elegiac: mournful, sorrowful, melancholic (especially when describing a song, a piece of writing, or other work of art
expository: explanatory or informative (especially when describing writing) See: exposition below.
homiletic: like a homily (writing or speech that preaches)
Scylla and Charybdis: Literally, these are ancient, mythic Greek sea "monsters." Scylla is characterized as a rock formation and Charybdis as a whirlpool. Figuratively, the phrase refers to choosing between two dangers or hazards.
Additional vocabulary about rhetoric and argument for the midyear exam
(some vocabulary below appeared on previous vocabulary assessments)
An allegory is a fictional work in which the characters represent ideas or concepts. In Paul Bunyan's
Pilgrim's Progress, for example, the characters named Faithful, Mercy, and Mr. Worldly Wiseman
are clearly meant to represent types of people rather than to be characters in their own rights.
An allusion is a passing reference to a familiar person, place, or thing drawn from history, the Bible,
mythology, or literature. An allusion is an economical way for a writer to capture the essence of an
idea, atmosphere, emotion, or historical era, as in "The scandal was his Watergate," or "He saw
himself as a modern Job," or "Everyone there held those truths to be self-evident." An allusion
should be familiar to the reader; if it is not, it will add nothing to the meaning.
An allusion is a reference, usually oblique or faint, to another thing, idea, or person. For example, in
the sentence, "She faced the challenge with Homeric courage, "Homeric" is an allusion to Homer's
works, The Illiad and the Odyssey.
When something is ambiguous, it is uncertain or indefinite; it is subject to more than one
interpretation. For example, you might say, "The poet's use of the word is ambiguous, "to begin to
discuss the multiple meanings suggested by the use of the word and to indicate that there is an
uncertainty of interpretation.
Analogy asks a reader to think about the correspondence or resemblance between two things that are
essentially different; a form of comparison in which the writer explains something unfamiliar by
comparing it to something familiar. For example, if you say, "The pond was as smooth as a
mirror," you ask your audience to understand two different things: "pond" and "mirror" - as being
similar in some fashion. A second example is: A transmission line is simply a pipeline for electricity In the case of a water pipeline, more water will flow through the pipe as water pressure increases.
The same is true of a transmission line for electricity.
Reading analytically means reading actively, paying close attention to both the content and the
structure of the text. Analytical reading often involves answering several basic questions about the piece of writing under consideration: What does the author want to say? What is his or her main point?
Why does the author want to say it? What is his or her purpose? What strategy or strategies does the author use? Why and how does the author's writing strategy suit both the subject and the purpose? What is special about the way the author uses the strategy? How effective is the essay? Why?
Every pronoun refers back to a previous noun or pronoun - the antecedent; antecedent is the
grammatical term for the noun of or pronoun from which another pronoun derives its meaning. For
example, in the sentence, "The car he wanted to buy was a green one," the pronoun "one" derives its
meaning from the antecedent "car."
Antithesis is an opposition or contrast of ideas that is often expressed in balanced phrases or clauses.
For example, "Whereas he was boisterous, I was reserved" is a sentence that balances two antithetical
An appositive is a word or phrase that follows as noun or pronoun for emphasis or clarity.
Appositives are usually set off by commas. For example, in the sentence, "The Luxury train, The
Orient Express, crosses Europe from Paris to Istanbul in just twenty-six hours," the name "The
Orient Express" is the appositive for "train."
Argument is one of the four basic types of prose. (Narration, description and exposition are the
other three.) To argue is to attempt to convince the reader to agree with a point of view, to make a
given decision, or to pursue a particular course of action. Logical argument is based on reasonable
explanations and appeals to the reader's intelligence.
The thesis, claim, or proposition that a writer puts forward in argument.
Attitude describes the feelings of a particular speaker or piece of writing toward a subject, person or
idea. For example, a writer can think very positively or very negatively about a subject. In most
cases, the writer's attitude falls somewhere between these two extremes. This expression is often
used as a synonym for tone.
An audience is the intended readership for a piece of writing. For example, the readers of a national
weekly newsmagazine come from all walks of life and have diverse opinions, attitudes and educational
experiences. In contrast, the readership for an organic chemistry journal is made up of people whose
interests and educational backgrounds are quite similar.
A false or forced emotion that is often humorous. Whereas pathos draws upon deep emotion, bathos
takes this emotion to such an extreme that the reader finds it humorous rather than touching.
A beginning is the sentence, group of sentences or section that introduces an essay. Good beginnings
usually identify the thesis or controlling idea, attempt to interest the reader and establish a tone.
Some effective ways in which writers begin essays include (1) telling an anecdote that illustrates the
thesis, (2) providing a controversial statement or opinion that engages the reader's interest, (3)
presenting startling statistics or facts, (4) defining a term that is central to the discussion that
follows, (5) asking thought-provoking questions, (6) providing a quotation that illustrates the thesis,
(7) referring to a current event that helps establish the thesis, or (8) showing the significance of the
subject or stressing its importance to the reader.
An ending is the sentence or group of sentences that brings an essay to closure. Good endings are
purposeful and well planned. Endings satisfy readers when they are the natural outgrowths of the
essays themselves and convey a sense of finality or completion. Good essays do not simply stop;
The thesis or proposition put forth in argument.
A cliché is an expression that has become ineffective through overuse. Expressions such as quick as a
flash, dry as dust, jump for joy and slow as molasses are all clichés. Good writers normally avoid such
trite expressions and seek instead to express themselves in fresh and forceful language.
Coherence is a quality of good writing that results when all sentences, paragraphs and longer divisions
of an essay are naturally connected. Coherent writing is achieved through (1) a logical sequence of
ideas (arranged in chronological order, spatial order, order of importance or some other appropriate
order), (2) the thoughtful repetition of key words and ideas, (3) a pace suitable for your topic and
your reader, and (4) the use of transitional words and expressions. Coherence should not be confused
A colloquial expression is characteristic of or appropriate to spoken language or to writing that seeks
its effect. Colloquial expressions are informal, as chem., gym, come up with, be at loose ends, won't
and photo illustrate. Thus, colloquial expressions are acceptable in formal writing only if they are
Concrete / Abstract:
A concrete word names a specific object, person, place or action that can be directly perceived by the
senses: car, bread, building, book, Abraham Lincoln, Toronto or hiking. An abstract word, in
contrast, refers to general qualities, conditions, ideas, actions or relationships that cannot be directly
perceived by the senses: bravery, dedication, excellence, anxiety, stress, thinking or hatred.
Although writers must use both concrete and abstract language, good writers avoid using too many
abstract words. Instead, they rely on concrete words to define and illustrate abstractions. Because
concrete words affect the senses, they are easily comprehended by the reader.
Connotation / Denotation:
Both connotation and denotation refer to the meanings of words. Denotation is the dictionary
meaning of a word, the literal meaning. Connotation, on the other hand, is the implied or suggested
meaning of a word. For example, the denotation of lamb is "a young sheep." The connotations of
lamb are numerous: gentle, docile, weak, peaceful, blessed, sacrificial, blood, spring, frisky, pure,
innocent and so on. Good writers are sensitive to both the denotations and the connotations of
words and they use these meanings to advantage in their writing.
Description is one of the four basic types of prose. (Narration, exposition and argument are the
other three.) Description tells how a person, place or thing is perceived by the five senses.
Objective description reports these sensory qualities factually, whereas subjective description gives
the writer's interpretation of them.
Diction refers to an author's choice of words. For instance, in the sentence, "That guy was really
mad!" the author uses informal diction ("guy," "mad"); whereas in the sentence, "The gentleman was
considerably irritated," the author uses more elevated diction ("gentleman," "irritated"). A writer's
diction contributes to the tone of a text.
Ethos is the characteristic spirit or ideal that informs a work. In "The Country of the Pointed Firs"
by Sarah Orne Jewett, for instance, the ethos of the work is derived from the qualities of the
inhabitants, who are described as both noble and caring.
Ethos also refers more generally to ethics, or values of the arguer: honesty, trustworthiness, even
morals. In rhetorical writing, authors often attempt to persuade readers by appealing to their sense
of ethos, or ethical principles.
A euphemism is a mild or pleasant sounding expression that substitutes for a harsh, indelicate, or
simply less pleasant idea. Euphemisms are often used to soften the impact of what is being discussed.
For example, the word "departed" is a euphemism for the word "dead," just as the phrase "in the family way" is a euphemism for the word "pregnant."
An evaluation of a piece of writing is an assessment of its effectiveness or merit. In evaluating a
piece of writing, you should ask the following questions: What is the writer's purpose? Is it a
worthwhile purpose? Does the writer achieve the purpose? Is the writer's information sufficient and
accurate? What are the strengths of the essay? What are its weaknesses? Depending on the type of
writing and the purpose, more specific questions can also be asked. In response to an argument a reader might ask: Does the writer follow the principles of logical thinking? Is the writer's evidence convincing?
Evidence is the data on which a judgment or argument is based or by which proof or probability is
established. Evidence usually takes the form of statistics, facts, names, examples or illustrations and
opinions of authorities.
Exposition is one of the four basic types of prose. (Narration, description and argument are the
other three.) The purpose of exposition is to clarify, explain and inform. The methods of
exposition include process analysis, definition, division and classification, comparison and contrast,
exemplification and cause and effect analysis.
Figures of Speech:
Figures of speech are brief, imaginative comparisons that highlight the similarities between things
that are basically dissimilar. They make writing vivid and interesting and therefore more memorable.
The most common figures of speech are these:
Simile: An implicit comparison introduced by like or as: "The fighter's hands were like stone."
Metaphor: An implied comparison that uses one thing as the equivalent of another: "All the world's a stage."
Personification: A special kind of simile or metaphor in which human traits are assigned to an
inanimate object: "The engine coughed and then stopped."
The word "fiction" comes from the Latin word meaning to invent, to form, to imagine. Works of
fiction can be based on actual occurrences, but their status as fiction means that something has been
imagined or invented in the telling of the occurrence.
Foreshadowing is a purposeful hint placed in a work of literature to suggest what may occur later in
the narrative. For instance, a seemingly unrelated scene in a mystery story that focuses on a special
interest of the detective may actually foreshadow the detective's use of that expertise in solving the
Hyperbole is a figure of speech in which exaggeration is used to achieve emphasis. The expressions,
"my feet are as cold as an iceberg" and "I'll die if I don't see you soon," are examples of hyperbole.
The emphasis is on exaggeration rather than literal representation. Hyperbole is the opposite of
An idiom is a word or phrase that is used habitually with a particular meaning in a language. The
meaning of an idiom is not always readily apparent to nonnative speakers of that language. For
example, catch cold, hold a job, make up your mind and give them a hand are all idioms in English.
An image is a mental picture that is conjured by specific words and associations, but there can be auditory and sensory components to imagery as well. Nearly all writing depends on imagery to be
effective and interesting. Metaphors, similes, symbols and personification all use imagery.
Irony occurs when a situation produces an outcome that is the opposite of what is expected. In
Robert Frost's poem, "Mending Fences," for instance, it is ironic that the presence of a barrier - a
fence - keeps a friendship alive; Frost's observation that "Good fences make good neighbors" is both
true and ironic. Similarly, when an author uses words or phrases that are in opposition to each other
to describe a person or an idea, an ironic tone results. For example, in The Yellow Wallpaper by
Charlotte Perkins Gilman, when the speaker says, "I am glad my case is not serious!" the reader -
who is also aware of just how "serious" her case is - is aware of the irony of the statement.
When two contrasting things - ideas, words or sentence elements - are placed next to each other for
comparison, a juxtaposition occurs. For instance, a writer may choose to juxtapose the coldness of
one room with the warmth of another, or one person's honesty with another's duplicity.
Juxtaposition sheds light on both elements in the comparison.
A logical fallacy is an error in reasoning that renders an argument invalid. Some of the more
common logical fallacies are these:
Oversimplification: The tendency to provide simple solutions to complex problems: "The reason
we have inflation today is that OPEC has unreasonably raised the price of oil."
Non sequitur("It does not follow"): An inference or conclusion that does not follow from
established premises or evidence: "It was the best movie I saw this year and it should get an
Post hoc, ergo propter hoc ("After this, therefore because of this"): Confusing chance or
coincidence with causation. Because one event comes after another one, id does not necessarily
mean that the first event caused the second: "I won't say I caught cold at the hockey game, but I
certainly didn't have it before I went there."
Begging the question: Assuming in a premise that which needs to be proven: "If American
autoworkers built a better product, foreign auto sales would not be so high."
False analogy: Making a misleading analogy between logically unconnected ideas: "He was a brilliant basketball player; therefore, there's no question in my mind that he will e a fine coach.
Either/or thinking: The tendency to see an issue as having only two sides: "Used car salespeople are either honest or crooked.
The use of reason as a controlling principle in an argument. In rhetorical writing, authors often
attempt to persuade readers by appealing to their sense of logos, or reason.
A type of argumentative proof having to do with the logical qualities of an argument: data, evidence,
Mood is the prevailing or dominant feeling of a work, scene or event. The opening scene of
Macbeth in which three witches are center stage, for instance, sets a mood of doom and tragedy for
the first act of the play. Mood is similar to atmosphere.
Narration is one of the four basic types of prose. (Description, exposition and argument are the
other three.) To narrate is to tell a story, to tell what happened. Although narration is most often
used in fiction, it is also important in nonfiction, either by itself or in conjunction with other types
Objective / Subjective:
Objective writing is factual and impersonal, whereas subjective writing, sometimes called
impressionistic writing, relies heavily on personal interpretation.
An opinion is a belief or conclusion not substantiated by positive knowledge or proof. An opinion
reveals personal feelings or attitudes or states a position. Opinion should not be confused with
A literary technique that relies on the use of the same syntactical structures, (phrases, clauses,
sentences) in a series in order to develop an argument or emphasize an idea. For example, in the
declaration, "At sea, on land, in the air, we will be loyal to the very end," the parallel phrases at the
beginning of the sentence emphasize the loyalty and determination of a group of people.
Parallel structure is the repetition of word order or form either within a single sentence or in several
sentences that develop the same central idea. As a rhetorical device, parallelism can aid coherence
and add emphasis. Roosevelt's statement, "I see one third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, illnourished,"
illustrates effective parallelism.
Parody is an effort to ridicule or make fun of a literary work or an author by writing an imitation of
the work or of the author's style.
authors often attempt to persuade readers by appealing to the sense of pathos, or their emotions.
A type of argumentative proof having to do with audience: emotional language, connotative diction
and appeals to certain values.
Persona is the character created by the voice and narration of the speaker of a text. The term,
"persona" implies a fictional representation or an act of disguise (that the speaker is not the author,
but a created character).
Point of View:
The particular perspective from which a story is told is called the point of view. Stories may be told
from the point of view of specific characters or a narrator. The narrator, in turn, may be a
subjective narrator (who may or may not be involved in the story), or an all - knowing (omniscient)
narrator. (An omniscient narrator can tell you everything about the characters - even their inner
feelings and thoughts.) Examining the person of the pronouns used can further describe point of
view. Some literary works blend different points of view for emphasis and experimentation.
For example, a first person point of view uses the pronoun I and is commonly found in
autobiography and the personal essay; a third person point of view uses the pronouns he, she, or it
and is commonly found in objective writing.
Purpose is what the writer wants to accomplish in a particular piece of writing. Purposeful writing
seeks to relate (narration), to describe (description), to explain (process analysis, definition, division
and classification, comparison and contrast and cause and effect analysis), or to convince (argument).
Rhetoric, Rhetorical Purpose:
Rhetoric is the art and logic of a written or spoken argument. Rhetorical writing is purposeful;
examples of rhetorical purposes include to persuade, to analyze, or to expose.
The lines between purposes, strategies, and devices are blurry. To accomplish a rhetorical purpose, a
writer develops a rhetorical strategy, and then uses rhetorical devices to accomplish the goal.
Consider shelter as an example. If your purpose in constructing a shelter is to protect you from
inclement weather, one strategy for doing this might be to build a house (other strategies might
involve a tent or a cave, for instance). Devices would be the choices that you make as you build the
house, such as whether to use wood or bricks, the number and location of doors and windows, and so
In the same way, to achieve a purpose in writing you need a strategy and devices. To use a more
literary example, when arguing to persuade the world that Americans deserved to be independent
from England (rhetorical purpose), the writers of the Declaration of Independence refused to
recognize Great Britain's legislative authority (rhetorical strategy). To achieve this in their prose, the
writers used syntax (rhetorical device) that presented all Americans as adhering to one idea ("We the
People ... ") and diction (rhetorical device) that affirmed their right to be independent ("self-evident"
and "endowed by their Creator").
Rhetorical, or stylistic devices:
The specific language tools that an author uses to carry out a rhetorical strategy and thus achieve a
purpose for writing. Some typical language devices include allusion, diction, imagery, syntax,
selection of detail, figurative language and repetition.
A rhetorical question is a question that is asked for the sake of argument. No direct answer is
provided to a rhetorical question; however, the probable answer to such a question us usually implied
in the argument. "When will nuclear proliferation end" is such a question. Writers often use
rhetorical questions to introduce topics they plan to discuss or to emphasize important points.
A strategy is a plan of action or movement to achieve a goal. In rhetoric or writing, strategy
describes the way an author organizes words, sentences and overall argument in order to achieve a
Selection of Detail:
The specific words, incidents, images or events the author uses to create a scene or narrative are
referred to as the selection of detail.
Sequence refers to the order in which a writer presents information. Writers commonly select
chronological order, spatial order, order of importance, or order of complexity to arrange their
Style is the individual manner in which a writer expresses his or her ideas. The author's particular
selection of words, construction of sentences and arrangement of ideas create style.
Syntax refers to the way words are arranged in a sentence. For example, the following two sentences
share a similar meaning, but have different syntax, or word order: "The big blue sky beckoned her,"
essentially says the same thing as, "She was beckoned by the big blue sky."
Technical language, or jargon, is the special vocabulary of a trade or profession. Writers who use
technical language do so with an awareness of their audience. If the audience is a group of peers,
technical language may be used freely. If the audience is a more general one, technical language
should be used sparingly and carefully so as not to sacrifice clarity. See also Diction.
Tension, in a work of literature, is a feeling of excitement and expectation the reader or audience
feels because of the conflict, mood, or atmosphere of the work.
Texture describes the way the elements of a work of prose or poetry are joined together. It suggests
an association with the style of the author - whether, for instance, the author's prose is rough-hewn
(elements at odds with one another) or smooth and graceful (elements flow together naturally).
The theme of a work is usually considered the central idea. There can be several themes in a single
work. In The Woman Warrior, for instance, Maxine Hong Kingston includes endurance, loyalty,
bravery, intelligence, fortune and risk as themes variously treated and dramatized.
A thesis is a statement of the main idea of an essay. Also known as the controlling idea, a thesis may
sometimes be implied rather than stated directly.
A title is a word or phrase set off at the beginning of an essay to identify the subject, to capture the
main idea of the essay or to attract the reader's attention. A title may be explicit or suggestive. A
subtitle, when used, extends or restricts the meaning of the main title.
Tone, which can also be called attitude, is the way the author presents a subject. An author's tone
can be serious, scholarly, humorous, mournful or ironic, just to name a few examples. A particular
tone results from a writer's diction, sentence structure, purpose and attitude toward the subject. A
correct perception of the author's tone is essential to understanding a particular literary work;
misreading an ironic tone as a serious one, for instance, could lead you to miss the humor in a
description or situation. See also Attitude.
The topic sentence states the central idea of a paragraph and thus limits and controls the subject of
the paragraph. Although the topic sentence most often appears at the beginning of the paragraph, it
may appear at any other point, particularly if the writer is trying to create a special effect.
Transitions are words or phrases that link sentences, paragraphs and larger units of a composition to
achieve coherence. These devices include parallelism, pronoun references, conjunctions and the
repetition of key ideas, as well as the many conventional transitional expressions, such as moreover,
on the other hand, in addition, in contrast and therefore. Also see Coherence.
understatement. For example, if a writer refers to a very destructive monsoon as "a bit of wind," the
power of the event is being deliberately understated.
Unity is achieved in an essay when all the words, sentences and paragraphs contribute to its thesis.
The elements of a unified essay do not distract the reader. Instead, they all harmoniously support a
single idea or purpose.
How the speaker of a literary work presents himself or herself to the reader determines that speaker's
unique voice. For example, the speaker's voice can be loud or soft, personal or cold, strident or
gentle, authoritative or hesitant, or can have any manner or combination of characteristics.
Voice is also a grammatical term. A sentence can be written in either active or passive voice. A
simple way to tell the difference is to remember that when the subject performs the action in a
sentence, the voice is active (for example: "I sent the letter."); when the subject is acted upon, the
voice is passive (for example, "The letter was sent by me."
The writing process consists of five major stages: prewriting, writing drafts, revision, editing and
publication. The process is not inflexible, but there is no mistaking the fact that most writers follow
some version of it most of the time. Although orderly in its basic components and sequence of
activities, the writing process is nonetheless continuous, creative and unique to each individual writer.
Subject Specific Vocabulary about Lord of the Flies
suspension of disbelief
motif (visual motif, conceptual motif)
clown/fool (in the literary sense)
Subject Specific Vocabulary about Hamlet and Shakespearean Drama
Elizabethan Drama (also called English Renaissance Drama or Early Modern Drama)
2nd Quarto and 1st Folio
Inverted sentence and Periodic sentence
Iambic Pentameter (also called blank verse when the line's don't rhyme)
Pun (including double entendres)
memoir-essay / personal experience essay
point of view
(literal or sensory/figurative) imagery
Subject Specific Vocabulary about satire
irony (verbal irony, dramatic irony, situational irony)
Vocabulary (and an acronym) about discourse
Vocabulary about sentences
Vocabulary about vocabulary
AP Exam Multiple Choice General Academic Vocabulary (chosen by students)
Grendel General Academic Vocabulary
Sycophant A servile self-seeker who attempts to win favor by flattering influential people.
Fuliginous Colored as if by soot
Hex An evil spell; a curse. To curse
Leer desirous, sly, or knowing look. To glance sidelong esp. sexually or maliciously
Noun/verb Old English
Moor A broad area of open land, often high but poorly drained, with patches of heath and peat bogs.
Noun Old English
Solipsist One who believes in the theory or view that the self is the only reality.
Ominous Menacing; threatening
Debauch To corrupt morally.
Omniscience the state of being all knowing
Hoary Gray or white with or as if with age.
Adjective Old English
Dirge A funeral hymn or lament.
Dogmatism Arrogant, stubborn assertion of opinion or belief.
Petulant Unreasonably irritable or ill-tempered; peevish.
Intimation A hint; an obscure or indirect suggestion or notice; a remote or ambiguous reference; as, he had given only intimations of his design.
Nihilism A doctrine holding that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated
Paradox A seemingly contradictory statement that may nonetheless be true
Inchoate In an initial or early stage; incipient.
Ossify To change into bone; become bony. To become rigid
Omnipotence unlimited or universal power
General Academic Vocabulary from Lord of the Flies
[See vocabulary handout]
General Academic Vocabulary (personal essay/memoir unit)Adjectives and verbs to discuss personal essays
Adjectives to describe satirical/humorous/ironic/sarcastic tones