wear Literary Terms and Definitions: S
This page is under perpetual construction! It was last updated January 5, 2017.
This list is meant to assist, not intimidate. Use it as a touchstone for important concepts and vocabulary that we will cover during the term. Vocabulary terms are listed alphabetically.
[A] [B] [C] [D] [E] [F] [G] [H] [I] [J] [K] [L] [M]
[N] [O] [P] [Q] [R] [S] [T] [U] [V] [W] [X] [Y] [Z]
SAGA: The word comes from the Old Norse term for a "saw" or a "saying." Sagas are Scandinavian and Icelandic prose narratives about famous historical heroes, notable families, or the exploits of kings and warriors. Until the 12th century, most sagas were folklore, and they passed from person to person by oral transmission. Thereafter, scribes wrote them down. The Icelandic sagas take place when Iceland was first settled by Vikings (930-1030 AD). Examples include Grettir's Saga, Njál's Saga, Egil's Saga, and the Saga of Eric the Red. The saga is marked by literary and social conventions including warriors who stop in the midst of combat to recite extemporaneous poetry, individuals wearing dark blue cloaks when they are about to kill someone, elaborate genealogies and "back-story" before the main plot, casual violence, and recitations of the names and features of magical swords and weapons. Later sagas show signs of being influenced by continental literature--particularly French tales of chivalry and knighthood. For modern readers, the appearance of these traits often seems to sit uneasily with the surrounding material. In common usage, the term saga has been erroneously applied to any exciting, long narrative. See cycle and epic.
SAINT: See discussion under vita.
SAINT'S LIFE: Another term for the medieval genre called a vita. See discussion under vita.
SALIC LAW: French law stating that the right of a king's son to inherit the French throne passes only patrilineally rather than matrilineally. In England, however, the English Queen Consort (a queen married to a ruling husband) can become the Queen Regnant (a queen ruling in her own right) if her husband dies and there are no other male relatives in line to inherit the throne. Likewise, in French Salic Law, if the queen remarries after the king dies, any children she has from the new husband cannot claim the throne. Likewise, if a male king dies without heirs, only his brothers and their male offspring can claim the throne. This right does not pass to male children of the queen that she might have later. However, under English law, a male descended from the English Queen can ascend to the throne. The differences between Salic and English Law regarding inheritance play a key part in Shakespeare's Henry V, in which King Henry must determine whether he can justly claim the throne of France.
SAMOYEDIC: A non-Indo-European branch of Uralic languages spoken in northern Siberia.
SAPPHIC METER:Typically, this meter is found in quatrains in which the first three lines consist of eleven syllables and the fourth line contains five. The metrical pattern is as follows in the first three lines: (foot #1) / u (foot #2) / x (foot #3) / u u (foot #4) / u (and foot #5) / x. The "x" in each case indicates a syllaba anceps--a syllable that may be either heavily or lightly stressed. In the last line, the pattern is (foot #1) / u u and (foot #2) / /.
The pattern is notoriously difficult in English, but more common in Greek. The term Sapphic comes from the name of the female Greek poet Sappho.
SAPPHIC ODE: Virtually identical with a Horatian ode, a Sapphic ode consists of quatrains in which the first three lines consist of eleven syllables and the fourth line contains five. The metrical pattern is described under Sapphic meter.
SAPPHICS: Verses written in Sapphic meter.
SAPPHIC VERSE: Verse written in Sapphic meter.
SARCASM: Another term for verbal irony--the act of ostensibly saying one thing but meaning another. See further discussion under irony.
SATEM LANGUAGE (from Satem, Avestan for "one hundred"): Pronounced, "SHAH-tem," the term refers to one of the two main branches of Indo-European languages. These languages are generally associated with Middle-Eastern and eastern European Indo-European languages and they often have an unvoiced alveopalal sound rather than the palatal /k/ found in equivalent centum words. Click here for more information.
SATIRE: An attack on or criticism of any stupidity or vice in the form of scathing humor, or a critique of what the author sees as dangerous religious, political, moral, or social standards. Satire became an especially popular technique used during the Enlightenment, in which it was believed that an artist could correct folly by using art as a mirror to reflect society. When people viewed the satire and saw their faults magnified in a distorted reflection, they could see how ridiculous their behavior was and then correct that tendency in themselves. The tradition of satire continues today. Popular cartoons such as The Simpsons and televised comedies like The Daily Show make use of it in modern media. Conventionally, formal satire involves a direct, first-person-address, either to the audience or to a listener mentioned within the work. An example of formal satire is Alexander Pope's Moral Essays. Indirect satire conventionally employs the form of a fictional narrative--such as Byron's Don Juan or Swift's Gulliver's Travels. Ridicule, irony, exaggeration, and similar tools are almost always used in satire. Horatian satire tends to focus lightly on laughter and ridicule, but it maintains a playful tone. Generally, the tone is sympathetic and good humored, somewhat tolerant of imperfection and folly even while expressing amusement at it. The name comes from the Roman poet Horace (65 BCE-8 CE), who preferred to ridicule human folly in general rather than condemn specific persons. In contrast, Juvenalian satire also uses withering invective, insults, and a slashing attack. The name comes from the Roman poet Juvenal (60-140 CE), who frequently employed the device, but the label is applied to British writers such as Swift and Pope as well. Compare with medieval estates satire and spoof.
SATIRIC COMEDY: Any drama or comic poem involving humor as a means of satire.
SATYR PLAY: A burlesque play submitted by Athenian playwrights along with their tragic trilogies. On each day of the Dionysia, one tragedy was performed, followed by one satyr play. The term should not be confused with satire.
SCANSION: The act of "scanning" a poem to determine its meter. To perform scansion, the student breaks down each line into individual metrical feet and determines which syllables have heavy stress and which have lighter stress. According to the early conventions of English poetry, each foot should have at least one stressed syllable, though feet with all unstressed syllables are found occasionally in Greek and other poetic traditions.
SCATOLOGY: Not to be confused with eschatology, scatology refers to so-called "potty-humor"--jokes or stories dealing with feces designed to elicit either laughter or disgust. Anthropologists have noted that scatological humor occurs in nearly every human culture. In some cultures and time periods, scatology is treated as vulgar or low-brow (for instance, the Victorian period in England). At other times, scatological elements appear in stories that are not necessarily meant to be low-brow. For instance, many serious medieval legends of demons link them to excrement, and the audience of French fabliaux appear to be noblemen and aristocrats rather than bourgeois rabble. Scatology also appears in medieval plays such as Mankind and in works associated various French fabliaux (singular fabliau). Chaucer relies heavily on scatological humor in "The Summoner's Tale." See fabliau.
SCHEMA ATTICUM: This popular grammatical construction appears in ancient Attic Greek (and it is later mimicked in New Testament Greek). It is a specific type of enallage in which a neuter plural subject takes a singular verb (Smith 9). Normally, this construction would be considered a grammatical error in Greek, but if poets, playwrights, or prophets do it intentionally, it becomes high art. The device leads to some interesting translation decisions in modern English editions of the Bible or Greek literature. Should the translator "normalize" the grammar so it doesn't look odd to English students? Or should the translator bravely insert his own English grammatical "error" to match the intentional "error" in the original Greek text? See schema pindarikon, below.
SCHEMA PINDARIKON: This popular grammatical construction appears in the ancient Attic Greek of Pindar and later in New Testament Greek. It is a general type of enallage in which any compound subject takes a singular verb (Smith 9). Normally, that would be considered a grammatical error, but if the poet Pindar does it, it is high art. This general term contrasts with the more specific schema atticum, above.
SCENE: A dramatic sequence taking place within a single locale (or setting) on stage. Often scenes serve as the subdivision of an act within a play. Note that when we use the word scene generically or in the text of a paper (for example, "there are three scenes in the play"), we do not capitalize the word. See The MLA Handbook, 7th edition, section 3.6.5 and 6.4.8 for further information involving citations of scenes in English papers.
SCEOP (A-S, "shaper," also spelled scop): An Anglo-Saxon singer or musician who would perform in a mead hall. Cf. bard.
SCENERY: The visual environment created onstage using a backdrop and props. The purpose of scenery is either to suggest vaguely a specific setting or produce the illusion of actually watching events in that specific setting.
SCHISM: A schism is a split or division in the church concerning religious belief or organizational structure--one in which a single church splits into two or more separate denominations--often hostile to each other. Click here for more information.
SCHOLASTICISM: In medieval universities, scholasticism was the philosophy in which all branches of educaton were developed and ordered by theological principles or schemata.
SCHOOL: While common parlance uses the word school to refer what to wear my first day of college to a specific institute of learning, literary scholars use this term to refer to groups of writers or poets who share similar styles, literary techniques, or social concerns regardless of their educational backgrounds. In some rare cases, the group's members recognize that they share these concerns while they are alive, and they purposely name themselves or their movement to reflect their characteristics. For instance, the American Beat poets, the French Imagists, and the English Pre-Raphaelites recognized and named themselves as being part of their respective movements. It is far more common, however, for later generations of scholars and critics to look back and lump groups of artists or thinkers into specific schools. For instance, the Romantic poets, the Spenserians, the Pushkin Pleiad, the Cavalier poets, the Metaphysical poets, and the Gothic novelists are specific schools of literature, but these labels did not appear for the particular groups until years after the writers lived. Art historians make similar distinctions about the Bauhaus school, the Expressionist movement, the Fauves, the Cubists, and so on. Shared intellectual or philosophical tendencies mark schools of philosophy as well--such as the Epicureans, the Stoics, the Skeptics, the Sophists, the Platonists, and the Neo-platonists--and these terms are often applied in a general way to writers who existed in later centuries. Accordingly, we might speak of both Marcus Aurelius and Hemingway as part of the Stoic school, even though the two lived two thousand years apart from each other on different continents, and one was a meditative Roman Emperor who outlawed gladiatorial combat and the other an American ambulance driver obsessed with machisimo and bull-fighting. Keep in mind, divisions into such artificial schools of thought are often arbitrary, contradictory, and murky. They work best at pointing out general similarities rather than creating sharp, clear categorical labels.
SCHWA: The mid-central vowel or the phonetic symbol for it. This phonetic symbol is typically an upside down e. The schwa vowel appears in words like putt and sofa and duh. The same sound appears blended with an /r/ in words like pert, shirt, and motor. See also intrusive schwa.
SCIAPOD: In Greco-Roman and medieval legends, sciapods or monopods were one-legged humanoids that lived in exotic locations like Africa or the Orient. C.S. Lewis's Dufflers in Voyage of The Dawn Treader are a re-creation of them, but this time they are invisible transformed dwarves.
SCIENCE FICTION (originally "scientifiction," a neologism coined by editor Hugo Gernsback in his pulp magazine Amazing Stories): Literature in which speculative technology, time travel, alien races, intelligent robots, gene-engineering, space travel, experimental medicine, psionic abilities, dimensional portals, or altered scientific principles contribute to the plot or background. Many purists make a distinction between "hard" science fiction (in which the story attempts to follow accepted scientific realism and extrapolates the outcomes or consequences of scientific discovery in a hard-headed manner) and "soft" science fiction (which often involves looser adherence to scientific knowledge and more fantasy-elements). The basic premise is usually built on a "what if" scenario--i.e., the story explores what might occur if a certain technology or event occurred. Examples include Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey, Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, Isaac Asimov's Foundation, Octavia Butler's Dawn, H. G. Wells' The Invisible Man, Ursula LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness, Lois McMaster Bujold's Ethan of Athos, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles, Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, and William Gibson's Neuromancer. See also space opera, speculative fiction, and Cthulhu mythos.
SCOP (pronounced like "shop"): An alternative spelling of sceop. See sceop.
SCRIBAL CORRUPTION: A general term referring to errors in a text made by later scribes rather than the original authors. In many cases, these mistakes are obviously the result of human error while copying, such as accidentally repeating or leaving out a word or line(s) from the original manuscript. "Eye skips," for instance, are errors that result when a scribe's eye drops from the original word or line he was copying to a different word or line that begins with the same letter or word, causing him to leave out the intermediary material. Other scribal errors come about when a scribe attempts to "correct" or "simplify" a text he doesn't understand well. One of the more amusing examples of scribal corruption comes from the Anglo-Saxon monks of medieval Britain. There, a monk was copying a text that referred to heaven as the "Isle of Joy." The word joy in Anglo-Saxon was gliw. (It's the word that gives us the modern word glee.) Unfortunately, an Anglo-Saxon monk misread the final letter. This final letter was wynn--an Anglo-Saxon letter that looks sort of like the modern letter p, but which represents a /w/ sound. You can see samples of the letters by clicking here. The scribe mistakenly thought he was viewing the letter thorn, which represents a -th sound. Thus, he miswrote the word as Glith in an Anglo-Saxon educational poem called "Adrian and Ritheus." The error had its consequences. Hundreds of this scribe's newly Christianized and newly literate students therefore diligently learned that heaven was located on "The Isle of Glith." This no doubt caused some confusion initially among the early Christian converts. The problem of scribal corruption was still prevalent five hundred years later in Chaucer's day. Chaucer complains about the "negligence and rape" done to his poetry at the hands of his own scribe, Adam, in his short poem, "Chaucer's Wordes Unto Adam, His Owne Scrivyen."
SCRIBAL -E: When a scribe adds an unpronounced -e to words for reasons of manuscript spacing, this is called a scribal -e. This practice was common in the days before English orthography became standardized. Note that this practice should not be confused with the Middle English final -e, which often is pronounced as an unstressed syllable at the end of words in Chaucer and writings of the fourteenth century. The opposite term is an organic -e, in which the final -e might be silent today, but at one point historically was pronounced and usually descends grammatically from a now defunct declension.
SCRIBE: A literate individual who reproduces the works of other authors by copying them from older texts or from a dictating author. In many parts of the ancient world, such as Classical Rome and Classical Greece, a large number of scribes were slaves who belonged to wealthy government officials and to poets or authors. In other cultures such as Egypt or Tibet, scribes have been seen as priestly or semi-magical individuals. In the medieval period, many monks were given the task of copying classics from the earlier period along with Bibles and patristic writings. Their efforts preserved much of Greco-Roman philosophy and history that might otherwise have been lost. See also auctor, scrivener and scriptorium.
SCRIM: In drama, a flimsy curtain that becomes transparent when backlit, permitting action to take place under varying lighting.
SCRIPTA CONTINUA: In classical and medieval manuscripts, continuous handwriting that leaves no space between words. For instance, a modern writer would type or write "this is a sample sentence," but in scripta continua, "thisisasamplesentence" or "THISISASAMPLESENTENCE" would be the normal version, creating huge blocks of unbroken text. Scripta continua is particularly common in older manuscripts before the seventh-century A.D. The use of space between words to keep them separate did not become widespread until Irish monks popularized the practice.
SCRIPTORIUM: An area set aside in a monastery for monks to work as scribes and copy books.
SCRIVENER: Another term for a scribe. The term scrivener became especially common during the 1700s and 1800s for legal copyists, as evidenced in works such as Melville's "Bartleby the Scrivener." See scribe above.
SECONDARY SOURCE: Literary scholars distinguish between primary sources, secondary sources, and educational resources. Students should also. To understand the difference, click here.
SECONDARY STRESS: A stress less prominent than the primary stress--often indicated by a grave accent mark. See chart of common diacritical markings for more information.
SECOND LANGUAGE: In addition to a first language (i.e., a native language), a second language is any language used frequently for communication, trade, diplomacy, scholarship, or other important purposes.
SECOND-PERSON POINT OF VIEW: See discussion under point of view.
SECOND SOUND SHIFT: Another term for the High German Shift.
SELF-REFLEXIVITY: Writing has self-reflexivity if it somehow refers to itself. (Critics also call this being self-referential.) For instance, the following sentence has self-reflexive traits:
This is not a sentence.
Here, the demonstrative pronoun this refers to the larger sentence that contains it--the sentence's subject-matter is its own structure as a sentence. Postmodern writing has become especially fond of this artistic technique, employing metafiction and metapoetry. Self-reflexivity calls attention to its own artifice, violates verisimilitude, or breaks the boundaries between sign, signifier and signified. See metaliterature.
SEHNSUCHT: Duriez discusses the idea in two senses. (1) In medieval German literature and Scandinavian ballads, an inconsolable longing brought about by natural or artistic beauty--especially for something unobtainable. In continental medieval literature, this is often embodied by the symbol of a blue flower. (2) A yearning or longing that leads on to joy, which C.S. Lewis argued was an important feature of fantasy literature, creating places, creatures otherworlds, wonderlands that serve as "regions of spirit" that ironically help us to better connect with the real world of nature (Duriez 102) C.S. Lewis felt that fantasy literature centered around sehnsucht.
SEMANTIC BLEACHING: The process by which a word loses all its original meaning--a phenomenon quite common in toponyms and personal names. For instance, few English speakers think of "Red People" when they hear the toponym Oklahoma, even though this is what Oklahoma means in the original Choctaw; the loanword has undergone semantic bleaching.
SEMANTIC CHANGE: A change in what a word or phrase means.
SEMANTIC CONTAMINATION: Change of meaning that occurs when two words sound alike. Because the words are so similar, often the meaning of one becomes attached to the other. This is especially likely with foreign loan words. For example, the Old English word dream originally meant "joy." However, the Scandinavian loan word draumr meant "vision while asleep." Through semantic contamination via the Viking invasions, the English word dream gained its current meaning, as Algeo points out (277).
SEMANTIC MARKING: When the meaning of a word is limited semantically, that word is said to possess a semantic marking. See marked word and unmarked word.
SEMANTICS: The study of actual meaning in languages--especially the meanings of individual words and word combinations in phrases and sentences--as opposed to other linguistic aspects like grammar, morphology, etymology, and syntax.
SEMIOLOGY: Another term for semiotics.
SEMIOTICS: The study of both verbal and nonverbal signs. In Charles Sanders Peirce's thinking, a sign may fall into several possible categories:
iconic signs bear some natural resemblance to what they signify. For instance, a map of Tennessee is an iconic representation of a "real world" geography.
indexical signs show some causal connection with what they signify. For instance, a stylized image of smoke as a sign indicating "fire" would be an indexical sign.
symbolic signs have an arbitrary or conventional relationship with what they signify. Note that in linguistics, almost all verbal sounds and written letters fall in the category of symbolic signs. Using the sounds /c/ and /a/ and /t/ to represent a furred quadroped that hunts mice, or the graphemes <c>, <a>, and <t> as a visual representation of those sounds, is purely arbitrary.
SEMITIC: A non-Indo-European family of languages including Arabic and Hebrew.
SEMIVOWEL: A sound articulated in the same way as a vowel sound, but which functions like a consonant typically. Examples include [w] and [y]. In some languages such as Welsh, these can function as graphemes for pure vowels.
SENECAN TRAGEDY: A tragedy following the conventions of the Roman writer Lucius Anneaus Seneca Minor (Seneca the Younger), a first-century CE stoic philosopher and philosopher who dabbled as a playwright and wrote ten surviving tragedies. Humanist scholars in the Renaissance rediscovered his lost works, and they became influential in Elizabethan and Neoclassical drama. Senecan tragedies tend to focus on gruesome, bloodthirsty revenge. They are unusual in that the violence takes place on stage before the audience, as opposed to the classical Greek tradition, in which murders and suicides typically took place off-stage while the on-stage characters reacted to the news or to what they hear nearby. Examples of Renaissance tragedies influenced by the Senecan mode include Shakespeare's Hamlet, Thomas Kydd's The Spanish Tragedy and John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi.
SENEX AMANS (from Latin "ancient lover"; also spelled senex amanz in Old French): A stock character in medieval fabliaux, courtly romances, and classical comedies, the senex amans is an old, ugly, jealous man who is married to a younger, attractive but unhappy woman (the latter known as the mal mariée in French scholarship). The senex is often a poor lover (or even impotent) with bad breath, wrinkled skin, and grey hair. He is frequently cuckolded by a younger, handsome, virile man who secretly seduces his wife. We find examples of the senex amans in Chaucer's "Miller's Tale" and "The Merchant's Tale," and in various other fabliaux. Likewise, the motif also appears in the medieval French lais such as Marie de France's "Guigemar" and "Laustic" and similar works such as Tristan and Iseult. The motif of the senex amans often becomes useful for fast characterization, since it often can quickly cast a predatory light on an elderly male antagonist. An example of such use would be the old king of Ghana pursuing the young Imoinda in Aphra Behn's Oronooko, or any of the aging aristocrats sadistically pursuing young virtuous peasant girls in gothic novels.
SENRYU: The senryu is a satirical form of the haiku. The form originates in Edo with the poet Karai Senryu (1718-1790). While the haiku attempt to avoid excessive "cleverness," vulgarity, humor, or explicit moralizing on the poet's part, the senryu embraces these elements. The genre allows a greater liberty of diction. Its tone is less lofty than the Zen-like tone found in many haiku, and it often focuses on the distortions and failings of human nature rather than the beauty of nature. Conventional topics include mothers-in-law, shrewish wives, women of disrepute, the antics of bachelors, and misbehavior among the clergy. Here is an example of a senryu:
When she wails
At the top of her voice,
The husband gives in.
As Joan Giroux suggests in The Haiku Form, the humor and implicit lesson in such senryu are very appealing to European and American writers. It is a genre much more accessible to the Western poet, accustomed as we are to logic rather than Zen. She writes:
Would-be writers of English haiku are often dismayed to have their Japanese friends remark, "Your poem is more like senryu. It is too philosophical." It is not surprising, therefore, that senryu appeals strongly to Western readers. The Western tradition of logic rather than intuition makes senryu in some respects easier [for Western poets] to write than haiku. (22-23)
Contrast senryu with haiku. See also kigo, tanka, haikai, and hokku.
SENSIBILITY, LITERATURE OF: Eighteenth-century literature that values emotionalism over rationalism. This literature tends to perceive feelings as more reliable guides to morality and truth than abstract principles, and thus it tends to view human beings as essentially benevolent--a sharp contrast with the idea of Original Sin and total depravity in Calvinist writings.
SENTIMENTAL NOVEL: An eighteenth-century or early nineteenth-century novel emphasizing pathos rather than reason and focusing on an optimistic view of the essential goodness of human nature. Examples include Laurence Sterne's A Sentimental Journey, Oliver Goldsmith's The Vicar of Wakefield, and Henry Mackenzie's The Man of Feeling.
SEPTENARY: Another term for heptameter--a line consisting of seven metrical feet.
SEPTUAGINT (Latin, septuaginta, "seventy"): A Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) produced in the third century BCE. According to an apocryphal legend found in the "Letter of Aristeas," seventy-two Jewish scribes were asked to translate the Torah into Greek for inclusion in the Ptolemaic library. The legend states that they all finished at exactly the same time (seventy-two days) and produced exactly identical translations with no transcription errors or corrections. Although most Biblical scholars dismiss this legend today as implausible and see the story as originating much later than the actual translation, the Septuagint provides an important manuscript comparison with the Masoretic texts. The Septuagint is still used in the Eastern Orthodox Church as the basis of its liturgy. In medieval writing, the Septuagint is often referred to only as the Roman numerals LXX (i.e., "seventy").
SEQUEL (from Latin sequi, to follow): A literary work complete in itself, but continuing the narrative of an earlier work. It is a new story that extends or develops characters and situations found in an earlier work. Two sequels following an original work (together) are called a trilogy. Three sequels following an original work together are called a tetralogy.Often sequels have a reputation for inferior artistry compared to the original publication since they are often hastily written from the desire to capitalize on earlier financial success. Examples include Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer Abroad, which is a sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and Alexandra Ripley's Scarlett, which is a sequel to Mitchell's Gone With the Wind. In the late twentieth century, it became common retroactively to write "prequels," a later book with the same geographic setting or characters, but which takes place in an earlier time.
SERF: A medieval peasant tied to a specific plot of land in the feudal system of government. He was allowed to work this land in exchange for services to his lord. In the early medieval period, probably 90% of the European population was a part of this group of agricultural laborers. In the late medieval period, increasing numbers of these peasants became freemen who owned their own land or worked as craftsmen in city guilds. See discussion under feudalism.
SERIALIZATION: Publication of a longer work piecemeal over a series of weeks or months (or years), often in periodicals like newspapers or magazines. Publishers might find specific works suitable for serial publication for a number of economic or practical reasons, ranging from maximizing sales profits (by charging more per unit than they could feasibly charge for the collective work--spreading out the purchase cost for the reader over time), minimizing risk (so publishers can terminate the literary project with only one or two short publications rather than the expense of publishing one massive tome if it proves unpopular), or simply allowing the author of unfinished works a chance to test the waters before completing the work. Examples of serialized works include Lewis' The Great Divorce, The Screwtape Letters, and Stephen King's The Green Mile.
SERIES: A number of novels related to each other by plot, setting, character, or some combination of these traits. Examples include The Leatherstocking Tales of James Fenimore Cooper, C. S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia, J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter books, and cheap pulp fiction collections like The Executioner or the Longarm westerns are all examples of series. Contrast with prequel, sequel, trilogy and tetralogy.
SERMON: See discussion under homily.
SERMON JOLI: Another term for a sermon joyeau. See discussion under mock sermon.
SERMON JOYEU (plural, sermon joyeux, also called sermon joli): See discussion under mock sermon.
SESTET: (1) The last part of an Italian or Petrarchan sonnet, it consists of six lines that rhyme with a varying pattern. Common rhyme patterns include CDECDE or CDCCDC. See sonnet, below. (2) Any six-line stanza or a six-line unit of poetry.
SEVEN DEADLY SINS: Wrath, Envy, Lust, Gluttony, Avarice, Pride, and Sloth were commonly considered the primary temptations afflicting humanity in medieval sermons and iconography, with Pride being the worst. These seven often functioned as allegorical characters in medieval morality plays, but they also appear in many Renaissance plays such as Marlowe's Faustus. Some models of the sins saw them as contrasts to the seven holy virtues (i.e., the four cardinal or pagan virtues and the three spiritual virtues). Click here for more detailed discussion.
SETS: The physical objects and props necessary as scenery in a play (if they are left on-stage rather than in a character's possession).
SETSUWA TALE: A Japanese tale dating to the10th-14th centuries, typically sharing a grotesque mode of representation, especially a tendency to depict the body and bodily functions in bizarre or fantastic ways.
SETTING: The general locale, historical time, and social circumstances in which the action of a fictional or dramatic work occurs; the setting of an episode or scene within a work is the particular physical location in which it takes place. For example, the general setting of Joyce's "The Dead," is a quay named Usher's Island, west of central Dublin in the early 1900s, and the initial setting is the second floor apartment of the Misses Morkan. Setting can be a central or peripheral factor in the meaning of a work. The setting is usually established through description--but sometimes narration or dialogue also reveals the location and time.
SHAKESPEAREAN SONNET: See discussion under sonnet.
SHAMANISM: A religious practice first identified by anthropologists studying hunter-gatherer tribes in Siberia, Alaska, and northern Canada in which a shaman would serve as a mediator between his tribal community and the spirit world. The shaman would bridge this gap through spiritual exercises (such as chanting to induce trances) or through symbolic journeys (like descending into a cave or climbing a mountain) or through magical transformations (such as donning an elk skin or a mask to become one with the Spirit of All Elk). In these shamanistic religions, the shaman was thought either to project his soul magically out of his body to reach the spirit world or else to physically enter it through his journey. Once in the spirit world, he would communicate with the spirits to ensure a good hunt or good weather, to seek spiritual advice, or to ask for assistance with curing a disease. The spirits were typically animistic or totemic in nature rather than anthropomorphic.
In its strictest original sense, shamanism applies only to the practices of a half-dozen or so tribes in the far north around the Arctic Circle, but some scholars in comparative religion have popularized the term and applied it to similar beliefs among South American, African, Australian, and Polynesian ethnic groups. Some go so far as to argue that hunter-gatherer societies naturally tend to form shamanistic religions, or that shamanism is humanity's "original" or "default" religious belief before the rise of agriculture caused vegetationsdämons to complicate the pantheon. In classical mythology and sacrificial rites, many features of individual myths appear to originate in shamanistic hunting rituals, as scholars like Walter Burkert have argued.
SHAPED POETRY: See concrete poetry.
SHARERS: In the Renaissance, these were senior actors holding business shares in the stock of a theatrical company. In such a joint-stock arrangement, the shareholders would pool their funds to buy supplies, make costumes and props, hire works, and write new plays. They would share profits (and losses!) equally. Greenblatt notes that, "Shakespeare was not only a longtime 'sharer' of the Lord Chamberlain's Men but, from 1599, a 'housekeeper,' the holder of a one-eighth share in the Globe playhouse" (1141).
SHIBBOLETH: Among linguists, the term refers to any language use that distinguishes between one "in"-group and another "out"-group. The term comes from the biblical account of how Israelites would ask suspicious foreigners to say the word "shibboleth"; if the speaker pronounced it "sibboleth," marking the talker as an enemy, he or she would be seized and killed. The term often appears in the phrase, "to speak the shibboleth."
SHIFTING: A general term in linguistics for any slight alteration in a word's meaning, or the creation of an entirely new word by changing the use of an expression.
SHIH POETRY: Shih is Chinese for "songs." There is no general word for "poetry" specifically in Chinese, but there are exact words for different genres of poetry. Shih is the basic or common Chinese verse. The term encompassed folksongs, hymns, and libretti. The earliest extant shih in five-word lines may date back to 100 BCE. Contrast with fu poetry.
SHORTENING: In linguistics, the word has two meanings: (1) creating a new word by omitting part of a longer expression, and (2) changing a long vowel to a short one.
SHORT STORY: "A brief prose tale," as Edgar Allan Poe labeled it. This work of narrative fiction may contain description, dialogue and commentary, but usually plot functions as the engine driving the art. The best short stories, according to Poe, seek to achieve a single, major, unified impact. See single effect theory, below.
SHORT SYLLABLE: In linguistics, any syllable containing a short vowel, but followed by only one consonant or no consonant at all. Do not confuse this term with a short vowel (see below).
SHORT VOWEL: As Algeo defines it, "A vowel of lesser duration than a corresponding long vowel" (329).
SIBILANT: In linguistics, any hissing sound made with a groove down the center of the tongue.
SIGN: In linguistics, Ferdinand de Saussure bases his theory of signification (semiology) upon the sign, i.e., an arbitrary mark, sound, or gesture that becomes imbued with meaning because it is part of a larger, more complex system of other marks or sounds with their own meanings. The linguistic sign is the union of the signifier (a collection of sounds that distinguishes this sign from others) and the signified (a concept or meaning arbitrarily and conventionally assigned to this collection of sounds). Note that the signified exists only in the head of a language user as an image or thought--de Saussure's model is careful to distinguish between it and the material object, which exists independently of the human mind. The referent in linguistics is the "real world" equivalent, the extralinguistic object the signified points to in the physical universe. Saussure, however, deliberately ignores the referent as something existing outside the realm of linguistics proper, prefering to treat language as a system of arbitrary distinctions without any positive terms.
See also parole and langue.
SIMILE: An analogy or comparison implied by using an adverbial preposition such as like or as, in contrast with a metaphor, which figuratively makes the comparison by stating outright that one thing is another thing. This figure of speech is of great antiquity, common in both prose and verse works.
A poetic example comes from John Milton's Paradise Lost:
Anon out of the earth a Fabrick huge
Rose like an Exhalation, with the sound
Of Dulcet Symphony and voices sweet. (I. 710-12)
Even more famously, Robert Burns states:
O, my luve is like a red, red rose
That's newly sprung in June:
O, my luve is like the melodie
That's sweetly played in tune.
A simile is an example of a trope. Contrast with epic simile and metaphor, above.
"SINGLE EFFECT" THEORY: Edgar Allan Poe's theory about what constituted a good short story. According to Poe, a good short story achieved its unity by achieving a single emotional effect on the reader. He writes of it in his review of Hawthorne's Twice-Told Tales and describes it as "a certain unique single effect to be wrought out" (Quoted in Thomas Woodson, ed., Twentieth-Century Interpretations of "The Fall of the House of Usher" from Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1969.)
SINO-TIBETAN: A group of languages spoken in China, Tibet, and Burma, including Mandarin.
SIRVENTE: A satirical Provençal poem that focuses on the flaws of individuals or on public concerns such as the folly of a war, or the abuses of the Church.
SITUATIONAL IRONY: Another term for universal irony. See discussion under irony.
SKALD: The Old Norse or Scandinavian equivalent of a bard or court singer. Most of the surviving skaldic poetry deals with contemporary Viking chieftains and kings--usually making extensive use of kennings. Medieval skalds included Bragi Boddason (c. 825), Eyvindr Finnson (c. 950), Egill Skallagrimsson (c. 850), and Gunnlaugr Ormstunga Illugason (c. 990-1020?). The skalds faded in importance after 1000 CE.
SKAZ (plural skazka, from the Russian verb skazat, "to tell"): A Russian yarn or tall tale in which the author dons the voice or persona of a fictitious narrator (typically an uneducated peasant, a monk, an Old Believer, or a regional farmer) who recounts something he has supposedly witnessed. The genre thus allows the author to characterize the speaker through speech peculiarities (dialect pronunciation, malapropisms, non-standard grammar, slang, and regional neologisms). See Harkins 204 and 360 for more information. The most famous example is probably Leskov's The Enchanted Wanderer of 1873.
SKELTONIC VERSE: Also called tumbling verse or Skeltonics, the term refers to an irregular verse used principally by John Skelton, the tutor of young Henry VIII. Skelton disregarded the number of syllables in each line and often experimented with short lines using only two or three stresses; he emphasized the stresses by alliteration and rhyme. The example below comes from his poem, "Colin Clout":
And if ye stand in doubt
Who brought this about,
My name is Colin Clout.
I purpose to shake out
All my conning bag.
Like a clerkly hag.
For though my rhyme be ragged,
Tatteréd and jaggéd,
If ye takewell therewith,
It hath in it some pith. (qtd. in Deutsche 161-62)
Many later poets and critics disdained Skeltonic verse. James VI, for instance, declared it fit only for satirical poems, and the Romantic poets considered it ungraceful.
SKELTONICS: See Skeltonic verse.
SKENE (Greek "tent"): In classical Greek theaters, the skene was a building in the front of the orchestra that contained front and side doors from which actors could quickly enter and exit. The skene probably also served as an area for storing costumes and props.
SKIAPOD (Greek, "shadow-foot"; plural skiapodes): Also called monopods, these one-legged humanoids appears in ancient Greco-Roman writings such as Pliny's Natural History, Aristophanes The Birds, Ctesias's India, and Philostratus' Life of Apollonius of Tynna. In medieval writings, Saint Augustine writes:
There is also a story of a race who have a single leg attached to their feet; they cannot bend their knee, and yet have a remarkable turn of speed. They are Sciapodes ('shadow-feet') because in hot weather they lie on their backs on the ground and take shelter in the shade of their feet. (Augustine, City of God, 16.8.662)
Saint Isidore of Seville includes discussion of them in his Etymologies, claiming they live in Ethiopia, where they travel with remarkable speed by hopping rapidly. Primarily through Isidore and Augustine's transmissions, Skiapodes became popular iconography in marginalia and world maps, such as the Hereford Mappa Mundi (c. 1300) and the Beatus Liebanae (8th century), eventually even finding themselves into Viking sagas such as Erik the Red. C.S. Lewis includes them as one of the fantastic encounters in Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
SLANG: Informal diction or the use of vocabulary considered inconsistent with the preferred formal wording common among the educated or elite in a culture. For instance, formal wording might require a message such as this one: "Greetings. How are my people doing?" The slang version might be as follows: "Yo. Whassup with my peeps?"
SLANT RHYME (also called inexact rhyme): Rhymes created out of words with similar but not identical sounds. In most of these instances, either the vowel segments are different while the consonants are identical, or vice versa. This type of rhyme is also called approximate rhyme, inexact rhyme, near rhyme, half rhyme, off rhyme, analyzed rhyme, or suspended rhyme. The example below comes from William Butler Yeats:
Heart-smitten with emotion I sink down
My heart recovering with covered eyes;
Wherever I had looked I had looked upon
My permanent or impermanent images.
Slant rhyme has also been used for splendid intentional effect in poems such as Philip Larkins' "Toads" and "Toads Revisited," and has been increasingly popular with postmodern British poets after World War II. Contrast with eye-rhyme and exact rhyme.
SLAPSTICK COMEDY: Low comedy in which humor depends almost entirely on physical actions and sight gags. The antics of the three stooges and the modern fourth stooge, Adam Sandler, often fall into this category.
SLAVE NARRATIVE: A narrative, often autobiographical in origin, about a slave's life, perhaps including his original capture, his punishments and daily labor, and his eventual escape to freedom. Examples include Olaudah Equiano's Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Aphra Behn's Oroonoko, and Frederick Douglass's abolitionist writings and speeches. Contrast with captivity narratives.
SLAVIC: An eastern European sub-branch of Indo-European containing languages such as Slovenian, Slovakian, and Slavonian. Geographically, the speakers of the various slavic languages primarily reside in eastern Europe, much of the Balkans, parts of Central Eruope, and the northern regions of Asia, and linguists categorize the slavic languages into three smaller "leaf" branches: Eastern Slavic (Old East Slavic, Old Novgorod, Ruthenian, Belarusian, Russian, Ukrainian, and Rusyn); West Slavic (Czech, Slovak, Lechitic, Old Polish, Middle Polish, Polish, Pomeranian, Kashubian, Slovincian, Polabian, Sorbian, Knaanic), and South Slavic (Old Church Slavonic, Bulgarian, Macedonian, Church Slavonic, Serbo-Croatian, and Slovenian).
SLEEPING HERO MOTIF: A motif common in Celtic folklore and Arthurian literature in which the heroes or mythological beings of old are not dead, but rather sleeping, waiting in heaven, or stored in alternative worlds like Fairyland. At some future time, they will awake or be called forth to fulfill some important function. In the legends of King Arthur, for instance, Malory recounts him as "Rex quandam et rex futurus," the once and future king who will return to Britain in the hour of its greatest need. We see 20th-century versions of this recreated in C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia. For instance, in Prince Caspian, Caspian's forces re-summon High King Peter and the other Pevensie children to save them from the Telmarine usurpers. More apocalyptically, in The Last Battle, we read of how a giant named Time sleeps in a cavern under the earth, waiting for Aslan to wake him so he can blow his horn to summon the stars from the sky before he plucks the sun of Narnia and destroys the world. Anthropologists might argue that, in the Christian tradition, the idea that Christ will have a second coming and return to earth is another example of the motif.
SMOOTHING: In linguistics, the monophthongization of several Old English diphthongs.
SOCCUS: A soft shoe worn by actors in Latin comedies, in contrast with the buskins or kothorni worn in tragedies. Our modern English word sock comes from this term. Often, the word sock is used a metonym for comedy in contrast with buskin as a metonym for tragedy. Hence, Harry Shaw explains John Milton's reference in L'Allegro to "the buskin'd stage" and to Ben Jonson's "learned sock"--i.e., tragedy and comedy (43).
SOCIAL DIALECT: In linguistics, a dialect used by a special social group rather than through an entire ethnicity or region.
SOCIAL REALISM: In literature, a branch of realism, especially significant in Russian writing, that focuses on the lives of middle and lower class characters (see realism). At its worst, the movement becomes mere propaganda to highlight bourgeois evils, proletariat virtues, and glorifies the Soviet Union under the Stalinist regime. At its best, this movement exposes ideological mystification and presents accurate depictions of incipient class conflict.
SOCIAL SATIRE: Satire aimed specifically at the general foibles of society rather than an attack on an individual. See discussion under satire.
SOCRATIC DIALOGUE: An attempt to explore a philosophical problem by presenting a series of speakers who argue about an issue and ask each other questions. These various individuals hash out their ideas, accepting some and dismissing others, to arrive at a conclusion (or sometimes merely arrive nearer a conclusion). This model is opposed to the "lecture" model of teaching in which single authoritative experts present their conclusions before students who accept and memorize the experts' judgment, or the "treatise" model in which an author summarizes his or her thinking in an essay for the reader. In the case of Greek writings of Plato, Plato often presents the material as a recorded debate between Socrates and his pupils, or between Socrates and intellectuals of differing opinions, such as Gorgias or Diogenes. Examples of Socratic dialogue can be found in The Symposium, in which a number of dinner guests define the nature of love, and in The Republic, in which a group of thinkers speculate about what constitutes ideal government. See also socratic irony.
SOCRATIC IRONY: Adapting a form of ironic false modesty in which a speaker claims ignorance regarding a question or philosophical problem. The speaker then turns to another "authority" and raises the question humbly, asking for the expert's answer. When the "authority," presents an answer, the "modest" original speaker continues to ask pointed questions, eventually revealing the limitations or inadequacies of the supposed expert--all the while protesting his or her own inferior knowledge. The irony comes from the speaker's continuing presentation of himself as stupid even as he demolishes inferior ideas others present to him. This is the method Socrates supposedly took regarding philosophical inquiry, and it is named socratic irony in his honor. See also irony and socratic dialogue, above.
SOFT SCIENCE FICTION: See discussion under science fiction.
SOLAR MYTH: Alvin Boyd Kuhn and Max Müller were philologists who attempted to explain the origin of a number of myths and religious practices by linking them to the animistic worship of various celestial phenomena including meteorological events (weather gods), sky gods (e.g. Ouranos), and astronomical bodies (stars, planets, moon, and most especially the sun). The name "Solar Deity" refers to such a god generally, and "Solar Myth" is thus the term most often linked with this school of thought. Scholars in the "Solar Myth" school tend to trace multiple deities or heroes (even in a single narrative) back to primitive sun worship and identify analogues in various legends of sun gods. Some medievalists like Roger S. Loomis have gone so far as to trace various Arthurian characters back to Celtic Solar Deities. The theory fell into disfavor in late twentieth-century scholarship partly because of its reductive "one-size-fits-all" approach to mythology, and partly because some of the claims of Kuhn and Müller have been demonstrably proven false. For instance, while Solar Myth theorists first argued that various tribal deities and heros in Homeric and Hindu mythology were later incarnations of early sun deities, later archeological or philological evidence showed some of these local gods were real historical figures who were later elevated to godhood in the belief of future generations. An example of this was Alfred Lyall's demonstration that the names of certain Rajasthan deities could be linked to historical Rajput clan leaders who lived only a century or two before their "apotheosis" into mythology.
SOLECISM (from the Greek city Soloi): The area around the city of Soloi in ancient Cilicia had a population who spoke a nonstandard form of Attic Greek. Accordingly, the dominant Athenians tended to make fun of them, parody them in plays, beat them up for lunch money, etc. The term soloikos thus came to connote grammatical mistakes, blunders in declension, errors in diction, and whatnot. This gives rise to our equivalent modern English term, solecism. David Smith notes solecisms can be helpful. In the original koine Greek, the New Testament book of Revelation has a large number of solecisms, a fact quite annoying to Saint Augustine, but which has been very useful to modern biblical scholars seeking to distinguish John of Patmos (the author of Revelation) from earlier church fathers like the disciple John (who lived too early and spoke a different dialect).
SOLID PEOPLE: Individuals in C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce who are closer to the holiness of the divine, and their greater enlightenment gives them firmer reality than less advanced spirits further removed from God. Lewis here follows much of the imagery of Dante's Divine Comedy, where Dante plays with the ethereal, weightless nature of spirits in Hell and Purgatory, as opposed to the more solid and unstoppable figures of angelic beings and Dante himself. For instance, in Charon's boat, the boat visibly sinks in the water when Dante boards the vessel, but as other less tangible spirits crowd into the boat, it has no effect on the waterline, etc.
SOLILOQUY: A monologue spoken by an actor at a point in the play when the character believes himself to be alone. The technique frequently reveals a character's innermost thoughts, including his feelings, state of mind, motives or intentions. The soliloquy often provides necessary but otherwise inaccessible information to the audience. The dramatic convention is that whatever a character says in a soliloquy to the audience must be true, or at least true in the eyes of the character speaking (i.e., the character may tell lies to mislead other characters in the play, but whatever he states in a soliloquy is a true reflection of what the speaker believes or feels). The soliloquy was rare in Classical drama, but Elizabethan and Jacobean playwrights used it extensively, especially for their villains. Well-known examples include speeches by the title characters of Macbeth, Richard III, and Hamlet and also Iago in Othello. (Contrast with an aside.) Unlike the aside, a soliloquy is not usually indicated by specific stage directions.
SONG: A lyric poem with a number of repeating stanzas (called refrains), written to be set to music in either vocal performance or with accompaniment of musical instruments. See dawn song and lyric, above and stanza, below.
SONNET: A lyric poem of fourteen lines, usually in iambic pentameter, with rhymes arranged according to certain definite patterns. It usually expresses a single, complete idea or thought with a reversal, twist, or change of direction in the concluding lines. There are three common forms:
(1) Italian or Petrarchan
(2) English or Shakespearean
The Petrarchan sonnet has an eight line stanza (called an octave) followed by a six line stanza (called a sestet). The octave has two quatrains rhyming abba, abba, the first of which presents the theme, the second further develops it. In the sestet, the first three lines reflect on or exemplify the theme, while the last three bring the poem to a unified end. The sestet may be arranged cdecde, cdcdcd, or cdedce.
The Shakespearean sonnet uses three quatrains; each rhymed differently, with a final, independently rhymed couplet that makes an effective, unifying climax to the whole. Its rhyme scheme is abab, cdcd, efef, gg. Typically, the final two lines follow a "turn" or a "volta," (sometimes spelled volte, like volte-face) because they reverse, undercut, or turn from the original line of thought to take the idea in a new direction.
The Miltonic sonnet is similar to the Petrarchan sonnet, but it does not divide its thought between the octave and the sestet--the sense or line of thinking runs straight from the eighth to ninth line. Also, Milton expands the sonnet's repertoire to deal not only with love as the earlier sonnets did, but also to include politics, religion, and personal matters.
SONNET CYCLE: Another term for a sonnet sequence. See discussion below.
SONNET SEQUENCE: Also called a sonnet cycle, this term refers to a gathering or arrangement of sonnets by a single author so that the sonnets in that group or arrangement deal with a single theme, situation, a particular lady, or alternatively deal with what appears to be a sequential story. Petrarch, Sidney, Spenser, and Shakespeare all engaged in this practice, or at least the early editors of their works did. The first major sonnet cycle in English was Sir Philip Sidney's Astrophil and Stella(written in the early 1580s, published in 1591). Others include Daniel's Delia, Lodge's Phillis, Drayton's Idea's Mirror, Constable's Diana, and Spenser's Amoretti. Shakespeare's 154 sonnets, however, are best known of any sonnet sequences today. See also discussion under Crown of Sonnets.
SONS OF BEN: A school of literature consisting mostly of cavalier poets who were admirers/imitators of Ben Jonson. The Sons of Ben focused on "lyrics of love and gallant compliment," as M. H. Abrams phrases it (213). The Sons of Ben include Sir John Suckling, Thomas Carew, Robert Herrick, and Richard Lovelace.
SORTES VIRGILIANAE: (also spelled Sortes Vergiliana) Much as how Saint Augustine famously performed a sort of bibliomancy by randomly flipping to a scriptural passage from the Bible in the Garden at Milan when he sought spiritual advice, many Romans sought advice or predictions of the future by flipping through the works of the poet Virgil and reading the random passage for occult advice. Many Roman leaders purportedly used this technique, including Hadrian, Alexander Severus, Gordian II, and Claudius II.
SOUBRETTE: A maidservant of independent and saucy temperament in the Italian commedia dell'arte. This stock character helps two or more young lovers overcome the blocking agent that prevents their happy union.
SOUND SYMBOLISM: Often, several words with similar meaning may coincidentally have a similar phoneme- combination in them. Because this particular sound occurs in this pattern of words, the sound itself may become strongly associated with some quality in the words' connotation. This accident can become a building block in poetry, allowing literary artists to choose words that convey some additional indirect meaning or create a line in which the sound symbolism echoes or mirrors or contrasts with the content in that line. For example, Denning and Leben point out how the phoneme combination /sl/ indicates a certain slippery nature in English words (43):
The connotations associated with this sound mean a poet can use several /sl/ sounds in a specific line to convey that slipperiness indirectly. Alternatively, when coining a new neologism, the creator of a new lubricant might use the phoneme combination /sl/ in the new product name to convey that quality. Poets describing a sword-fight might want to convey swishing and clattering sounds indirectly through alliteration, describing how the "swaggering swain swung his sword in answer" or the "clever cut came close to carving him as he jerked back blocking the blow." Because the alliteration not only borders on onomatopoeia but actually connects with the content of the lines--i.e., the sword-fight--it enters the realm of sound symbolism. See also lautphonetik and tone color.
SOURCE: (1) An earlier work of literature or folklore used as the basis of a later work. Scholars use the term source only when it is clear that one of the manuscripts or one piece of oral transmission influenced a specific later work. If that relationship is not clear, two works sharing similar material or subject-matter are said to be analogues if it is uncertain which one influenced the other or if both might originate from some third, lost source. See also stemma and Ur-text. (2) When students write a research paper, their sources are the original places where they found facts, ideas, and quotations. Primary sources are the main work of literature the students are citing and analyzing (such as Shakespeare's Macbeth or Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises). A secondary source comes from all other materials--especially those later writings scholars produce about Macbeth or Hemingway (or whatever the topic is). Secondary sources might include articles in peer-reviewed journals, biographies of the author, books analyzing or discussing a particular work of literature, and so on. All literary analyses should use quotations or references to the primary text as the main componant of an argument--especially in the case of a close-reading. Longer literary assignments such as research papers should also make use of appropriate secondary research. See also peer-reviewed journal.
SPACE OPERA: A subgenre of "soft" science fiction especially popular between 1930-1960, often used in a derogatory sense. These space operas are novels or short stories set in the distant future after humanity has spent centuries or millenia colonizing the entire galaxy--or sometimes multiple galaxies. The narratives typically feature some form of easy space travel via imaginary technologies such as "hyperspace drives" or "warp nacelles." This easy method of travel and colonization allows the formation of huge space fleets to fight each other using laser cannons and nuclear missiles. Behind these aramadas, vast interstellar empires compete with each other (or with rebel forces, or with alien species) for territorial control or political power. The governments imagined in these books are often feudal in nature or else they are based loosely on empires from Earth's past history--i.e., the Roman Empire, the British Empire of the 19th century, the Caliphates of the Middle East, the Samauri Shogunates of 16th century Japan, and so on. In other cases, seeking models for future history, the authors frequently rely upon parallels with the American West or the exploration of Africa, and they create parallels between sailing ships and spaceships, even going so far as adding space pirates. They frequently present readers with stark contrasts in social and geographic terrain--i.e., contrasting ice-worlds with desert worlds, or technologically wealthy space-merchants with impoverished barbarians, and so on. The stories often focus on characterization, drama, and (most especially) action rather than theme, symbolism or other literary devices.
The first example is probably Edison's Conquest of Mars (published 1898). The editor Brian Aldiss later amassed a two-volume collection of space operas prior to 1979 in Galactic Empires. Other famous space operas include E.E. Smith's Lensman series, and the genre's literary grandchildren include Frank Herbert's Dune series, Lois McMaster Bujold's "Miles Vorkosigan" saga, Isaac Asimov's Foundation series, Catherine Asaro's Saga of the Skolian Empire, and pop culture films and television series like Star Wars and Star Trek, both of which have spawned literally hundreds of spinoffs and pulp fiction novels in their own rights.
SPATIAL ORGANIZATION: The arrangement of details or description in an easy-to-follow manner based on their location. For instance, an author might organize materials from left-to-right, front-to-back, east-to-west, near-to-far, inside-to-outside, etc. This method contrasts with chronological organization (i.e, arrangement in terms of time), or order of importance (i.e., arrangement in terms of least important to most important, or vice-versa). The method has been popular in composition partly because it was a traditional tool among classical rhetoricians. Such rhetoricians would encourage public speakers to memorize lengthy speeches by mentally constructing a "palace of memory," an imagined walking tour of a familiar place like a building, with the various points to be covered in the speech corresponding to different objects or locations in this imaginary structure. The 6th-century poet Simonides of Crete is one of the oldest classical figures to use the method.
SPEAKER, POETIC: See poetic speaker.
SPECIALIZATION: A semantic change restricting the referents of a word--i.e., a linguistic movement from a more general to a more specific meaning for a word. For instance, the Old English word wif (Modern English wife) once meant merely "woman." However, through linguistic specialization it has come to mean "married woman" more specifically. In Middle English, a single French loanword might be adopted twice over different centuries--once from early Anglo-Norman French, and afterward from Central French. They would have slight differences from each other in spelling and pronunciation--so English speakers would give each one a slightly specialized meaning--even though the two originally meant the same thing in French. Examples include chief (leader of a war band) and chef (leader of a kitchen). Both were once the same word more or less meaning "leader" generally.
SPECULATIVE FICTION: Also called "alternative history," speculative fiction is science fiction that explores how the "real world" we live in today might be different if historic events had unfolded with slight changes. For instance, Robert Harris' novel Fatherland asks, what would Germany look like three decades later if Nazi Germany had won World War II? Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale asks, what would the U.S. look like if a reproductive crisis (widespread sterility) allowed a fundamentalist regime to come to power and control women's reproduction?
SPEECH ACT THEORY: An idea set forth by J. L. Austin's How to Do Things with Words, which argues that language is often a mode of action rather than a means of communication or conveying information. Language-use that conveys information is called constative, and constative sentences by their very nature are either true or false in the sense that they are accurate or inaccurate. Language-use that serves as a mode of action is called performative. Performative language causes something to happen merely by making assertion. Examples include the "I do" statement in a wedding ceremony. Here, the act of making the assertion is the same as the action itself. Other examples include the following ones:
betting ("I bet ten dollars that he drops the ball.")
composing a will ("To my beloved daughter, I leave my house and my second-best bed.")
umpiring ("Strike three! You are out!")
passing sentence ("This court finds you guilty of negligent homicide.")
christening ("You are christened John.")
knighting ("I dub thee Sir Lancelot.")
blessing ("In nomine patri, filii, et spiritu sancti, benedicite")
firing ("You're fired.")
bidding ("I bid ten dollars.")
baptizing ("I baptize you in the name of the father and the son and the holy ghost.")
In these examples above, the act of making the assertion is the same as performing the act. Thus, these are examples of performative language.
SPEECH PREFIX: Often abbreviated "s.p.," this term in drama refers to a character's name or an abbreviated version of a character's name which indicates what actor is speaking subsequent words in the text of a play. Conventionally, in modern drama a colon or period separates the speech prefix from the lines to be read. Here is an example with the prefixes indicated in bold:
CASS: Dost thou hear, my honest friend?
CLOWN: No, I hear not your honest friend, I hear you. (Othello 3.1.20-21)
Here, the first speech prefix (Cass:) indicates Cassio is speaking the subsequent lines. Cassio's words end when the next speech prefix indicates the Clown is responding to his question.
SPÉIRBHEAN (Irish Gaelic, "sky-woman," pronounced like the English words "spare van"): A stock character in aisling poetry, the Spéirbhean is a female figure, either young and beautiful or aged and withered, who appears before the poet in a vision. She is similar to the supernatural female characters appearing in the French poetic genre of the reverdie. In aisling poetry, she usually represents the Irish people or the Irish nation.
SPELLING PRONUNCIATION: An unhistorical way of pronouncing a word based on the spelling of a word.
SPELLING REFORM: Any effort to make spelling closer to actual pronunciation.
SPENSERIAN STANZA: A nine-line stanza rhyming in an ababbcbcc pattern in which the first eight lines are pentameter and the last line is an alexandrine. The name spenserian comes from the form's most famous user, Spenser, who used it in The Fairie Queene. Other examples include Keat's "Eve of Saint Agnes" and Shelley's "Adonais." The Spenserian stanza is probably the longest and most intricate stanza generally employed in narrative poetry.
SPIRANT: Another term in linguistics for a fricative.
SPIRIT GUIDE: A conventional figure in mythology, in the medieval visio and in shamanistic myths that serves as (1) a guide to a lost or wandering soul or to (2) a guide to the dreaming psyche of another character. The Greeks, for instance, referred to Hermes Mercury as a psychopompos, a soul-carrier to direct the deceased through the caverns of Avernus to the edge of the River Styx, where Charon would ferry the souls of the dead across the water into Hades. The figure of Anubis guided Egyptian spirits to the afterlife, and so on. In the medieval tradition of the visio, the spirit guide would serve as a commentator for the confused soul of a sleeping individual. Thus, we have a grandfatherly figure guiding our narrator in the Somnium Scipionis, or Virgil and Beatrice steering Dante through the Inferno and upwards toward Paradiso, or the ghost of Pearl explaining to her grieving father the nature of heaven. Chaucer gleefully throws this medieval convention on its head in The Book of the Duchess by making the narrator slip out of bed naked to follow his spirit-guide (a puppy) for a short while during a hunt--only to get lost and bumble on without it until he finds the grieving Knight in Black. Non-medieval examples of the spirit guide include the ghost of Marley who chastizes Ebeneezer Scrooge in Dickens' A Christmas Carol, the totemic spirits prominent in the vision-quests of Amerindian tribes, or even the ebon bird guiding the rock-n-roll revenant seeking revenge in Brandon Lee's film, The Crow.
SPIRITUAL AUTOBIOGRAPHY: An autobiography (usually Christian) that focuses on an individual's spiritual growth. The plot is typically chronological in structure, and it usually focuses on inner struggles within the narrator, moving from pre-religious life, to a psychological crisis followed by a conversion narrative, to labor within the church or within evangelical missions. The work often concludes with an implied (or explicit) call to readers to convert. Examples include Saint Patrick's Confession and Saint Augustine's Confessions.
SPONDAIC: The adjective spondaic describes a line of poetry in which the feet are composed of successive spondees. See spondee, below.
SPONDEE: In scansion, a spondee is a metrical foot consisting of two successive strong beats. The spondee typically is "slower" and "heavier" to read than an iamb or a dactyl. Some words and phrases in English naturally form spondees when they alone constitute a poetic foot. Examples of such spondees include football, Mayday, shortcake, plop-plop, fizz-fizz, dumbbell, drop-dead, goof-off, race track, bathrobe, breakdown, dead man, black hole, and love song. See meter for extended discussion, or click here to download a PDF handout that contrasts spondees with other types of poetic feet.
SPOOF: A comic piece of film or literature that ostensibly presents itself as a "genre" piece, but actually pokes fun at the clichés or conventions of the genre through imitative satire. Examples from the twentieth century include the novel Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story, which is a postmodern spoof of those literary conventions found in Gothic horror novels about vampires and modern Harlequin romances about boy-meets-girl narratives. Examples from medieval literature include Chaucer's "Sir Thopas," which mocks the popular meter and conventions of medieval romance. Late twentieth-century films have proven especially prone to being spoofed in the last three decades, as witnessed by Scary Music, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, The Naked Gun 33 and 1/3, Blazing Saddles, and Young Frankenstein, which spoof popular genres such as film noire, police dramas, the western film, and 1930s black and white classic horror movies, respectively.
SPOONERISM: The comic (and usually unintentional) transposition of two initial consonants or other sounds. For example, saying "the queer old dean" when one means to say, "the dear old queen," or speaking of "beery wenches" when one means "weary benches" would be spoonerisms. The word comes from the flustered English clergyman and Oxford don, Reverend W. A. Spooner (1844-1930), who was famous for such slips of the tongue. Spooner, in an apocryphal account, once supposedly told a negligent student, "You have tasted two worms, hissed my mystery lectures, and you must leave Oxford by the first town drain." He of course meant to say, "You have wasted two terms, missed my history lectures, and you must leave Oxford by the first down-train."
SPRACHBUND: (Ger. "speech bond"): A group of languages--often technically unrelated to each other otherwise--that are spoken in the same geographic area or shared by members of the same occupation. Since they tend to share many bilingual speakers, they tend to influence each other through loanwords and linguistic adaptations.
SPREAD VOWEL: Also called an unrounded vowel, in linguistics, a vowel made with the corners of the lips retracted so the lips are against the teeth. See unrounding.
SPRECHSPRUCH (German, "saying, epigram"): This charming alliterative term refers to a short lyrical poem set to music common among the German Minnesingers. The term is usually used in contrast with the Spruch (the original gnomic verse meant to be spoken and read), while the Sprechspruch is meant to be sung. The first examples appear in the 1100s, and the most famous collection is the Bescheidenheit ("Modesty"), which was a popular anthology until the 1500s.
SPREZZATURA (Italian, "recklessness"): An Italian term that doesn't translate well into English, the word embodies both the appearance of reckless spontaneity and its opposite quality, careful and practiced preparation. Sprezzatura is carefully practicing witticisms, cultured eloquence, and feats of athletic prowess in private, and then later, when other viewers are present, pretending to make the witticism, the eloquent speech, or the athletic feat "off-the-cuff," i.e., spontaneously and effortlessly. It would appear to viewers that the courtier's superior performance was one triggered by superior creativity, wit, and athleticism, and the performance would elide the hours of preparation that the courtier took in developing the skill. The Italian writer Baldessare Castiglione argues in his treatise, The Book of the Courtier (1528), that sprezzatura is one of the defining requirements for a young nobleman. Sir Thomas Hoby translated Castiglione's treatise into English in 1561, where the treatise had a profound influence on courtly manners in the Renaissance.
SPRUNG RHYTHM: Also called "accentual rhythm," sprung rhythm is a term invented by the poet-priest Gerard Manley Hopkins to describe his personal metrical system in which the major stresses are "sprung" from each line of poetry. The accent falls on the first syllable of every foot and a varying number of unaccented syllables following the accented one, but all feet last an equal amount of time when being pronounced. Hopkins wrote in his Preface to Poems (1918) the following definition:
[It] is measured by feet of from one to four syllables, regularly, and for particular effects any number of weak or slack syllables may be used. It has one stress, which falls on the only syllable, if there is only one, or, if there are more, then scanning as above, on the first, and so gives rise to four sorts of feet, a monosyllable and the so-called accentual Trochee, Dactyl, and the First Paeon [q.v.] And there will be four corresponding natural rhythms; but nominally the three are mixed and any one may follow any other. And hence Sprung Rhythm differs from Running Rhythm [q.v.] in having or being only one nominal rhythm, a mixed or "logaoedic" one, instead of three, but on the other hand in having twice the flexibility of foot, so that any two stresses may either follow one another running or be divided by one, two, or three slack syllables. [. . .] It is natural in Sprung Rhythm for the lines to be rove over, that is for the scanning of each line immediately to take up that of the one before, so that if the first has one or more syllables at its end the other must have so many the less at its beginning. [. . .] Two licenses are natural to Sprung Rhythm. The one is rests, as in music. [. . .] The other is hangers or outrides, that is one, two, or three slack syllables added to a foot and not counted in the nominal scanning. They are so called because they seem to hang below the line or ride forward or backward from it in another dimension than the line itself.
The result of this technique is unusual metrical irregularity, but Hopkins claimed that sprung rhythm is found in most speech and in prose and music. This poetic method actually predates Hopkins, as it was not unknown in Old English and Middle English alliterative verse. However, Hopkins' poetry helped revitalize interest in accentual rhythm, and sprung rhythm has had a profound influence on T. S. Eliot, Dylan Thomas, and Ted Hughes, as well other modernists. See also scansion and meter, above. To read through a poem written in sprung rhythm, click here.
SQUIRE: A knight-in-training, a young boy who has spent several years as a page to learn humility, patience, and the manners of polite society and who is now acting as the servant of a knight while he perfects his combat and riding skills. In older medieval times, the offices of page and squire were limited to the children of aristocrats. By the fourteenth century, wealthy middle class or bourgeois parents began making arrangements for their children to be trained as pages in noble households. Chaucer himself served as a page when he was young, for instance, even though he was of common birth. In Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Chaucer depicts a young squire as primarily concerned with romance and good manners, while the older generation, represented by his father, the pilgrim Knight, appears more concerned with important military matters. This depiction might reveal something of medieval attitudes toward knights, i.e., that "real" knights were a dying breed, and these noble warriors were being replaced by younger foppish courtiers.
STAGE: An area set aside or deliberately constructed as a place for actors, dancers, musicians, or singers to perform. Often (but not always) a stage is located in an indoor theater or a large outdoor arena. It often has seating provided for an audience. See arena stage, apron stage, fourth wall, thrust stage, theater in the round, and scrim. Probably the most famous stage in English history is the Globe Theater in Shakespeare's London.
STAGE DIRECTION: Sometimes abbreviated "s.d.," the term in drama refers to part of the printed text in a play that is not actually spoken by actors on stage, but which instead indicates actions or activity for the actors to engage in. In Shakespeare's day, these instructions were often given in Latin. See exit / exuent and manet / manuent.
STANDARD ENGLISH: The more prestigious variety of English described in prescriptivist dictionaries and grammars, taught by instructors, and used for public affairs. Typically the standard version of a language has no regional limitations, but it instead appears across a wide geographic area. It typically "does not tolerate variation," as Horobin phrases it (193), and is more resistant to change than slang or jargon.
STANZA: An arrangement of lines of verse in a pattern usually repeated throughout the poem. Typically, each stanza has a fixed number of verses or lines, a prevailing meter, and a consistent rhyme scheme. A stanza may be a subdivision of a poem, or it may constitute the entire poem. Early English terms for a stanza were "batch," "stave," and "fit." (Contrast with verse paragraph and couplet as alternative units of poetry, and contrast with genres such as ballad, haiku, and ode.)
STARINA: Another term in Russian literature for a bylina. See bylina for further discussion.
STASIMON (plural stasima): From Greek "stationary song," a stasimon is an ode sung by the chorus in a Greek play after the chorus takes its position in the orchestra and remains standing motionless, instead of dancing. The stasima also serve as dividing segments separating episodia of dialogue spoken by the actors. Structurally, a tragedy involves a balanced alternation between the episodia and the stasimon. See also chorus, episodia, and orchestra.
STATIC CHARACTER: A static character is a simplified character who does not change or alter his or her personality over the course of a narrative. Such static characters are also called flat characters if they have little visible personality or if the author provides little characterization for them. The term is used in contrast with a round or dynamic character. See character, flat character, round character, and characterization.
STATIONERS' REGISTER: Stephen Greenblatt provides the following definition:
The account books of the Company of Stationers (of which all printers were legally required to be members), recording the fees paid for permission to print new works as well as the fines exacted for printing without permission. The Stationers' Register thus provides a valuable if incomplete record of publication in England. (1143)
STAVE: Another term for stanza. See stanza.
STEM: In linguistics, a form consisting of a base and an affix to which other affixes can be attached.
STEMMA (plural stemmata): A record or diagram similar to a family tree showing the connections between manuscripts of a given literary work. See discussion under Ur-text.
STEREOTYPE: A character who is so ordinary or unoriginal that the character seems like an oversimplified representation of a type, gender, class, religious group, or occupation. Cf. stock character, below.
STICHOMYTHY: Dialogue consisting of one-line speeches designed for rapid delivery and snappy exchanges. Usually, the verbal parrying is accompanied by the rhetorical device of antithesis (see under schemes) and repetitive patterns. The result is highly effective in creating verbal tension and conflict. The earliest examples come from Greek tragedy, where the technique was quite common. Examples also appear in Hamlet (III, iv), Richard III (IV, iv), and Love's Labour's Lost. Molière was fond of it as well in Les femmes savantes. Stichomythy has become increasingly rare in modern drama, however.
STILNUOVISTI (Italian, "New Style"): See discussion under dolce stil nuovo.
STOCK CHARACTER: A character type that appears repeatedly in a particular literary genre, one with certain conventional attributes or attitudes. In the Old Comedy of Greek drama, common stock characters included the alazon (the imposter or self-deceiving braggart), the bomolochos (the buffoon); and the eiron, the self-derogatory and understating character. Stock characters in Elizabethan drama include the miles gloriosus (the braggart soldier), the melancholic man, the heroine disguised as a handsome young man, the gullible country bumpkin, and the machievelle as a villain. Stock characters in medieval romances include the damsel in distress, the contemptuous dwarf, the handsome young knight, the wild man of the woods, and the senex amans (the ugly old man married to a younger girl). In modern detective fiction, the prostitute-with-a-heart-of-gold, the hard-drinking P.I., and the corrupt police-officer are stereotypical stock characters. Stock characters in western films might include the noble sheriff, the whorehouse madam, the town drunkard, etc.
STOICISM: See discussion under Roman Stoicism.
STOP: Also called a plosive, in linguistics, a stop is any sound made by rapidly opening and closing airflow.
STORNELLI: Italian flower songs--often interspersed within a larger work. Robert Browning adapts many of these into English variants for his poem, "Fra Lippo Lippi."
STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS: Writing in which a character's perceptions, thoughts, and memories are presented in an apparently random form, without regard for logical sequence, chronology, or syntax. Often such writing makes no distinction between various levels of reality--such as dreams, memories, imaginative thoughts or real sensory perception. William James coined the phrase "stream of consciousness" in his Principles of Psychology (1890). The technique has been used by several authors and poets: Katherine Anne Porter, Dorothy Richardson, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Dorothy Richardson, T. S. Eliot, and William Faulkner. Some critics treat the interior monologue as a subset of the more general category, stream of consciousness. Although interior monologues by earlier writers share some similarities with stream of consciousness, the first clear appearance is in Edouard Dujardin's Les lauriers sont coupés (The Laurels Have Been Cut, 1888). Perhaps the most famous example is the stream of consciousness section in James Joyce's Ulysses, which climaxes in a forty-odd page interior monologue of Molly Bloom, an extended passage with only one punctuation mark. Cf. interior monologue.
STRESS: In linguistics, the emphasis, length and loudness that mark one syllable as more pronounced than another. In poetry, see discussion under meter and sonnets.
STRICT METER: TBA.
STROKE LETTER: In paleography, a stroke letter was one made mostly from minims (i.e., straight vertical lines). These included the letters i, m, n, u, and v. Such stroke letters in medieval handwriting are often hard to distinguish from one another when written in close proximity to each other. This led to scribes inventing modifications like the dotted i and the "descender" letters j and y to help distinguish them visually.
STRONG DECLENSION: In Germanic languages, any noun or adjective declension in which the stem originally ended in a vowel.
STRONG VERB: In Germanic languages, a strong verb is one whose linguistic principal parts were formed by ablaut of the stem vowel, as opposed to a weak verb, which forms its parts by adding a dental suffix such as -d or -t to th end of the stem. Examples of a strong verb surviving into modern English would be the verb swim, with forms like swim, swam, swum, as opposed to a weak verb like indicate, indicated, or have indicated.
STROPHE: In classical Greek literature like the play Antigonê and the Pindaric Odes, the strophe and the antistrophe were alternating stanzas sung aloud. In drama, the chorus would sing the strophe, probably with rhythmic pantomine or dance involved, and then the chorus would switch to the antistrophe. It is possible the dance or pantomine would then change directions or focus, alternating from the left or right side of the stage depending upon the strophe movement or the contrasting antistrophe movement.
STRUCTURAL GRAMMAR: A type of structuralism applied to language, this term refers to a descriptivist approach to grammar associated with mid-twentieth-century linguists such as Franz Boas, Edward Sapir, and Leonard Bloomfield. The purpose of this approach is to describe how language is actually used rather than prescribing a "correct" version for students to learn, and it particular it seeks to abandon traditional categories or definitions of parts of speech based on ill-fitting Latin grammatical categories like "noun" or "preposition" by instead defining them according to how each one relates to other parts of speech. For instance, Latin might define a noun as a "person, place, thing, or idea" in traditional grammar. A structuralist would say a noun is "a word that can be singular or plural, which can also function as the headword of a clause or the object of a preposition. It can be modified by adjectives, but it has no tense," etc.
STRUCTURALISM: The idea in sociology, anthropology, literary theory, or linguistics that the best way to understand a cultural artifact (like family units, religious rites, or human language) is not to define each component individually, as its own unique element, but rather to define each component by its relationship to other parts of the same structure. To give a rough example, consider a concept like "father" in American society. If we were attempting to define this concept and how the role functions in American society or in a traditional family from the 1950s, a nonstructuralist might define a father as "a male adult figure who provides income for the family and who serves as an authority figure or protector." Such a definition seeks to define the role based on what it does or what it is, per se. In contrast, a structuralist might instead seek to define a "father" by showing the relationship that figure would have in the larger structure of the family, i.e., a "father corresponds to a mother, but is of opposite gender, and the two together may have children, forming a larger structure called a family, and within that family the father traditionally protects the children and labors outside the household while the mother nutures them within the home." For the structuralist, it makes no sense to define a father without considering the other parts of the family structure and explaining the father's role in relationship to those other parts. The role of father cannot exist if the roles of mother and children do not exist. They are interdependent in ontology.
Alternatively, we might use a visual analogy to explain structuralism. Imagine a sculpture consisting of a number of tin cans and fishing wire. The cans are tied together in a network of thin, practically invisible strings. The whole sculpture hangs suspended in the air. One way to understand the shape of that sculpture would be to focus on each individual tin can as it appears to float in the air. I.e., we could see each can as a separate entity and focus our attention on it, ignoring the rest. In contrast, the structuralist would focus on each of those barely visible strings, and define the shape of the sculpture by how the strings link each can together. The connections themselves become the point of study rather than what is connected.
Claude Leví-Strauss and other structuralists proved especially influential in cultural studies, literary theory, and interpretation of mythology. A common approach to understanding narrative structure in folklore and stories is to use structuralism. We might, for instance, apply it to Tolkien's Silmarillion, noting the connections of the Valar and the Maiar in relationship to Ilúvatar, and how Melkor is defined completely by his rebellion against Ilúvatar while the Valar are defined completely by their obedience to him, and so forth. Oppositional binaries in the creation account there rely on opposites for contrast (hot versus cold) just as in the Old Testament creation story, oppositional binaries between light/dark or land/sea or male/female only have existence because they appear in contrasting pairs, and so forth.
More loosely, Tolkien relies on structural doubles to create parallels such as doubles, conflicting aspects of personality, and foils through The Lord of the Rings, even if the oppositions are not essentially necessary to define each other in strict structuralist terms. Marjorie Burns notes several examples of this. For "doubles," she points to the similar roles Goldberry and Galadriel play in their respective domains. Minas Tirith and Minas Morgol, the two towers echo each other. For conflicting aspects of personality, Burns shows how Tolkien creates oppositions between the staid Baggins and the adventurous Took sides of Frodo's family, showing a split or internal division in Frodo himself. A more schizophrenic split between Sméagol and Gollum serve as manifestations of his split desires. For foils, she points to the way Gandalf contrasts with the Balrog in Moria. There, he declares himself a "servant of the secret fire" and a "wielder of the flame of Anor," but he faces his opposite in the Balrog, "the flame of Udûn," a "worker of dark fire." Trolls and Ents serve as opposites for each other, and both Trolls and Ents in their massive size serve as foils to the little people of the hobbits during battle scenes. Boromir and Farmir contrast, with Boromir being proud and rash in his desire for glory while Faramir is "wiser, more restrained, and more peaceable," and so forth. For extended discussion, see Burns' entry on "double" in Drout 127-128).
STURGEON'S LAW: When asked why so much of science fiction consisted of "crap" (junk literature), science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon, reportedly responded that "90% of everything was crap." His point was that, yes, most science fiction was poorly written, but the vast bulk of all writing everywhere is also poorly written, so there's no surprise that a similar ratio of quality to crud appears in any particular genre. Science fiction fans have called this adage "Sturgeon's Law."
STYLE: The author's words and the characteristic way that writer uses language to achieve certain effects. An important part of interpreting and understanding fiction is being attentive to the way the author uses words. What effects, for instance, do word choice and sentence structure have on a story and its meaning? How does the author use imagery, figurative devices, repetition, or allusion? In what ways does the style seem appropriate or discordant with the work's subject and theme? Some common styles might be labeled ornate, plain, emotive, scientific, or whatnot. Most writers have their own particular styles, thus we speak of the "Hemingway style" or "Dickensian style." Click here for more information.
STYLISTICS: Aspects of form or style in contrast with aspects of content, i.e., stylistics are those features that distinguish how certain writers write rather than what they write about--such as sentence length, preferred rhetorical devices, tendencies in diction, etc.
SUBCREATION: In J.R.R. Tolkien's contribution to Essays Presented to Charles Williams, Tolkien introduces the idea of subcreation as an artistic and theological concept. Like Milton in Paradise Lost, Tolkien sees God as allowing his lesser creations to contribute to the larger shaping of the universe. That is, humans can act as "subcreators" working under God to extend or enlarge the cosmic creation of God. On the most basic level, while God builds the universe, he leaves humans free to build their own lives within that universe, their own small contribution to the collective artwork. We can strive to create something closer to heaven on earth, or we can choose to create something closer to hell. This human choice is the most basic level of subcreation--an inescapable level separate from any artistic talent in Milton's thinking.
But Tolkien goes further than Milton in subcreation. On a more artistic level, Tolkien thought God also gives humans the opportunity to participate in creative imagination. We can design, build, or imagine our own designs and artwork. That artwork--if it is beautiful and true--can echo, enhance, mimic, or even go beyond the beauty of the natural world--thus expanding God's creation and pleasing the Creator that we imitate His activities. For Tolkien, humans had a moral and artistic duty to use their imaginations and to create fictional worlds, following the divine example. In particular, Tolkien thought writers, poets, and artists had a moral obligation to provide an "inner consistency of reality," i.e., that they must take the time to fill out the world and inhabit it--to give it a history, depth of detail, and sufficient scope for it to be a complete world where readers or viewers can lose themselves (see Duriez 191-92). Subcreators could craft their art to make it self-consistent and large enough to evoke wonder, a sense of what Tolkien calls "Faërie" or what David Sandners calls the fantastic sublime. Just as the rational mind desires "a unified theory to explain or cover all phenomena in the universe, the imagination also seeks a unity of meaning appropriate to itself," as Duriez puts it (192). Such world-building would be a moral good, per se, regardless of any didactic teaching or moral message tacked on top of it. In this regard, Tolkien often heavily criticized C.S. Lewis's Narnian books. He felt Lewis was too focused on allegory and didacticism, and that misfocus caused the "inner consistency of reality" in his tales to suffer.
SUBDUED METAPHOR: An implied metaphor rather than one directly stated. For instance, consider a simple metaphor: "His job was a dark shadow over his life." We have directly asserted that one thing (his job) was another (a dark shadow). We could turn that into a subdued metaphor by removing the verb was, and writing something like "He faced the dark shadow of his job." Here, the comparison between job and shadow persists, but the comparison is no longer directly stated, but is rather subdued.
SUBJECTIVE GENITIVE: A genitive case common in Greek grammar in which the genitive functions as the origin or source (or subject) of the entire grammatical construction. David Smith notes that in such cases the substantive modified by the genitives acts like the object; he points to Philippians 4:7 as an example of a subjective genitive: "the peace of [from] God" (Smith 9). In such cases, the Greek indicates that the peace comes from God, not that the peace belongs to God, and this distinction is hard to convey in English without tweaking the preposition of by replacing it with from. Technically, of is a grammatically accurate choice but it inaccurately suggests a purely possessive genitive in English; from conveys the sense of origin more accurately, but it falsely suggests a dative/ablative construction. Philippians 3:14 is another example.
SUBJUNCTIVE: Click here for more information.
SUBLIME, THE: The Greek rhetorician Longinus wrote a treatise On the Sublime, which argued that sublimity ("loftiness") is the most important quality of fine literature. The sublime caused the reader to experience elestasis ("transport"). Edmund Burke developed this line of thought further in his influential essay, "The Sublime and the Beautiful" (1757). Here, he distinguished the sublime from the beautiful by suggesting that the sublime was not a stylistic quality but the powerful depiction of subjects that were vast, obscure, and powerful. These sublime topics or subjects evoked "delightful horror" in the viewer or reader, a combination of terror and amazed pleasure. To illustrate the difference between beauty and sublimity, we might say that gazing thoughtfully into a rosebud merely involves the beautiful; gazing in awe into the Grand Canyon from its edge involves the sublime--particularly if the viewer is about to fall in. Contrast with bathos. See also fantastic sublime.
SUBLUNARY: The area of the cosmos inside the orbit of the moon, including the earth. In medieval and Renaissance theology, this area was thought to be imperfect and subject to decay, death and mutability, while the stars, planets, heavenly bodies, and celestial realms were "fixed," i.e., perfect, unchanging, and immune to death and decay. In early Christian cosmology, it was believed that the earth was similarly perfect and unchanging until Adam's fall from grace, after which old age, erosion, unstable weather, decay, and mutability appeared in the sublunary realm.
SUBPLOT: A minor or subordinate secondary plot, often involving a deuteragonist's struggles, which takes place simultaneously with a larger plot, usually involving the protagonist. The subplot often echoes or comments upon the direct plot either directly or obliquely. Sometimes two opening subplots merge into a single storyline later in a play or narrative.
SUB SPECIE AETERNITATIS: See discussion under Augustinian time.
SUBSTANTIVE: A substantive word or phrase is one that can functoin as a noun within a sentence or clause. See especially substantive adjective, below.
SUBSTANTIVE ADJECTIVE: An adjective that stands by itself in the place of an implied noun--a type of rhetorical ellipsis. In the beatitudes, for instance, Christ says "Blessed are the meek." Here, the word meek is a substantive adjective for the implied meek people. We talk of the "wails of the damned" or the "troubles of the dispossessed." One spaghetti Western confronts the audience with The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Karen Elizabeth Gordon writes that her grammar handbook is designed "for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed." These are all substantive adjectives that gleefully cast their nouns aside and stand alone.
SUBSTANTIVE TEXT: A text based upon access to an original manuscript as opposed to a text derived only from an earlier edition.
SUBSTITION, METRICAL: See metrical substition.
SUBSTITION, RHETORICAL: The manipulation of the caesura to create the effect of a series of different feet in a line of poetry. Contrast with metrical substitution.
SUBSTRATUM THEORY: The idea that an original language in a region alters or affects later languages introduced there. Contrast with the superstratum theory.
SUCCESSION MYTH: A common motif in mythology in which a regime of older gods suffers defeat and replacement--often at the hands of a younger generation of divinities. An example would be Zeus leading an uprising against his cannibal father, Kronos, in Hesiod's Theogony. Two theories to explain this very common mythological idea are, (1) because the normal human life sequence involves the young replacing the old, this cycle asserts such a powerful archetypal significance that we re-create it in our supernatural accounts; or (2) such myths are actually echoes of much older (possibly even prehistoric) cultural clashes in which a newer invading people displace an indigenous people and its older religious practices. As the invaders bring their new gods, they assimilate into their stories the older legends of the original race in the area, but depict the old gods as "falling" or being replaced by the new gods they bring. This perhaps can account for redundant deities in Greco-Roman mythology--so we might have two similar divinities appearing in a single pantheon. Examples might be the Titan Hyperion and the god Apollo (both associated with the sun), or the Titan Oceanus and the god Poseidon (both associated with the sea).
SUCCUBUS (plural succubi): A demon-lover in feminine shape, as opposed to an incubus (plural incubi), the same sort of demon-lover in masculine shape. The term comes from medieval demonology, which was probably influenced by the Hebrew Zohar and its legends of lilitu (the demonic daughters of Lilith that seduced men and killed human infants). By the time the Maleus Maleficarum was written in the fifteenth-century, late medieval writers had posited an elaborate reproductive cycle for the succubus/incubus, in which the demon would alternately seduce sleeping men in its female shape, store the man's nocturnal emissions within its body, then take on a masculine shape, seduce a woman, and impregnate her with the stolen sperm.
The incubus/succubus became a powerful image in literature. Chaucer's Wife of Bath, for instance, claims in her tale that depraved friars are in her day even more common and persistant than the incubi. In "Kubla Khan," Coleridge writes of a "woman wailing for her demon lover" in a haunted grove, an image adapted from legends of the demon-knight who seduces and destroys women.
SUFFIX: In linguistics, an affix that comes after the base of a word.
SUMMA (Latin, "highest" or "all", cf. Modern English summation and summit): A treatise, essay, or book that attempts to deal comprehensively with its topic, especially one that is meant to be the "final word" on a subject. Although it may seem like hubris to modern readers to think a single book could answer every possible question that could arise about a topic, medieval theologians were not cowed from making the attempt. Probably the most famous summa is Peter Abelard's Sic et Non, a book that attempts to list every major argument about church doctrine. With atypical political reserve, Abelard does not attempt to solve each debate, but instead he merely lists all the "pro-" arguments and authorities under the Sic column and all the "con-" arguments and authorities under the Non column of each entry. (Such tact is definitely not typical of the fiery scholar.) Likewise Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica is probably the most influential intellectual document in Christian theology for its thorough attempt at completeness and its intricate, in-depth analyses.
Art historians have suggested that the summa represents a typically medieval drive to encapsulate and summarize the entire world, an urge that also reveals itself in the architecture of gothic cathedrals. Here, the artwork is carefully hierarchical, from outside to inside and top to bottom, often with typological figures from the Old Testament placed comprehensively next to their anti-typological figure in the New Testament in stained glass and sculpture, but still leaving room for even the demonic in the form of gargoyles on the outside. A similar type of summa-like influence might appear in the mystery cycles of medieval drama, which attempt in three days to portray the entirety of human history, from Creation to Judgment Day. This idea that the universe can be accurately summarized and portrayed in art may have also influenced Chaucer's ambitious plans for his Canterbury Tales, in which Chaucer attempts to encapsulate the entire human race by creating a humanly-faced gallery of medieval occupations, and he attempts to encapsulate the spiritual journey of human life from materialism to the divine by using the artistic metaphor of a pilgrimage from a sleazy bar in Southwerk to the grandeurs of Canterbury Cathedral.
SUMMONER: Medieval law courts were divided into civil courts that tried public offenses and ecclesiastical courts that tried offenses against the church. Summoners were minor church officials whose duties included summoning offenders to appear before the church and receive sentence. By the fourteenth century, the job became synonymous with extortion and corruption because many summoners would take bribes from the individuals summoned to court. Chaucer satirized a summoner in The Canterbury Tales.
SUMPTUARY LAWS: Laws that regulate the sort of clothing an individual may wear. Classical Rome restricted certain types of garb to the senatorial classes and equestrian classes, for instance. In Classical China, only the Emperor was allowed to wear the emblem of a five-fingered dragon on his garb or have it depicted on personal possessions. In ancient Rome, only male citizens could wear the toga, with a plain white toga (toga virilis) worn by young teenage men, and other types of toga worn by particular government officials, while women had to wear a stola after the second century BCE. By the time of Emperor Augustus, it was illegal for Roman citizens to wear Greek clothing in the forum, so strict were the dress requirements.
Later, in medieval Europe and Britain through the late Renaissance, the nobility enacted a series of sumptuary laws to maintain distinctions between themselves and the rising bourgeois class. The bourgeoisie were often quite wealthy, especially after the economic upheaval of the Black Death (1348) caused labor shortages that forced landowners to pay skilled laborers extra money. The newly wealthy could afford to mimic the styles and fashions of the nobility, and they did. This trend caused the nobility to enact laws stating that non-noblity could no longer wear, for instance, silver jewelry, or certain styles of footwear. We can see the guildsmen in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales attempting to "push the boundaries" of the sumptuary laws. For instance, the five guildsmen all carry silver knives with them. (The law prohibits silver jewelry, but says nothing about fine silver cutlery, for instance.) Many of the sumptuary laws were anti-Semitic in origin. For instance, in Britain, France, and Germany, sumptuary laws required that all Jews wear on their clothing a yellow circle to distinguish the wearers from their Christian neighbors. Thus, the authorities could enforce more easily those laws that stated Jews could not work at certain occupations, or hold land, or whatnot. (That particular sumptuary law was revived during Hitler's regime of World War II, except Hitler required a yellow star of David instead of a yellow circle.)
In fourteenth-century Britain, sumptuary laws also indicated sexual status. For instance, only virgins were allowed to wear white in public--a fact that gets Margery Kempe of The Book of Margery Kempe into trouble when, after giving birth to fourteen children, she undergoes a spiritual revelation and begins wearing white as she travels to York preaching.
SUPERSTRATUM THEORY: The idea that a new language introduced into a region alters or affects the language spoken there previously. Contrast with the substratum theory.
SUPINE: A supine verb form is one that is not fully conjugated. For instance, the subjunctive mood is often supine in modern English ("Had he been dancing, he would have tripped"), and thus easily confused with the pluperfect indicative ("He had been dancing when he tripped.") Other languages would express the distinction with markedly different verb forms between the subjunctive and the indicative.
SUPPLETIVE FORM: An inflectional form in which a common word has its current inflection come from a completely different word that later grew to be associated with it. For instance, the preterite form of go is the suppletive form went. In the past, these came from two different Old English verbs entirely, but they have now blurred together to be considered a single verb.
SURA: A section or chapter in the Koran consisting of varying numbers of verses (Cuddon 936). Not to be confused with sutra, below.
SURFACE STRUCTURE: In linguistics, Noam Chomsky distinguishes between superficial "surface structure" and "deep structure." Surface structure is a particular speech act (parole) as distinct from the biological hardwiring that generates individual speech acts.
SURPRISE ENDING: Another term for an O. Henry ending.
SURREALISM: An artistic movement doing away with the restrictions of realism and verisimilitude that might be imposed on an artist. In this movement, the artist sought to do away with conscious control and instead respond to the irrational urges of the subconscious mind. From this results the hallucinatory, bizarre, often nightmarish quality of surrealistic paintings and writings. Sample surrealist painters include Salvador Dalí and Joan Miró. Sample surrealist writers include Frank O'Hara, John Ashberry, and Franz Kafka.
SUSPENSE (from Latin suspendere, "to leave hanging"): In literary works with a plot, suspense is "a state of uncertainty, anticipation, and curiosity as to the outcome of a story or play, or any kind of narrative in verse or prose" (Cuddon 937), i.e., emotional tension resulting from the reader's desire to know "what will happen next?" or "what is actually happening now"? Frequently, the greatest moment of suspension occurs at the climax of the plot in Freytag's Pyramid.
As T. A. Shipley notes, the two main types of suspense (uncertainty and anticipation) appear in the earliest surviving literary works in Greece (563). While Euripides and Sophocles usually wrote about mythological materials already familiar to their audiences (and thus could not create suspense by making the audience guess what would happen next), Euripides created suspense by mixing false or misleading foreshadowing with real foreshadowing alluding to upcoming events (563). Such playwrights were also fond of creating suspense by dramatic irony in which the characters on stage would make statements or take actions ironically incongruous with what the audience would know is about to happen. A good example here would be the dialogue between Oedipus and the prophet Teiresias in Sophocles' Oedipus Rex.
In more recent examples, in Richard Connell's short story, "The Most Dangerous Game," the reader is in suspense regarding whether or not the hero or the villainous hunter will survive as the two face off in a final battle. In Hamlet, much of the suspense arises from the protagonist's continuing procrastination--will he or won't he take up the task of killing his uncle? The more Hamlet delays, the more bodies pile up until the final climactic scene in which swordfights, poison, and invading foreign army all collide on stage practically simultaneously. Other authors might frustrate the reader's desires deliberately, as in Frank Stockton's "The Lady or the Tiger," in which a somewhat sadistic narrator describes a thought-provoking scenario. In this scenario, a young man is to be put to death. He is locked in an arena with two adjourning gates, and his young lover must decide his fate. This jealous young girl must choose whether to open a gate releasing a starving tiger into the arena from one gate, or instead open a second gate that would release a beautiful girl into the arena with him, a sexual competitor for the young man's attentions. The narrator describes at length why she might open one gate or the other, either saving her lover but throwing him in the arms of another woman, or killing her lover but blocking the advances of her rival. In the final lines, however, the narrator declares he is not a position to know what happened "historically," and thus leaves it to the reader to determine, "which came out of the open door--the lady, or the tiger?"
Often writers will use suspense to manipulate the reader by terminating a section of the narrative at a dramatic point. The idea here is often to lure the reader or audience back to the story at some future date. Examples of this would be cliffhangers that deliberately (and sometimes literally) leave the hero hanging off the edge of a cliff at the end of a chapter or scene, or the strategy of Scherazhade in the 1001 Arabian Nights, who continually whets the Sultan's appetite to hear the rest of a story, so he spares her life for another night rather than executing her.
Suspense is typically a vital component in genres such as mystery novels, penny dreadfuls, ghost stories, creepypastas, and action-adventure novels.
SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF: See willing suspension of disbelief.
SUTRA: (1) A Sanskrit term for a poetic treatise or essay written in verse. (2) A Sanskrit phrase or saying (often educational or spiritual) designed for easy memorization. In the history of printing, one of the early experimental attempts at print was The Diamond Sutras. Not to be confused with sura, above.
SVARABHAKTI VOWEL: See discussion under intrusive schwa.
SYLLABA ANCEPS: Also called a syllable anceps, the term refers to a syllable that may optionally be read as either long or short--especially a syllable at the end of a line. See discussion under sapphic meter.
SYLLABARY: A writing system in which each symbol represents a syllable such as in Japanese kana (hiragana and katakana) scripts or in Sequoia's writing system for Amerindian readers.
SYLLEPSIS: A specialized form of zeugma in which the meaning of a verb cleverly changes halfway through a sentence but remains grammatically correct. See discussion under zeugma.
SYMBOL: A word, place, character, or object that means something beyond what it is on a literal level. For instance, consider the stop sign. It is literally a metal octagon painted red with white streaks. However, everyone on American roads will be safer if we understand that this object also represents the act of coming to a complete stop--an idea hard to encompass briefly without some sort of symbolic substitute. In literature, symbols can be cultural, contextual, or personal. (See cultural symbol, contextual symbol, and personal symbol.) An object, a setting, or even a character can represent another more general idea. Allegories are narratives read in such a way that nearly every element serves as an interrelated symbol, and the narrative's meaning can be read either literally or as a symbolic statement about a political, spiritual, or psychological truth. See also allegory, or click here to download a pdf handout contrasting allegory and symbolism in greater detail.
SYMBOLIC CHARACTER: Symbolic characters are characters whose primary literary function is symbolic, even though the character may retain normal or realistic qualities. For instance, in Ellison's Invisible Man, the character Ras is on a literal level an angry young black man who leads rioters in an urban rampage. However, the character Ras is a symbol of "race" (as his name phonetically suggests), and he represents the frustration and violence inherent in people who are denied equality. Cf. allegory.
SYMBOLIC WORD: In linguistics, this is a new word created because it sounds similar to another word with strong semantic associations. Algeo lists examples such as gleam, glitter, gloom, and glow, where the gl- suggests light (331).
SYMBOLISM: Frequent use of words, places, characters, or objects that mean something beyond what they are on a literal level. Often the symbol may be ambiguous in meaning. When multiple objects or characters each seem to have a restricted symbolic meaning, what often results is an allegory. Contrast with allegory, leit-motif and motif. Click here to download a pdf handout contrasting allegory and symbolism in greater detail.
SYMPLOCE: Repeating words at both the beginning and the ending of a phrase. In St. Paul's letters, he seeks symploce to reinforce in the reader the fact that his opponents are no better than he is: "Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they of the seed of Abraham? So am I" (2 Cor. 11:22-23). Contrast with anadiplosis. Symploce is an example of a rhetorical scheme.
SYMPOSIUM (plural symposia): An after-dinner speech contest or informal debate, often marked by dancing girls, drinking games, sexual activity, and philosophical argument. Such spontaneous talks were popular in classical Athens as evening entertainment. Probably the most famous is that one depicted in Plato's Symposium.
SYNAERESIS: When two vowels appear side-by-side within a single word, and the poet blurs them together into a single syllable to make his meter fit. Contrast with elision, syncope, and acephalous lines.
SYNCHRONIC: The examination of a subject such as literature, linguistics, or history when focusing on a single point of time--but perhaps across a wide geographic area, a variety of economic situations or through comparison and contrast of that subject with related ones in the same time period. Synchronic studies are, however, not concerned with historical change. This term contrasts with a diachronic study--one that focuses on historical change across time and examines that single topic over a period of years or centuries.
SYNCOPATED: A syncopated word has lost a sound or letter. This syncopation happens because of contractions, linguistic erosion over time, or intentional poetic artifice. See syncope.
SYNCOPATION: The use of syncope. See below.
SYNCOPE: When a desperate poet drops a vowel sound between two consonants to make the meter match in each line. It can also be used as a rhetorical device any time a writer deletes a syllable or letter from the middle of a word. For instance, in Cymbeline, Shakespeare writes of how, "Thou thy worldy task hast done, / Home art gone, and ta'en thy wages" (4.2.258). In 2 Henry IV, we hear a flatterer say, "Your lordship, though not clean past your youth, hath yet some smack of age in you, some relish of the saltness of time" (1.2.112). Here, the -i- in saltiness has vanished to create a new word. Syncope is an example of a rhetorical scheme.
SYNECDOCHE: A rhetorical trope involving a part of an object representing the whole, or the whole of an object representing a part. For instance, a writer might state, "Twenty eyes watched our every move." Rather than implying that twenty disembodied eyes are swiveling to follow him as he walks by, she means that ten people watched the group's every move. When a captain calls out, "All hands on deck," he wants the whole sailors, not just their hands. When a cowboy talks about owning "forty head of cattle," he isn't talking about stuffed cowskulls hanging in his trophy room, but rather forty live cows and their bovine bodies. When La Fontaine states, "A hungry stomach has no ears," he uses synecdoche and metonymy simultaneously to refer to the way that starving people do not want to listen to arguments. In the New Testament, a similar synecdoche about the stomach appears. Here, the stomach represents all the physical appetites, and the heart represents the entire set of personal beliefs. Paul writes:
Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple. (Romans 16:17)
Likewise, when Christians pray, "Give us this day our daily bread," they aren't asking God for bread alone, but rather they use the word as a synecdoche for all the mundane necessities of food and shelter. In the demonic play Faust, Marlowe writes of Helen of Troy, "Was this the face that launched a thousand ships, / And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?" The thousand ships is a synecdoche for the entire Greek army: i.e., men, horses, weapons, and all. Likewise, the towers are a synecdoche; they are one part of the doomed city's architecture that represents the entire city and its way of life. Helen's face is a decorous synecdoche for Helen's entire sexy body, since her suitors were presumably interested in more than her visage alone. Eliot writes in "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" that Prufrock "should have been a pair of ragged claws / Scuttling across the floor of silent seas." Here, the synecdoche implies the incompleteness of the poetic speaker. Prufrock is so futile and helpless, he shouldn't even be a complete crab, only the crab's claws scuttling along without a complete body, brain, or sense of direction. Henry IV implies that the city of Paris deserves some honorable ceremony when he claims, "Paris is well worth a mass," and so on.
Synecdoche is often similar to and overlaps with metonymy, above. It is an example of a rhetorical trope.
SYNAESTHESIA (also spelled synesthesia, from Grk. "perceiving together"): A rhetorical trope involving shifts in imagery or sensory metaphors. It involves taking one type of sensory input (sight, sound, smell, touch, taste) and comingling it with another separate sense in what seems an impossible way. In the resulting figure of speech, we end up talking about how a color sounds, or how a smell looks. When we say a musician hits a "blue note" while playing a sad song, we engage in synaesthesia. When we talk about a certain shade of color as a "cool green," we mix tactile or thermal imagery with visual imagery the same way. When we talk about a "heavy silence," we also use synaesthesia. Examples abound: "The scent of the rose rang like a bell through the garden." "I caressed the darkness with cool fingers." French poets, especially Baudelaire in Les fleurs du mal, have proven especially eager to use synaesthesia. The term itself is a fairly late addition to rhetoric and literary terminology, first coined in 1892, though examples of this figure of speech can be found in Homer, Aeschylus, Donne, Shelley, Crashaw, and scores of other writers and poets. Neurologists also have identified certain rare individuals who experience such blending of the senses, often associating a color with a number or letter. See examples under tropes.
SYNCHRONIC: A synchronic study is one that provides an overview of a subject at a particular moment in time, as opposed to a diachronic study, which traces changes from one time period to the next across many years or centuries. For example, in linguistics, etymology is a diachronic study--one concerned with where words came from in the past and how their meanings have changed from century to century. Saussurian linguistics, on the other hand, studies language synchronically as a functioning system of signs existing at the present moment without studying developmental changes across time.
SYNESTHESIA: An alternative spelling of synaesthesia, above.
SYNOPTIC GOSPELS: The three first gospels (Matthew Mark, Luke), which share several textual similarities. Biblical scholars think they might be adaptations from a single lost source known as the Q-Text. This contrasts with the fourth gospel, John, which does not share these traits. Thus, Matthew, Mark and Luke are synoptic, but John is non-synoptic.
SYNTAGMATIC CHANGE: Any change in language resulting from the influence of nearby sounds or words. Examples include linguistic assimilation and dissimilation.
SYNTAX (from Greek syntaxis): As David Smith puts it, "the orderly arrangement of words into sentences to express ideas," i.e., the standard word order and sentence structure of a language, as opposed to diction (the actual choice of words) or content (the meaning of individual words). Standard English syntax prefers a Subject-Verb-Object pattern, but poets may tweak syntax to achieve rhetorical or poetic effects. Intentionally disrupting word order for a poetic effect is called anastrophe. Syntax is often distinguished from morphology and grammar. Note that syntax is what allows us to produce sequential grammatical units such as phrases, clauses, and sentences. See also analytic language and synthetic language.
SYNTHETIC (also called a declined language): Not to be confused with an artificial or made-up language like Esperanto or Tolkien's Elvish, a synthetic language is one in which word order is irrelevant for determining meaning. Instead of using word order (i.e., Subject-Verb-Object or some similar pattern), a synthetic language uses special endings attached to the ends of nouns. These patterned endings, called declensions, indicate what noun in the sentence is a subject, what noun is a direct or indirect object, and so on, generally establishing the relationship between different parts of speech. Synthetic languages allow a great degree of poetic freedom in word order. Examples of synthetic languages include Latin, German, koine Greek, Welsh, and Anglo-Saxon. The opposite type of language is an analytic language such as Modern English, Spanish, or French. See also artificial language, anastrophe and periodic sentence. Click here for more information.
SYZYGY: (from Greek "yoke"): In classical prosody, syzygy describes the combination of any two feet into another single metrical unit. It is often used interchangeably with the more precise term dipody, which refers more specifically to the metrical substitution of two normal feet, usually iambs or trochees, under a more powerful beat, so that a "galloping" or "rolling" rhythm results. See meter, rhythm, dipody.
[A] [B] [C] [D] [E] [F] [G] [H] [I] [J] [K] [L] [M]
[N] [O] [P] [Q] [R] [S] [T] [U] [V] [W] [X] [Y] [Z]
I consulted the following works while preparing this list. I have tried to give credit to specific sources when feasible, but in many cases multiple reference works use the same examples or provide the same dates for common information. Students should examine these resources for more information than these humble webpages provide:
Abrams, M. H. A Glossary of Literary Terms. 6th edition. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace College Pub., 1993. [Now superseded by later editions.]
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Algeo, John and Thomas Pyles. The Origin and Development of the English Language. 5th edition. U.S.A., 2004.
Anderson, Douglas. "Note on the Text" in J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings. 50th anniversary edition. Houghton Mifflin, 2004.
Baugh, A. C. and Thomas Cable. A History of the English Language. 6th edition. Boston: Pearson Publishing, 2013.
Brown, Michelle P. Understanding Illuminated Manuscripts: A Guide to Technical Terms. London: The British Library and the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1994.
Burkert, Walter. Greek Religion. [Originally published 1977 as Griechische Religion der archaischen und klassischen Epoche.] Trans. John Raffan. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1985.
Carrick, Jake. E-mail interview. 28 April 2016.
Catholic University of America Editorial Staff. The New Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: McGraw-Hill. 1967-79.
Corbett, Edward P. J. Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student. 3rd edition. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1990.
Crow, Martin and Virginia E. Leland. "A Chronology of Chaucer's Life and Times." As condensed and reproduced in Larry Benson's The Canterbury Tales, Complete. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000. xxiii-xxv.
Cuddon, J. A. The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. London: Penguin Books, 1991.
Damrosch, David, gen. ed. The Longman Anthology of British Literature. 2nd Compact Edition. Volume A. New York: Pearson, 2004. 3 Vols.
Deutsch, Babette. Poetry Handbook: A Dictionary of Terms. Fourth Edition. New York: Harper and Row, 1974. Reprint as Barnes and Noble Edition, 1981.
Drout, Michael D. C. J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment. New York: Routledge, 2007.
Duffy, Seán. Medieval Ireland: An Encyclopedia. New York: Routledge, 2005.
Eagleton, Terry. Literary Theory: An Introduction. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1983.
Elkhadem, Saad. The York Dictionary Literary Terms and Their Origin: English, French, German, Spanish. York P, 1976.
Feeney, Denis. "Introduction." Ovid: Metamorphóses Trans. David Raeburn. London: Penguin Books, 2004.
Gabel, John B. and Charles B. Wheeler. The Bible as Literature: An Introduction. New York: Oxford U P, 1986.
Giroux, Joan. The Haiku Form. New York: Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1974. Reprinted New York: Barnes and Noble, 1999.
Greenblatt, Stephen. "Glossary." The Norton Shakespeare: Tragedies. New York: Norton, 1997. 1139-43.
Guerin, Wilfred L., et al. "Glossary." A Handbook of Critical Approaches to Literature. 2nd ed. New York: Harper and Row, 1979. 317-29.
Harkins, Williams E. Dictionary of Russian Literature. The New Students Outline Series. Patterson, New Jersey: Littlefield, Adams, and Co., 1959.
Harvey, Sir Paul and Dorothy Eagle, eds. The Oxford Companion to English Literature. 4th ed. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1969.
Holman, C. Hugh. A Handbook to Literature. 3rd edition. New York: The Odyssey Press, 1972.
Hopper, Vincent Foster. Medieval Number Symbolism: Its Sources, Meaning, and Influence on Thought and Expression. 1938. Republished Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2000.
Horobin, Simon. Chaucer's Language. New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2007.
Kane, George. The Autobiographical Fallacy in Chaucer and Langland Studies. London: H. K. Lewis, 1965.
Lacy, Norris J. The New Arthurian Encyclopedia. New York: Garland Publishing, 1996.
Lanham, Richard A. A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms. 2nd edition. Berkeley: U of California P, 1991.
Marshall, Jeremy and Fred McDonald. Questions of English. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1995.
Mawson, C. O. Sylvester and Charles Berlitz. Dictionary of Foreign Terms. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 2nd ed. 1975.
McManus, Damian. Ogam Stones At University College Cork. Cork: Cork U P, 2004.
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O'Donoghue, Heather. Old Norse-Icelandic Literature: A Short Introduction. Malden, MA:Blackwell Publishing, 2004.
Page, P.K. "Forward." Hologram. Brick Books, London, Ontario: 1994.
Palmer, Donald. Looking At Philosophy: The Unbearable Heaviness of Philosophy Made Lighter. 2nd edition. Mountain View, California: Mayfield Publishing Company, 1994.
Peck, Harry Thurston. Harper's Dictionary of Clasical Literature and Antiquities. New York: The American Book Company, 1923. 2 vols.
Preminger, Alex, and T.V.F. Brogan, et al. The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. New York: MJF Books for Princeton University Press, 1993.
Perelman, Ch. and L. Olbrechts-Tyteca. The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumentation. Notre Dame, U of Notre Dame P, 2000.
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The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989.
Quinn, Arthur. Figures of Speech: 60 Ways to Turn a Phrase. Davis, California: Hermagoras P, 1993.
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Scott, Kathleen L. Later Gothic Manuscripts, 1390-1490. A Survey of Manuscripts Illuminated in the British Isles 6. London: Harvey Miller Publishers, 1996. 2 Vols.
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Smith, David P. "Glossary of Grammar Terms." [Miscellaneous handouts made available to students in Basic Greek at Carson-Newman University in the Fall Term of 2006.]
Swain, Dwight V. Creating Characters. The Elements of Fiction Writing. Cincinnati: Writer's Digest Books, 1990.
Velásquez, Lito. E-mail communication. 26 October 2015.
Williams, Jerri. "Schemes and Tropes." [Miscellaneous handouts made available to her graduate students at West Texas A & M University in the Fall Term of 1993.]
Yasuda, Kenneth. The Japanese Haiku: Its Essential Nature, History, and Possibilities in English. Rutland, Vermont and Tokyo, Japan: Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1957.
Zenkovsky, Serge A. Medieval Russia's Epics, Chronicles, and Tales. Rev Ed. New York: Meridian Books, 1974.
Zireaux, Paul. E-mail Interview. 21 June 2012.
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