Literary Terms (Hyperbole-Oxymoron)

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Last updated: December 11, 2019
Hyperbole
A boldly exaggerated statement that adds emphasis without intending to be literally true, as in the statement “He ate everything in the house.”

Iambic pentameter
A metrical pattern in poetry which consists of five iambic feet per line. (An iamb, or iambic foot, consists of one unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable.)

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A word, phrase, or figure of speech (especially a simile or a metaphor) that addresses the senses, suggesting mental pictures of sights, sounds, smells, tastes, feelings, or actions.

Irony
A literary device that uses contradictory statements or situations to reveal a reality different from what appears to be true.

Limerick
A light, humorous style of fixed form poetry.

Its usual form consists of five lines with the rhyme scheme aabba; lines 1, 2, and 5 contain three feet, while lines 3 and 4 usually contain two feet.

Line
A sequence of words printed as a separate entity on the page. In poetry, they are usually measured by the number of feet they contain. The names for various line lengths are as follows:monometer: one footdimeter: two feettrimeter: three feettetrameter: four feetpentameter: five feethexameter: six feetoctameter: eight feet

Lyric
A type of brief poem that expresses the personal emotions and thoughts of a single speaker. It is important to realize, however, that although it is uttered in the first person, the speaker is not necessarily the poet.

Marxist criticism
An approach to literature that focuses on the ideological content of a work, its explicit and implicit assumptions and values about matters such as culture, race, class, and power.

Melodrama
A term applied to any literary work that relies on implausible events and sensational action for its effect.

The conflicts in them typically arise out of plot rather than characterization; often a virtuous individual must somehow confront and overcome a wicked oppressor. Usually, this kind of story ends happily, with the protagonist defeating the antagonist at the last possible moment. Thus, they entertain the reader or audience with exciting action while still conforming to a traditional sense of justice.

Metaphor
a figure of speech that makes a comparison between two unlike things, without using the word “like” or “as.

Meter
When a rhythmic pattern of stresses recurs in a poem. They are determined by the type and number of feet in a line of verse; combining the name of a line length with the name of a foot concisely describes the meter of the line.

Mythological criticism
An approach to literature that seeks to identify what in a work creates deep universal responses in readers, by paying close attention to the hopes, fears, and expectations of entire cultures.

Narrative poem
A poem that tells a story. It may be short or long, and the story it relates may be simple or complex.

Narrator
The voice of the person telling the story, not to be confused with the author’s voice.

New Criticism
An approach to literature made popular between the 1940s and the 1960s that evolved out of formalist criticism.

New historicism
An approach to literature that emphasizes the interaction between the historic context of the work and a modern reader’s understanding and interpretation of the work.

Octave
A poetic stanza of eight lines, usually forming one part of a sonnet.

Ode
A relatively lengthy lyric poem that often expresses lofty emotions in a dignified style. They are characterized by a serious topic, such as truth, art, freedom, justice, or the meaning of life; their tone tends to be formal.

There is no prescribed pattern that defines it

Oedipus complex
A Freudian term derived from Sophocles’ tragedy Oedipus the King. It describes a psychological complex that is predicated on a boy’s unconscious rivalry with his father for his mother’s love and his desire to eliminate his father in order to take his father’s place with his mother.

One-act play
A play that takes place in a single location and unfolds as one continuous action. The characters in it are presented economically and the action is sharply focused.

Onomatopoeia
A term referring to the use of a word that resembles the sound it denotes. Buzz, rattle, bang, and sizzle are examples.

Open form
Sometimes called “free verse,” this kind of poetry does not conform to established patterns of meter, rhyme, and stanza. Such poetry derives its rhythmic qualities from the repetition of words, phrases, or grammatical structures, the arrangement of words on the printed page, or by some other means.

Organic form
Refers to works whose formal characteristics are not rigidly predetermined but follow the movement of thought or emotion being expressed.

Oxymoron
A condensed form of paradox in which two contradictory words are used together, as in “sweet sorrow” or “original copy.”

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