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AP English Literature and Composition Exam Vocabulary [D-I]

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decorum
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In order to observe decorum, a character’s speech must be styled according to her social station and in accordance with the occasion. A bum should speak like a bum about bumly things. while a princess should speak only about higher topics (and in a delicate manner). In Neoclassical and Victorian literature the authors observed decorum, meaning they did not write about the indecorous. The bum wouldn’t even appear in this genre of literature.
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details, choice of details
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The items or parts that make up a larger picture of story. Writers can use details to bring their characters to life.
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devices of sound
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Various techniques used by poets to create sound imagery through specific word choice (e.g., rhyme, alliteration, assonance, consonance, and onomatopoeia) to evoke an emotional response, clarify meaning, enhance the reader’s experience, and so on.
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diction, syntax
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The author’s choice of words. Whether to use wept of cried is a question of diction. Syntax refers to the ordering and structuring of the words.
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dirge
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A song for the dead. Its tone is typically slow, heavy, and melancholy.
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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. Limericks are a kind of doggerel.
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dramatic irony
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When the audience knows something that the characters in the drama do not.
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dramatic monologue
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When a single speaker in literature says something to a silent audience.
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elegy
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A type of poem that meditates on death or morality in a serious, thoughtful manner. Elegies often use the recent death of a noted person or loved one as a starting point. They also memorialize specific dead people.
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elements
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This word is used constantly and with the assumption that you know exactly what it means – that is, the basic techniques of each genre of literature. For a quick refresher, here’s a short and sweet list of each genre: short story poetry drama nonfiction (rhetorical)
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enjambment
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The continuation of a syntactic unit from one line or couplet of a poem to the next with no pause.
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epic
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In a broad sense, an epic is simple a very long narrative poem on a serious theme and in a dignified style. Epics typically deal with glorious or profound subject matter: a great war, a heroic journey, the Fall from Eden, a battle with supernatural forces, a trip into the underworld, and so on. The mock-epic is a parody form that deals with mundane events and ironically treats them as being worthy of epic poetry.
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epitaph
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Lines that commemorate the dead at their burial place. An epitaph is usually a line or handful of lines, often serious or religious but sometimes witty and even irreverent.
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euphemism
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A word or phrase that takes the place of a harsh, unpleasant, or impolite reality.
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euphony
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When sounds blend harmoniously, the result is euphony.
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explicit
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To say or write something directly and clearly (this is a rare happening in literature because the while game is to be “implicit” – that is, to suggest and imply).
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farce
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Today we use this word to refer to extremely broad humor. Writers in earlier times used farce as a more neutral term, meaning a simply funny; a comedy. (And you should know that for writers of centuries past, comedy was the generic term for any play; it did not imply humor.)
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feminine rhyme
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Lines rhymed by their final two syllables. A pair of lines ending with running and gunning would be an example of feminine rhyme. Properly, in feminine rhyme (and not simply a double rhyme) the penultimate syllables are stressed and the final syllables are unstressed.
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figurative language
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Writing that uses words to mean something other than their literal meaning. Examples of figurative language include metaphor, simile, and irony.
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foil
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A secondary character whose purpose is to highlight the characteristics of a main character, usually by contrast. For example, an author will often give a cynical, quick-witted character a docile, naive, sweet-tempered friend to serve as a foil.
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foot
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The basic rhythmic unit of a line of poetry. A foot is formed by a combination of two or three syllables, either stressed or unstressed.
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foreshadowing
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An event or statement in a narrative that suggests, in miniature, a larger event that comes later.
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free verse
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Poetry written without a regular rhyme scheme or metrical pattern.
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genre
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A subcategory or literature. Science fiction and detective stories are genres of fiction.
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gothic, gothic novel
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Gothic is the sensibility derived from gothic novels. This form first showed up in hr middle of the eighteenth century and had a heyday of popularity for about sixty years. It hasn’t really ever gone away. The sensibility? Think mysterious gloomy castles perched high upon sheer cliffs. Weird screams from the attic each night. Diaries with a final entry that trails off the page and reads something like, “No. NO! IT COULDN’T BE!!”
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hubris
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The excessive pride or ambition that leads to the main character’s downfall (another term from Aristotle’s discussion of tragedy).
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hyperbole
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Exaggeration or deliberate overstatement.
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imagery
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An author’s use of figurative language, images, or sensory details that appeal to the reader’s senses (e.g., sight, sound, or touch). Imagery coupled with figures of speech (such as similes, metaphors, personification, and onomatopoeia) creates a vivid depiction of a scene that strikes as many of the reader’s senses as possible.
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implicit
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To say or write something that suggests and implies but never says it directly or clearly. “Meaning” is definitely present but it’s in the imagery, or “between the lines”.
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in medias res
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Latin for “in the midst of things”. One of the conventions of epic poetry is that the action begins in medias res. For example, when The Iliad begins, the Trojan war has already been going on for seven years.
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interior monologue
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A term from novels and poetry, not dramatic literature. It refers to writing that records the mental talking that goes on inside a character’s head. It is related, but not identical to stream of consciousness. Interior monologue tends to be coherent, as though the character were actually talking. Stream of consciousness is looser and much more given to fleeting mental impressions.
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inversion
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Switching the customary order of elements in a sentence or phrase. When done badly it can give a stilted, artificial, look-at-me-I’m-poetry feel to the verse, but poets do it all the time. This type of messing with syntax is called poetic license.
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irony
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One definition of irony is a statement that means the opposite of what it seems to mean, and although that isn’t a bad definition, it doesn’t get at the delicacy with which the authors on the AP Exam use irony. Simply saying the opposite of what one means is sarcasm. The hallmark of irony is an undertow of meaning, sliding against the literal meaning of the words. Jane Austen is famous for writing descriptions which seem perfectly pleasant, but to the sensitive reader have a deliciously mean snap to them. Irony insinuates.