English Literature Dictionary

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pace: Also called rhythm or tempo, is a term used to describe the flow of events in a text.

palindrone: A word, line, phrase or sentence which can be read the same backwards as forwards. The famous example of this is "Madam, I'm Adam."

pamphlet: A brief booklet, typically discussing an issue of the time and about which the writer feels strongly. In the past the benefit of a pamphlet was that it was fairly simple to generate: it was therefore particularly favoured by underground writers and revolutionaries as a mode of communication. Jonathan Swift’s A modest Proposal is a well-known example of a pamphlet.

parable: A short narrative intended to disclose allegorically some religious principle, moral lesson or general truth. Rather than using abstract discussion, a parable always teaches by comparison with real or literal occurrences. See allegory and fable.

paradox: Using contradiction in a way that oddly, and wittily, makes sense on a deeper level. See oxymoron, antithesis.

paraphrase: To restate a text or speech in one’s own words.

pararhyme: In poetry, a partial or imperfect rhyme, where the consonants rhyme but not the vowels. This is also known by the phrases "double consonance".

parataxis: The placing side by side of phrases or clauses while omitting conjunctions. A famous example of this in English is "I came, I saw, I conquered."

pardoner: In the Middle Ages, a member of the religious community with permission to sell Papal indulgences.  Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales features a Pardoner.

parados: Found in Greek drama and sung by the chorus as they enter.

parody: The utilisation of serious manner and the characteristic features of a literary work to mock those same features.

paronomasia: Is a form of word play that deliberately exploits ambiguity between similar-sounding words for humorous or rhetorical effect. See pun.

parts of speech: A traditional classifying system for words in terms of their function.  The main catagories are: Nouns, pronouns, Verbs, Adjectives, Adverbs, Articles, Prepositions, Conjunctions.

pastiche: A tribute, a form of entertainment, or a parody, a pastiche is a patchwork of bits and pieces in imitation of the work of a writer.

pastoral: Traditionally this term means 'to do with shepherds', thus it gestures towards any work which draws a pleasing, idealised rural life in the countryside.

pastoral elegy: A type of elegy, defined by an intricate set of conventions where nature is employed in mourning and immortalizing a dead person. The pastoral elegy was used by classical writers, such as Milton in Lycidas.

pathetic: 'Poignant', ‘emotive’ or 'worthy of pathos'  is the proper literary meaning of ‘pathetic’.

pathetic fallacy: A device used mainly during the19th century, where human qualities or emotions were described through the weather or nature.

pathos: The effort to inspire an emotional response in an audience, typically a deep feeling of anguish, but sometimes pleasure, pride, or anger.

patron: See patronage.

patronage: The dated practice of giving financial or political support to an artist or writer.

peer-reviewed journal: A journal which contains articles of a scholarly nature.  The articles have been reviewed by others who are experts in their field.  This therefore creates a higher degree of reliability for the articles in such a publication.

pejoration: A process of language change where, over time, the meaning of a word changes to take on a more negative meaning than the original meaning.

pen name: A pseudonym or nom de plume used by a writer in order to give the author a different identity.

penny dreadful: A cheap novel, usually with a sensational plot. These were popular during Victorian times.

pentameter: When a poem has five feet in each line, it is said to be written in pentameter. Each foot has a set number of syllables. Iambs, spondees, and trochees consist of two syllables. Thus, iambic pentameter, spondaic pentameter, and trochaic pentameter lines would have a total of ten syllables. Anapests and dactyls are feet consisting of three syllables.

pentateuch: This refers to the first five books of the Old Testament.

penance: A form of punishment whereby one who has confessed his sins to a priest can obtain absolution.

performance: A play, a musical show or any type of production undertaken for an audience.

period: A term that categorises the time in which literature, or any art, was produced. A period could be a span of time, such Renaissance period, it could refer to the reign of a monarch, for example the Elizabethan Period, or it could be a movement, for instance the Romantic Period.

periodical: A regularly published, for example weekly or monthly, magazine or journal.

peripetea: An unexpected reversal in fortune or a sudden change commonly used when describing the situation of a tragic hero.

persona: Either a narrator, or an external portrayal of oneself which might or might not accurately reveal one's self.

personification: A literary device where abstractions, animals, ideas, and inanimate objects are given human character traits, abilities, or reactions. Personification is common in poetry, but also appears in other writing.

petrarchan sonnet: A  sonnet consisting of an octave with the rhyme pattern abbaabba, followed by a sestet with the rhyme pattern cdecde or cdcdcd. See sonnet.

phallic: A phallic symbol, or phallus, is a sexualized representation of male potency, power, or domination - particularly through some object vaguely reminiscent of the penis. Customary phallic symbols include sticks, staves, swords, clubs, towers, trees, missiles, and rockets.

phallocentric: See androcentric

phatic communication: Speech used in social discourse or chit-chat, in order to harmonize relations with others.

phoneme: A linguistic term used to describe a unit in speech which carries meaning.

phonetics: A study of the production of speech sounds.

phonetic transcription: A method by which sounds are recorded or written down in order to represent their distinctiveness.

phonology: A study of language which considers the distribution of speech patterns and their rules.

phrase: In grammar, a phrase is a group of words functioning as a single unit in the syntax of a sentence.

picaresque: A narrative which recounts the escapades of a rogue, whose character does not develop throughout the plot, but who is nevertheless likeable.

picturesque: A preoccupation in 18th century literature where many poets, such as Addison and Pope, sought out the beauty in nature to incorporate it in their writing. Picturesque is related to romanticism, however some critics imply that the picturesque – because of the absence of a deeper engagement with nature - is a superficial sibling of romanticism.

Pidgin: A type of language, developed by the simplification of two or more languages. Pidgins are created to enable communication between groups who do not share a language. A pidgin language therefore usually exists as a means of interaction between people, and is made up of words, gestures and signs from each language. Pidgin languages are generally held in low regard next to other languages.

pilgrimage: When an individual travels without material comforts to a distant holy place, in an act of spiritual devotion or penance.

plagiarism: Accidental or intentional intellectual theft in which someone appropriates an original idea, phrase, or section of writing from another person’s work and presents this matter as his or her own work, without indicating proper citation.

Plath, Sylvia: (1932-1963) An American poet and writer. She is the author of The Bell Jar. She was married to Ted Hughes and committed suicide.

play: A specific piece of drama, usually performed on a stage by actors who often wear makeup or costumes to help them resemble the character they represent.

play within a play: This is a narrative technique where there is the principal story of the play, within which there is another fictive play, generally performed by the characters of the principal play. See story within a story and frame narrative.

playwright: Someone who writes or has written plays. See dramatist.

pleonasm: Redundancy or superfluous words.

plosive: A consonant sound associated with a burst or release of air (such as /b/ or /t/)

plot: The writer's structure and the relationship of actions, characters and events in a fictional work. The organization of the narrative.

poem: Any composition that could be said to be poetry or verse.

poet: Someone who writes poetry. Sometimes a poet uses poetry as a means of expressing personal interactions, emotion, and/or a way to address political, humanitarian issues.  

poetic: Related to a poetry; Characteristic of poets; description of persons, objects, or ideas that connect to the soul of the beholder

poetic techniques: Devices used in poems to create effect, such as metaphors, enjambment and alliteration.

poetry: A literary genre characterized by rhythmical patterns of language and figurative language. Poetry is also created with a sense of the musicality, and is not just written for meaning.

poesie: An outdated term that refers to poetry, or specifically the activity of producing poetry.

poet laureate: In Britain this is a honorary post bestowed in acknowledgment of a poet's accomplishments. Tennyson ( 1850- 92) and Ted Hughes (1984-99) are examples of former poet laureates.

point of view: The method a story is told and who tells it. See narrator.

post-colonial criticism: The post-colonialism attempts to restore the literatures and experiences of former colonies to their cultural context. This involves reassessing them by unraveling the literature from the supposition of the previously dominant imperial European. Post-colonialism is a discourse that has appeared alongside other criticisms such as structuralism, post-structuralism, post-modernism and feminism.

post-colonial literature: This term refers to writings in the colonial language (e.g English, French etc) that derive from former colonies of Empires. These texts are sometimes written by natives of that colony after colonial times. Such literature often reveals and comments on, explicitly or implicitly, the cultural, political and social impact of colonisation. Examples of post-colonial writers include Achebe and Coetzee.

post-modernism: A general name which refers to the philosophical, artistic, and literary changes and tendencies after the 1940s and 1950s up to the present day. Primarily, the tendencies of post-modernism include a rejection of traditional authority and a doubt over established discourses. Post-modernist authors include Carter and Rushdie.

post-structuralism: This discourse relates to post-modernism, and to some extent rejects the theories of structuralism. The discourse suggests that every word a writer writes is influenced by their personal historical, political and social culture, meaning that little can be assessed independently. Deconstruction is highly significant to post-structuralism.

pot-boiler: A disparaging expression for a text or work produced purely to make money.

preach: 1) to deliver a sermon or 2) to speak, plead, or argue in favour of something.

preface: An introduction to a literary work, written either by the author(s) or by someone else, perhaps a literary critic.

prefix: An affix or addition to the beginning of a word.

prequel: A literary or dramatic work that is set before an existing work which it is linked to.

prolepsis: A figure of speech where an event in the future is referred to and anticipated. See flashback and in media res.

proletarian novel: A novel concerned with working-class life.

prologue: In Greek tragedy, the prologue was a set of introductory speeches, now the prologue is a section of any introductory material before the first chapter of any literary work.

pronoun: A linguistic term for a word which substitutes for a noun such as "you", "she", "it".

pronunciation:The manner in which someone utters a word.

propaganda: Propaganda refers to information, rumours, ideas, and artwork spread intentionally to help or harm another group, belief, institution, or government. The term's connotations are generally negative.

props: Objects, furniture and similar items used on stage within a play to create the setting.

prose: Any work that is not written in a regular meter like poetry. Many genres such as short stories, novels, letters and essays are normally written in prose.

prosody: The patterns of stress and intonation in a language.

protagonist: The main character in a narrative or poetry. See antagonist.

proverb: A brief, succinct, saying that sums up an extensively accepted truth, for instance ‘too many cooks spoil the broth '. See maxim.

pseudonym: An alternate authorial name, used for published work.

publish: Publishing is the process of production and dissemination of literature or information.

publication: The act of publishing a text. This usually involves printing up and offering the text for public consumption.

Pulitzer prize: A prestigious award for writing and journalism administered by Columbia University.

pulp fiction: Poor quality or sensational writing, originally printed on low-grade paper.

pun: A play on two words, which are similar in sound but different in meaning. Also called paronomasia.

punctuation: A collection of symbols used to break, group, divide or clarify a sentence. For example, full stops or commas.

purgation: To purify or purge.

purgatory: A belief in a place where the souls of those dying in a state of sin may remain while being purged of sin. Now often used to signify a state of suffering.

purple prose: Writing which contains ornate or sentimental language.

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Whether or not you write well, write bravely”
Bill Stout

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