Enumerate me
May 11, 2011 9:22 AM   Subscribe

The 40 Literary Terms You Should (maybe, depending on your predilection for books and availability of interstitial moments in which to read) Know
posted by four panels (58 comments total) 67 users marked this as a favorite

 
3. Applicability: The venerable Lord of the Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien coined this term when badgered one too many times about whether or not his beloved fantasy series was supposed to be a World War II allegory.

Erm ... World War I, perhaps?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 9:27 AM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


tl;dr - is interstitial one of em?
posted by spicynuts at 9:31 AM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I would add deus ex machina, for starts.
posted by kinnakeet at 9:32 AM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I would add deus ex machina, for starts.

Me too. Also: metonymy.
posted by tiger yang at 9:36 AM on May 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


Influence vs allegory, Zen. The books (The Hobbit, moreso) were influenced by his experiences in WWI, but because LotR was published in the '50s, people assumed that it was an allegory for WWII.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:37 AM on May 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


For extra bibliophile points, try tossing out the term "kunstlerroman" when appropriate. That’s a special kind of bildungsroman following the growth of an artist or other creative type.

It is not hyperbole to say I have been literally waiting my entire life for this word.
posted by The Whelk at 9:41 AM on May 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


Remind me: if "rain on your wedding day" isn't ironic, what is it? Dramatic contrast? Pathos? Bathos?
posted by alasdair at 9:41 AM on May 11, 2011


Nice handy list. The Alanis Morrisette-directed teaching moment on irony made me snicker.
posted by orange swan at 9:42 AM on May 11, 2011


Of irony: "a situation where the outside and the inside exist in a dissonant state"

This is easily the least-helpful description of irony that I have seen. In fact, many of her little definitions are more self-consciously clever than helpful.
posted by gilrain at 9:49 AM on May 11, 2011 [10 favorites]


What, no litotes?
posted by unknowncommand at 10:00 AM on May 11, 2011


"This is easily the least-helpful description of irony that I have seen."

Isn't that ironic.

"What, no litotes?"

Oddly, the list employs the much less common term "meiosis" for this.

The list is kind of odd all around.
posted by kyrademon at 10:03 AM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I didn't know a lot of the terms on that list, despite thinking of myself as being fairly well read, and having studied English as my BA degree. That's a pretty terrific blog all around, with the exception of the terrible generic white-on-black text blogspot template.

also, the entire song is about irony yet contains no actual examples of irony, which is itself an ironic act. we can pull the idea of "death of the author" into this, and say that in spite of whatever misconceptions alanis may have had about irony, her song does indeed succeed as a work of art, as it aptly demonstrates irony, albeit in a metacontextual fashion
posted by codacorolla at 10:04 AM on May 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


It seems like everyone makes ham-handed use of in media res lately. This is especially bad on prime time television. Does no one ever tells a linear story any more?
posted by JaredSeth at 10:10 AM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


In fact, many of her little definitions are more self-consciously clever than helpful.

Welcome to the world of blogs! I actually quite enjoy those sorts of jokey definitions when done by someone who knows their stuff. I'd recommend John Ralston Saul's The Doubter's Companion as a good example of this sort of thing.
posted by Hoopo at 10:11 AM on May 11, 2011


I wanted to like this, but it's entirely unreadable. Is there a word for that?
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:13 AM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Tyranny Of Hope.
posted by The Whelk at 10:15 AM on May 11, 2011


As I read this, I have to keep reminding myself that they can't come take my degrees away from me.
posted by JanetLand at 10:23 AM on May 11, 2011


That blog has some terrific content. I like the list, esp. #3; I'd always heard that Tolkien rejected the description of LOTR as an allegory, and enjoyed reading more about it. great link, thanks for posting it.
posted by theora55 at 10:33 AM on May 11, 2011


Aristotle in no way "coined" the term hamartia. He injected the word into literary criticism, sure, but it meant "flaw" or "failing" long before the Poetics.

*takes off pedant hat*
posted by Bromius at 10:35 AM on May 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


If this means more people will get my jokes about picaresques, then I am happy indeed.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:40 AM on May 11, 2011


I wanted to like this, but it's entirely unreadable. Is there a word for that?

ex-sanguine-ation?

As I read this, I have to keep reminding myself that they can't come take my degrees away from me.

And if they could, would it be referred to as degrees of separation? ;)
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:49 AM on May 11, 2011


I've never heard of the literary agent hypothesis and I might be misunderstanding it, but it made be think of this interesting NY Magazine piece on narrative & the bin Laden denouement.
posted by yarrow at 10:59 AM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Literary Agent hypothesis is pretty interesting. Also:

Ubi sunt: At some point in their lives, everyone reads a literary work (or its corresponding Cliffs Notes) about the transience of mortality and how people are really just ants, man, ants in this big cosmic soup. At some point in their lives, everyone reads an ubi sunt, they just didn’t know there was a Latin phrase for it because that language is dead.

Come on haters, that's funny!
posted by Think_Long at 11:00 AM on May 11, 2011


if "rain on your wedding day" isn't ironic, what is it?

Inclement weather.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:01 AM on May 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


5 (a). Dildungsroman: A novel about a young person's discovery of sex toys.
posted by tigrefacile at 11:07 AM on May 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Bowdlerize: Because of his numerous silly cuts and edits to Shakespeare (SHAKESPEARE!), Thomas Bowdler has become immortalized as the unintentional founder of yet another word for censorship and needless meddling. When American The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy editions replaced the f-dash-dash-dash word with "Belgium," it found itself on the receiving end of a serious bowdlerizing.

Wait, really? Well, it's much funnier with Belgium.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 11:08 AM on May 11, 2011


Metafilter: kind of scared of this newfound awareness
posted by Danf at 11:23 AM on May 11, 2011


I have a particular soft
spot for enjambment.
posted by litnerd at 11:46 AM on May 11, 2011


Yeah, the description of ubi sunt is funny, but the idea that everyone needs to know it is absurd. I can't even recall the last time I encountered the term and I read voraciously. I knew what it was but have never had occasion to use it myself. UNTIL NOW.

Re: Tolkien and allegory, an even better example is Narnia. Sooooo many people think Narnia is a Christian allegory. I've decided to not be tat "well, actually..." guy and now I just let it pass, dying a little bit inside.
posted by Justinian at 11:46 AM on May 11, 2011


I wonder how you'd compare the number of people who think Narnia is a Christian allegory and the number of people who think Narnia was written by Tolkien.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:52 AM on May 11, 2011


Is that common? With the movies and all don't most people know Narnia is by Lewis?
posted by Justinian at 11:56 AM on May 11, 2011


Meta: Though meta as a word and a prefix usually means an abstract offshoot of a concept, many critics today use it to mean a self-referential text.

I feel like some sort of self-referential joke should be made here...
posted by quin at 12:03 PM on May 11, 2011


My favorite appraisal of "Ironic" was on Popup Video, when an English professor described the song as "really just a series of bummers."
posted by kirkaracha at 12:38 PM on May 11, 2011


I'm not sure I understand how humours is a literary term. Isn't it just an archaic concept that a reader might encounter in older works?
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 12:50 PM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Justinian: "Sooooo many people think Narnia is a Christian allegory. I've decided to not be tat "well, actually..." guy and now I just let it pass, dying a little bit inside."

I'll take the bait. I assume you wouldn't make the statement without knowing something I don't, but... how on earth can this not be a dead giveaway:
“Dearest,” said Aslan very gently, “you and your brother will never come back to Narnia.”
“Oh, Aslan!!” said Edmund and Lucy both together in despairing voices.
“You are too old, children,” said Aslan, “and you must begin to come close to your own world now.”
“It isn't Narnia, you know,” sobbed Lucy. “It's you. We shan't meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?”
“But you shall meet me, dear one,” said Aslan.
“Are are you there too, Sir?” said Edmund.
“I am,” said Aslan. “But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”
I thought this was widely accepted.
posted by gilrain at 12:51 PM on May 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yes, Narnia is a Christian allegory: "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" contains the crucifixion and resurrection, Aslan is an obvious Christ analogue, and The Last Battle makes the connection between the Heavens of both Narnia and Earth quite clear.

That said, the allegory isn't one-to-one, so you can't walk through the books and tick off references to the Gospel of John, or something. But they are allegory, in the style and spirit of the medieval form.

I've always thought that the difference in tone between LOTR and Narnia was due to the two men's academic specialties. Tolkien was an Old English scholar and Lewis did Middle English: Beowulf vz Troilus and Cresyde.
posted by jrochest at 1:01 PM on May 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


"What, no litotes?"

Perhaps their experience of litotes was not unlike Luigi Vercotti's:
They said I had to see. . . Doug. I was terrified. Everyone was terrified of Doug. Even Dinsdale was frightened of Doug. . .

He used. . . sarcasm.

He knew all the tricks: dramatic irony, metaphor, bathos, puns, parody, litotes and. . . *sob*. . . satire.

He was vicious.
posted by Herodios at 1:33 PM on May 11, 2011


"Death of the author," "Heresy of paraphase," and "literary agent hypothesis" don't really seem like "terms" to me.

My favorite appraisal of "Ironic" was on Popup Video, when an English professor described the song as "really just a series of bummers."

I'll be the one to defend Alanis. The term "irony" is awfully broad. A "series of bummers" is not much different than the common definition of cosmic irony, i.e. "God be fucking with you."

Old man wins lottery, dies next day. Check.
Death row pardon, two minutes too late. Check.
Free ride, after you've already paid. Check.
Mr. Play It Safe is afraid to fly for many years; when he finally overcomes his fear to fly, the plane crashes and he dies. Check.
Expectations of glorious wedding day dashed by bad weather. Check.
Cigarette break ruined by non-smoking policy. Check.
Meeting Mr. Right and then learning he's married. Check.

All seem like examples of cosmic irony to me.

Spoons, knives, traffic jams, and flies in Chardonnays are perhaps bigger stretches, but the song really isn't that bad in providing examples of what most people would consider irony.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:43 PM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the description of ubi sunt is funny, but the idea that everyone needs to know it is absurd.

Well, I think the blog post was titled "things you should know" instead of "need know" for a reason. Think of it more like a cracked.com list than a mandatory primer.
posted by Think_Long at 1:44 PM on May 11, 2011


Sooooo many people think Narnia is a Christian allegory. I've decided to not be tat "well, actually..." guy and now I just let it pass, dying a little bit inside.

Yes, please to explain. I can understand saying that it's not strictly a Christian allegory, but c'mon.

I'm not going to bother with any real research, but a quick Wikipedia mention (unsourced) says that:
C. S. Lewis described Aslan as an alternative version of Jesus that is: "as the form in which Christ might have appeared in a fantasy world".
I mean, doesn't he even capitalize "Lion" since Aslan is supposed to obviously represent Christ?
posted by mrgrimm at 1:56 PM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Aslan isn't a symbol for Christ, Aslan is Christ. It's like if I write a book with Bill Gates in it; Bill Gates isn't a symbol for Bill Gates, he's just Bill Gates.
posted by Justinian at 2:07 PM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Same with "represent". Aslan doesn't represent Christ, he is Christ.
posted by Justinian at 2:08 PM on May 11, 2011


Aslan is Christ

But with a different name ... and many different characteristics ... so ...

Is that "like your opinion, man," or is that generally accepted consensus? I read all the Narnia books when I was a kid, but I'm not a super fan or anything...

... reads more ...

OK, it seems like C.S. Lewis agrees with you. I suppose I'll continue to believe otherwise. Nothing in the books themselves led me to believe that Aslan is the same spirit as that of the Jesus Christ of the conventional universe.

I'd say if Lewis intended for Aslan to actually be Christ, he failed.

"A powerful lion, starting life at the top of the food chain, adored by all his subjects and filled with temporal power, killed by a despised evil witch for his power and then reborn to rule, is a Mithraic, not a Christian, myth."

- Adam Gopnik, "Prisoner of Narnia"
posted by mrgrimm at 2:41 PM on May 11, 2011


I've read dozens of online directories of literary terms (I teach H.S. AP Lit) and culled the most useful terms for a cut-and-paste study guide. This one is sui generis, though. Very strange.
posted by kozad at 2:41 PM on May 11, 2011


Metafilter: more self-consciously clever than helpful.
posted by pwnguin at 2:45 PM on May 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


jrochest: That said, the allegory isn't one-to-one, so you can't walk through the books and tick off references to the Gospel of John, or something. But they are allegory, in the style and spirit of the medieval form.

The problem with calling the Narnia books (which books and BBC versions of I grew up on and absolutely adore, btw) an allegory has to do with our definitions and the difference between allegory and symbol.

mrgrimm: I can understand saying that it's not strictly a Christian allegory, but c'mon.

The thing is that allegory, as a technical literary term, is generally accepted to be a narrative where the literal details correspond clearly and directly to a single set of ulterior, symbolic meanings. As jrochest said, the correspondence is decidedly not one-to-one. In, say, John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, Christian’s voyage from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City has a one-to-one correspondence to a Christian's spiritual journey from sin to holiness. The Narnia books do have analogues for crucifixion and resurrection and Aslan is certainly Christ-like, but what exactly is the allegory? Some scattered basic Christian stories? A general Christian world view and theology?

Plato's Allegory of the Cave is an allegory because each element in the story--the cave, the chained prisoners, the shadows, the sun--has a corresponding element in the single set of ulterior meanings--this world, its limited living inhabitants, what we perceive with our senses, ultimate reality which is apprehended intellectually.

The Narnia books undeniably have Christian symbols, but it's not entirely clear what they refer to and many of them can be interpreted in a multiplicity of ways. Without getting into the Intentional Fallacy and whether "the author" is alive or dead, it's pretty hard to definitively declare a work an allegory unless its writer has said as much. Since Lewis--who knew quite a bit about allegory--thinks his books aren't allegories, I think it makes the most sense to accept his judgments.
posted by -->NMN.80.418 at 4:06 PM on May 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


Nothing in the books themselves led me to believe that Aslan is the same spirit as that of the Jesus Christ of the conventional universe.

I'd say if Lewis intended for Aslan to actually be Christ, he failed.


Maybe you just didn't read closely enough? Aslan says he is Christ. He says it!
posted by Justinian at 4:24 PM on May 11, 2011


I thought this was widely accepted.

It's more than widely accepted that Aslan is Christ; that's the point of the books. That doesn't make it an allegory. Aslan isn't a symbol any more than David Copperfield symbolizes David Copperfield or Humbert Humbert is a symbol for Humbert Humbert.
posted by Justinian at 4:27 PM on May 11, 2011


Yeah, Justinian is right about the Narnia thing. C.S. Lewis addresses it specifically in an essay somewhere (don't remember where). He didn't sit down and say, "All right, how can I represent Christianity in this fantasy world?" That would have been allegory. He sat down and said, "I believe God is the God of everything, including Narnia. If he chose to appear in our world as a man named Jesus, how might he choose to appear in Narnia? And how would he go about saving Narnia, given what I believe about how he saved our world?" That's a fundamentally different approach. It's not allegorical so much as speculative. The speculation just starts out with a set of assumptions that's thoroughly Christian.
posted by Hypocrite_Lecteur at 4:52 PM on May 11, 2011


Also, to comment more directly on the link, caesurae show up in English poetry all the time; the term isn't just used in reference to Latin and Greek.
posted by Hypocrite_Lecteur at 4:55 PM on May 11, 2011


Yes, Narnia is Lewis writing about Christ dying and being reborn for the sins of another world just as he did with this one; it's not a symbol for what (he believed) happened here, it is the same thing happening elsewhere.
posted by Justinian at 5:25 PM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Bowdlerize: Because of his numerous silly cuts and edits to Shakespeare (SHAKESPEARE!), Thomas Bowdler has become immortalized as the unintentional founder of yet another word for censorship and needless meddling. When American The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy editions replaced the f-dash-dash-dash word with "Belgium," it found itself on the receiving end of a serious bowdlerizing.

Wait, really? Well, it's much funnier with Belgium.


No, not really. The passage is from the 10th BBC Radio episode. I just listened to it to be sure. About 24 minutes in:
"...but though even words like jujuflop, swut and turlingdrome are now perfectly acceptable in common usage, there is one word that is still beyond the pale. The concept it embodies is so revolting that the publication or broadcast of the word is utterly forbidden in all parts of the galaxy except one, where they don't know what it means. That word is 'Belgium'. And it is only ever used by loose-tongued people like Zaphod Beeblebrox in situations of dire provocation..."
posted by aneel at 6:59 PM on May 11, 2011


Oh, apparently she's referring to this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life,_the_Universe_and_Everything#Censorship
posted by aneel at 7:05 PM on May 11, 2011


I own the blog, added three suggested terms, changed background color, groveled and repented. Most of it was stolen, anyway and I did cite source. Glad you enjoyed it. I am a guy and not a librarian though I service librarians professionally. As a web developer.
posted by dbooker at 6:35 AM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


You are in danger of turning into Miss Groby, dbooker: but at least you didn't mention bloody zeugma. Or chiasmus. Note that a chiasmus includes anadiplosis, but not every anadiplosis reverses itself in the manner of a chiasmus. Makes me want to hit somebody with this milk.
posted by Segundus at 8:20 AM on May 12, 2011


Well, hot damn.
posted by unknowncommand at 10:28 PM on May 12, 2011


Objective Correlative should be there.

Also, I like that list. Also, I like the Metafilter acid bath. You're all a bunch of Kunstler's, yes?.

The other evening at a reading (Yeah, a fucking reading!) I casually, effectively and without irony or apology dropped the term Kunstlerroman. It is my new favorite word of the day week. There should be more Kunstler in the Romans these days and not so much superficial narcissistic bildings.

Also good: Synecdoche. Which seems related to Objective Correlative. And it would seem both those terms are Metonymy's or Metonymic?

Anyhow, good tools to put in the arsenal.

/Thinking outloud sorta...
posted by Skygazer at 5:38 AM on May 13, 2011


Also, welcome dbooker. Don't let the grumpy twatlers here, you, dismay. They're pretty friendly once they've been fed.
posted by Skygazer at 5:42 AM on May 13, 2011


« Older A Cult Influence. A short film on cult films. SLYT...  |  Claude Shannon and Marvin Mi... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments