Biblioklept’s Dictionary of Literary Terms

AUTEUR

French for author, this term denotes a film director who makes the same film again and again and again.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

A detailed list of the books from which the author plundered all his or her good ideas.

CIRCUMLOCUTION

The rhetorical device of circumlocution can be seen by the reader or made evident to the reader when a writer chooses to compose phrases, clauses, or sentences that are inordinately complex, exaggerated, long-winded, or otherwise unnecessarily verbose in order to demonstrate, convey, show, or express an idea, image, or meaning that might have been demonstrated, conveyed, shown, or expressed via the use of shorter, simpler, more direct phrases, clauses, or sentences that demonstrate brevity.

Inexperienced writers, especially composition students, are advised to use circumlocution to pad their writing and meet the assigned word count.

DESCRIPTIVIST

A grammarian who holds strong opinions and judgments about prescriptivists.

EXPOSITION

Telling without showing. Exposition can be extremely useful to the reader, who will slight the author who successfully employs it.

FREE INDIRECT STYLE

James Wood Approved!™

GOLDEN AGE

A comforting, nebulous fantasy.

HAGIOGRAPHY

A biography composed entirely of distortions, half-truths, and outright lies.

INNUENDO

The funny dirty bits that make you feel clever.

JARGON

Trade-specific diction employed (preferably clumsily) to confuse the average reader and offend the expert reader.

KINDLE

Early 21st-century reading device, often mistaken as a harbinger of literary doom.

LITERALLY

An adverb that most often means figuratively.

MYTH

The most enduring—and therefore most true—kind of story.

NEGATIVE CAPABILITY

A writer’s ability to just chill and not know. (Also useful for lazy frauds).

OBJECTIVE POINT OF VIEW

A comforting, nebulous fantasy.

PRESCRIPTIVIST

A grammarian who holds strong opinions and judgments about descriptivists.

QUEST

The story-teller’s scheme. Make it up as you go along. Steal as necessary.

REALISM

A comforting, nebulous fantasy.

SEBALDIAN

An adjective used to describe a literary work that is not quite as good as anything by W.G. Sebald.

TRAGEDY

A work often mistaken as more serious or more important or more literary than a comedy.

UNIVERSAL SYMBOL

A comforting, nebulous fantasy.

VULGARITY

A specific type of lucidity that authors sometimes use.

WELTSCHMERZ

The emotional byproduct of attempting to maintain comforting, nebulous fantasies.

XANAX

A stop-gap for bouts of Weltschmerz.

YOKNAPATAWPHA COUNTY

Faulkner’s Middle-earth.

ZYZZYVA

Zyzzyva is a real word, and this fact should give us all some small measure of hope..

(Previous entries here and here and here.).

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Biblioklept’s Dictionary of Literary Terms

ALLEGORY

Didactic extended metaphor, best enjoyed amorally.

BIOGRAPHY

The sordid and lurid details of an author’s life; use as a critical rubric if the author’s work seems beyond comprehension.

CATACHRESIS

Mixed or imprecise metaphor. When an author stretches her words like taffy across the loom of meaning.

DEATH OF THE NOVEL

Declare the novel dead every few weeks. Resuscitate as necessary.

EPIC

Originally used to denote lengthy narrative works concerning serious subjects, this term may now be applied freely to modify failure, coffee, tacos, kittens, etc.

FANTASY

An inventive and imaginative style of fiction eschewed and denigrated by serious readers and writers.

GNOMIC POETRY

Poetry composed in the secret language of garden gnomes, inaudible to mortal ears.

HUBRIS

Defining common characteristic of all politicians.

IRONY

Dominant mode of much of 21st century communication (including, lamentably, this list).

JOYCEAN

Hyperbole used to describe lengthy works of contemporary authors. Use to disappoint potential readers.

KENNING

Circumlocution of meaning. E.g. “feed the eagle” for “kill,” “battle-sweat” for “blood,” “tube of garbage” for “internet.”

LEONINE VERSE

Poetry about lions.

MORAL

Each reader’s personal misunderstanding of the meaning of a work of literature.

NONFICTION

What your father reads.

OPEN LETTER

A solipsistic bid for attention delivered under the pretense of reaching out to another entity.

PASTORAL

Use to describe any work of literature set outside of a city.

QUATRAIN

A stanza

or poem

composed of

four lines.

RED HERRING

A false clue employed by an author to distract the reader. A novel where all points of evidence are red herrings (preferable) is a shaggy dog story.

STRUCTURALISM

Grab bag of theories you learned in college.

TRILOGY

Elevate any degraded work of pop culture by repeating it twice. Reboot as necessary.

UNRELIABLE NARRATOR

This narrator cannot be depended upon to pick you up from the airport, water your plants while you’re away, meet you on time for a beer or coffee, return small loans, etc.

VICTORIANISM

Indicative of literature of the prudish, uptight Victorian Era. Famous Victorian works include Venus in FursThe Pearl, and The Lustful Turk.

WITTGENSTEIN

Twentieth-century philosopher. Quote the first and last lines of his book Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus frequently (don’t worry about reading anything in between).

XENOPHOBIA

Fear of warrior princesses.

YELP

The pinnacle of contemporary criticism.

ZEUGMA

The list ended with zeugma and disappointment.

(Previous entries here and here).

Biblioklept’s Dictionary of Literary Terms

AFFECTIVE FALLACY

Avoid reading with emotions. Ignore any feelings you feel during reading—that’s not the point of literature.

BYRONIC HERO

Super-cool cool guy.

CANON

All the literature that’s fit to print. Declare it dead or meaningless or obsolete every few years. Revise as necessary.

DIARY

The private thoughts of an author, never intended for publication. Publish and disseminate widely after death.

ENLIGHTENMENT

A brief, optimistic mistake.

FRANKENSTEIN

Always point out that Frankenstein is the doctor’s name, not the monster’s. Argue that Percy Shelley’s edits were intrusive.

GOTHIC NOVEL

Wears black; smokes cloves.

HAIKU

A form of poetry grade school children are forced to write. Count the syllables.

INKHORN TERM

Linguistic aureation proliferated to adnichilate reader apperception.

JOUISSANCE

A nebulous, sticky French pun.

KITSCH

The sad process by which the consumerist trash capitalism necessitates colonizes an aesthetic perspective via defensive irony.

LIMERICK

The acme of excellence in poetry. Nantucket is a popular setting.

MEMOIR

A genre of literature often mistaken for truth by its audience.

NOVELLA

A novelist’s chance at perfection.

ORWELLIAN

A useful adjective. Misuse freely—especially if you only dimly recall the two or three things you ever read by George Orwell.

PHALLOGOCENTRISM

In the beginning there was the Word, and the Word was Phallus.

QUARTO

Bring up in any discussion of Shakespeare; watch the students’ eyes glaze over.

ROMAN A CLEF

A genre of literature often mistaken for fiction by its audience.

SOCRATIC IRONY

The tedious, drawn out process of questioning that Plato submits his characters to in order to get to his thesis.

THEME

A misunderstanding of the text in which all its words are distilled into a single cliché, guaranteeing that the text will not have to be reread.

UNCANNY

Pair with valley or X-Men.

VARIORUM

An annotated edition of a text with scholarly commentary intended to ruin any possible enjoyment on the reader’s part.

WELTANSCHAUUNG

A German word that students should use in term papers instead of “viewpoint” or “perspective.”

XANADU

Poorly received 1980 musical film about roller skating. Also the setting of a Coleridge poem.

YA

Abbreviation for “Young Adult,” a genre of books that people of all ages read and which serve as the basis for Hollywood film franchises.

ZARATHUSTRA

Dude who spake.

Biblioklept’s Dictionary of Literary Terms

APHORISM

A concise, often witty, turn of phrase that should be shared out of context on Twitter or Pinterest.

BILDUNGSROMAN

Novel where someone (preferably male) matures into the ideal state of bitter disillusionment.

CATHARSIS

Evocation of fear and pity. Best exemplified in modern storytelling by Lifetime Network original movies.

DECONSTRUCTION

A form of textual analysis. No one knows what it means. Apply liberally.

EXISTENTIALIST

Use to describe any French novel of the 20th century. Serve with coffee and cigarettes.

FOIL

First, Outer, Inner, Last.

GENRE FICTION

Deride genre fiction at all times. If a writer uses genre tropes, praise her for genre bending. (See LITERARY FICTION).

HYSTERICAL REALISM

Use to describe any big ambitious novel that does not meet your aesthetic and/or moral needs.

IAMBIC PENTAMETER

All poetry is composed in iambic pentameter.

JUVENILIA

A writer’s immature work, which she usually (wisely) withholds from publication. After the writer dies, every scrap should be published, scrutinized, and passed around the internet out of context.

KAKFAESQUE

Synonym for “odd.” Apply freely.

LITERARY FICTION

A genre of fiction that pretends not to be a genre. What your book club is reading this month.

MAGICAL REALISM

Use to describe any novel by a South American writer.

NARRATOLOGY

Use structuralist techniques to analyze narrative plots—and watch the kids go wild! Narratology is the number one thing the audience of a book review is interested in.

ORPHAN

All heroes must be orphans.

PANOPTICON

Use this term liberally in any discussion of modern politics. Pairs well with film studies courses.

QUEER THEORY

A form of literary analysis that conveniently begins with the letter “Q,” making it ideal for silly alphabetized lists like this one.

ROUND CHARACTER

A character portrayed in psychological and emotional depth to the degree that she comes alive in your imagination. Round characters provide an excellent alternative to making meaningful human relationships.

SOUTHERN GOTHIC

Use to describe the style of any writer from the Southern part of the United States.

TAUTOLOGY

A tautology is a tautology.

UTOPIA

Synonym for dystopia. Argue about its pronunciation, indicating that you understand the complexities of Greek prefixes.

VERISIMILITUDE

Literary trickery.

WHODUNNIT

A genre of books that sells well in airports.

XENA

Beloved warrior princess. Look, is hardokay?

YOUNG WERTHER

The original sad bastard; he invented emo.

ZEITGEIST

Time’s ghost. You’re soaking in it, which makes it hard to see.