in iambic pentameter
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hexameter
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poetic form of six metrical feet
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homonyms
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words that sound alike but have different spellings and meanings (sale/sail)
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hubris
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excessive pride/ambition which leads to character’s downfall
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hyperbaton
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departure from normal word order; a form of inversion (a personality indescribable)
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hyperbole
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exaggeration or deliberate overstatement
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hypophora
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raising a question then proceeding to answer it
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iambic
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a metrical foot with an unstressed first syllable and a stressed second syllable
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in media res
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a piece of writing that begins in the middle of the action
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incongruity
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the joining of opposites to create an unexpected situation
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interior monologue
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recording of mental talk in character’s head
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invective
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speech/writing that abuses, denounces, attacks
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inversion
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switching the customary order of elements in a sentence or phrase
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irony
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events turn out exactly the opposite of how they might be expected; saying the opposite of what is meant
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lament
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a poem of sadness or grief over the death of a loved one or some intense loss
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lampoon
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a satire
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linked rhyme
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first syllable of a line echoes the last syllable of the previous line (on the rooftop/Stops the light of the cop)
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literal image
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concrete replication in words of an object or experience
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litotes
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type of understatement achieved by denying the opposite (Heat waves are not rare in summer.)
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local color
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use of specific details describing dialect, dress, customs, and scenery associated with a particular region
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loose sentence
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a sentence complete before its end (Jack loved Barbara despite her irritating laugh.)
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lyric
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poetry that explores the poet’s personal interpretation of and feelings about the world
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madrigal
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a short lyric on love or pastoral themes
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masculine rhyme
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rhyme ending on the final stressed syllable
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melodrama
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cheesy theater; often emphasizes plot and action over character development
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metabasis
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brief summary of what has been said and what will follow
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metanoia
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modifies a statement by recalling it and expressing it in a better way (Max is the best of all bichons, nay of all dogs.)
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metaphor
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comparison or analogy that states that one thing IS another
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meter
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rhythmic pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables that make up feet
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metonymy
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a single characteristic used to describe something outside itself (Victory crossed the finish line)
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mixed metaphor
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combination of incompatible comparisons; trying to compare objects too dissimilar to carry off a comparison
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mood
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prevailing atmosphere created by language, tone, setting
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motif
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a recurring feature (e.g., name, image, phrase) in a work of literature
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narrative
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a story poem
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naturalism
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emphasis on man as animal, behaving strictly according to dictates of nature; emphasizes lack of free will; emphasizes sordid
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neo-classicism
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sees man as flawed and his institutions are flawed. Nature is neither good nor evil. Man needs to seek harmony with what is.
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neologism
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coinage; forming a new word, usually spontaneously
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nonce
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open form poem (shape is unique to poem) written for a special occasion
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novel of manners
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novel describing social habits/customs of a social group
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octave
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eight line stanza
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ode
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long poem on a serious subject that develops its theme with dignified language, intended to be sung
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omniscient narrator
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a third-person narrator who sees into character’s heads
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onomatopoeia
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words that sound like what they mean
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opposition
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a pair of elements that contrast sharply
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oxymoron
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a phrase composed of opposites; a contradiction (sweet vinegar)
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palinode
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a poem retracting a regretted derogatory statement
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parable
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a story told in prose or verse that illustrates a religious or ethical idea
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paradigm
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a formal plan or sequence of changes which acts as a model
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paradox
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a statement that seems contradictory, but is not
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parallelism
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repeated syntactical similarities used for effect
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parenthetical
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a phrase set off by commas that interrupts the flow of a sentence
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parody
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exaggerating a specific work so that it appears ridiculous
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pastoral
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a poem set in tranquil nature (ideally around shepherds)
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pathetic fallacy
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a cliched personification of nature (rain weeps)
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pentameter
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a line of verse containing five metrical feet
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periodic sentence
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a sentence that is grammatically incomplete until its final phrase (Despite Barbara’s irritation, she cut Jack’s hair.)
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persona
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the character created by the author to narrate
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personification
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inanimate objects or animals take on human shape
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Petrarchan sonnet
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14 lines/abba abba cde cde
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picaresque novel
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novel about a picara or rogue and vagabond
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prelude
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an introductory poem to a longer work of verse
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private symbol
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an author’s personal symbol that the reader understands through context
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protagonist
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the main character of a novel or play
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public voice
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a writer who is speaking for all people
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pun
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humorous use of a word in a way to suggest two or more meanings
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pure rhyme
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initial sounds of a word differ, and rest of the sound is identical (sing/wing)
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pyrrhic
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a metrical foot with two unstressed syllables
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quatrain
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four-line stanza
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quintet
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five lines of poetry with no prescribed rhyme
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realism
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nature is benign and there is optimism that man can rise above his own animal nature if he wills to
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refrain
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a line or a set of lines repeated several times in a poem
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requiem
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a song of prayer for the dead
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rhapsody
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passionate verse or section of verse, usually addressing love or praise
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rhetorical question
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a question that suggests an answer, and therefore doesn’t need to be answered
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rhetorical shift
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a change in tone or attitude; key words include “but,” “however,” “even though,” “although,” “yet”
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rhyme royal
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ababbcc: sounds are staggered (abab) in first lines, then closely linked (bcc). First used by Chaucer.
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ridicule
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words intended to belittle and generate contempt/laughter
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rising rhyme
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masculine rhyme; rhyme ending on the final stressed syllable
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romanticism
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man is good by institutions and their imposed orders are evil; nature is good; man can live in harmony with nature.
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saga
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generally long novels, often about several generations
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sarcasm
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ridicule expressed in ironic praise
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satire
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work in which human vice or folly is attacked with irony, derision, or wit
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scansion
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analysis of a poem’s rhythm and meter
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second intensity
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weak poems that could have been better
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septet
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7 lines of poetry
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sestet
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a stanza or poem of six lines, e.g., the last six lines of a sonnet
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sestina
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6 six-line stanzas ending with tercet; last words of each line in 1st stanza are repeated as last words in next stanza
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Shakespearean sonnet
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14 lines in iambic pentameter, ABAB CDCD EFEF GG
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simile
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comparison using “as” or “like”
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slant rhyme
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half rhyme (home/bone)
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soliloquy
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speech spoken by single character on stage
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sonnet
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14 rhymed lines of verse in iambic pentameter
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Spenserian sonnet
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14 lines: ABAB BCBC CDCD EE
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spondee
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a metrical foot with two stressed syllables (‘ ‘)
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stanza
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a unit within a longer poem
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stock character
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standard or cliched character types
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stream of consciousness
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reader sees inside main character’s head and is privy to all character’s conscious, random thoughts
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subjunctive
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setting up a hypothetical situation
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surrealism
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allowing the subconscious or dream-like imagery to guide the poem; leaps from image to image
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suspension of disbelief
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demand of audience to accept stage limitations and believe
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syllogism
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deductive reasoning
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synecdoche
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a type of metaphor wherein a part stands for the whole (He asked for her hand in marriage.)
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synesthesia
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a mixing of senses (a blue smell)
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tautology
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a repetition so redundant as to be frozen with obvious foolishness
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technique
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styles, devices, and diction used by the author
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tetrameter
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a poetic line with four metrical feet
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texture of poem
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the sound of the poetic words in a piece
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theme
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general idea or insight about life that the writer wishes to convey
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tone
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the attitude of the poet
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transcendentalism
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holds that basic truths can be reached through intuition; transcends reason; the divine is in nature and people
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travesty
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grotesque parody
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trochaic
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a metrical measurement of one stressed syllable and one unstressed (‘ u)
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trope
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any figurative language
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truism
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a way-too obvious truth
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understatement
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ironic minimalizing of fact
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unreliable narrator
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first person narrator is crazy, very young, or not entirely credible
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utopia
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an idealized place
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verisimilitude
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how precisely the characters/events in fiction match reality
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vernacular
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everyday spoken language of people in a particular region
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villanelle
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19 lines: 5 tercets (aba) and a quatrain (abaa)
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voice
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associated with the basic vision of a writer, her general attitude toward the world
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weak specification
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imprecise, abstract language
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wit
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words that are intellectually amusing; delight that surprises
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zeugma
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word modifies two or more words for different meanings (The dance floor was square as was his personality.)