Literary Terms and Definitions: C
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]
43 [O] [P] [Q] [R] [S] [T] [U] [V] [W] [X] [Y] [Z]
CACOPHONY (Greek, "bad sound"): The term in poetry refers to the use of words that combine sharp, harsh, hissing, or unmelodious sounds. It is the opposite of euphony.
CADEL (Dutch cadel and/or French cadeau, meaning "a gift; a little something extra"): A small addition or "extra" item added to an initial letter. Common cadels include pen-drawn faces or grotesques. Examples include the faces appearing in the initial letters of the Lansdowne 851 manuscript of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.
CADENCE: The melodic pattern just before the end of a sentence or phrase--for instance an interrogation or an exhortation. More generally, the natural rhythm of language depending on the position of stressed and unstressed syllables. Cadence is a major component of individual writers' styles. A cadence group is a coherent group of words spoken as a single rhythmical unit, such as a prepositional phrase, "of parting day" or a noun phrase, "our inalienable rights."
CADENCE GROUP: See discussion under cadence.
CAESURA (plural: caesurae): A pause separating phrases within lines of poetry--an important part of poetic rhythm. The term caesura comes from the Latin "a cutting" or "a slicing." Some editors will indicate a caesura by inserting a slash (/) in the middle of a poetic line. Others insert extra space in this location. Others do not indicate the caesura typographically at all.
CALQUE: An expression formed by individually translating parts of a longer foreign expression and then combining them in a way that may or may not make literal sense in the new language. Algeo provides the example of the English phrase trial balloon, which is a calque for the French ballon d'essai (Algeo 323).
CALLIGRAPHIC WORK: In medieval manuscripts, this is (as Kathleen Scott states), "Decorative work, usually developing from or used to make up an important or introductory initial, or developing from ascenders at the top of the page and descenders at the bottom of the justified text; a series of strokes made by holding a quill constant at one angle to produce broader and narrower lines, which in combination appear to overlap one another to form strap-work" (Scott 370).
CANCEL: A bibliographical term referring to a leaf which is substituted for one removed by the printers because of an error. For instance, the first quarto of Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida has a title page existing in both cancelled and uncancelled states, leaving modern readers in some doubt as to whether the play should be considered a comedy, history, or tragedy.
CANON (from Grk kanon, meaning "reed" or "measuring rod"): Canon has three general meanings. (1) An approved or traditional collection of works. Originally, the term "canon" applied to the list of books to be included as authentic biblical doctrine in the Hebrew and Christian Bible, as opposed to apocryphal works (works of dubious, mysterious or uncertain origin). Click here for more information. (2) Today, literature students typically use the word canon to refer to those works in anthologies that have come to be considered standard or traditionally included in the classroom and published textbooks. In this sense, "the canon" denotes the entire body of literature traditionally thought to be suitable for admiration and study. (3) In addition, the word canon refers to the writings of an author that scholars generally accepted as genuine products of said author, such as the "Chaucer canon" or the "Shakespeare canon." Chaucer's canon includes The Canterbury Tales, for instance, but it does not include the apocryphal work, "The Plowman's Tale," which has been mistakenly attributed to him in the past. Likewise, the Shakespearean canon has only two apocryphal plays (Pericles and the Two Noble Kinsmen) that have gained wide acceptance as authentic Shakespearean works beyond the thirty-six plays contained in the First Folio. NB: Do not confuse the spelling of cannon (the big gun) with canon (the official collection of literary works).
The issue of canonical literature is a thorny one. Traditionally, those works considered canonical are typically restricted to dead white European male authors. Many modern critics and teachers argue that women, minorities, and non-Western writers are left out of the literary canon unfairly. Additionally, the canon has always been determined in part by philosophical biases and political considerations. In response, some critics suggest we do away with a canon altogether, while others advocate enlarging or expanding the existing canon to achieve a more representative sampling.
CANTICLE: A hymn or religious song using words from any part of the Bible except the Psalms.
CANTO:A sub-division of an epic or narrative poem comparable to a chapter in a novel. Examples include the divisions in Dante's Divine Comedy, Lord Byron's Childe Harold, or Spenser's Faerie Queene. Cf. fit.
CANZONE: In general, the term has three meanings. (1) It refers generally to the words of a Provençal or Italian song. (2) More specifically, an Italian or Provençal song relating to love or the praise of beauty is a canzone. (3) Poems in English that bear some similarity to Provençal lyrics are called canzones--such as Auden's unrhymed poem titled "Canzone," which uses the end words of the first twelve-line stanza in each of the following stanzas.
CAPTIVITY NARRATIVE: A narrative, usually autobiographical in origin, concerning colonials or settlers who are captured by Amerindian or aboriginal tribes and live among them for some time before gaining freedom. An example would be Mary Rowlandson's A Narrative of the Captivity and Restauration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, which details her Indian captivity among the Wampanoag tribe in the late seventeenth century. Contrast with escape literature and slave narrative.
CARDINAL VIRTUES (also called the Four Pagan Virtues): In contrast to the three spiritual or Christian virtues of fides (faith), spes (hope), and caritas (love) espoused in the New Testament, the four cardinal virtues consisted of prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice. Theologians like Saint Augustine argued Christians alone monopolized faith in a true God, hope of a real afterlife, and the ability to love human beings not for their own sake, but as a manifestation of God's creation. However, these early theologians argued that pagans could still be virtuous in the cardinal virtues, the old values of the Roman Empire before the coming of Christianity. In Latin terminology, pagan Rome espoused the four cardinal virtues as follows:
prudentia (or sapientia): prudence, wisdom, foresight, planning ahead for emergencies, seeing the good of the whole community
fortitudo: fortitude, toughness, bravery, enduring pain in stoic silence, willingness to sacrifice or suffer for the good of the whole community
moderatio (or temperentia): moderation, avoiding extremes of appetite and enthusiasm, seeking balance
iustitia: justice, the preservation of the good and the punishment of the wicked.
The Latin four-fold classification--later adopted by Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas--originates in much older Greek philosophy. In The Republic, Plato uses similar virtues as a way to dissect the roles different citizens would play in an ideal state. Cf. pietas. Cf. Seven Deadly Sins.
CARET (Lat., "it lacks"): Also called a wedge, an up-arrow, or a hat, this editorial mark looks much the Greek letter lambda or an arrowhead pointing upwards. Here is an example: ^. An editor will write a caret underneath a line of text to indicate that a word, letter, or punctuation mark needs insertion at the spot where the two lines converge.
CARMEN: (Lat. "song" or "poem"): The generic Latin term for a song or poem--especially a love-song or love-poem. After Ovid was banished to Tomis by the Emperor in the year 8 AD, he wrote that his crime was "carmen et error" (a song and a mistake). This has led some scholars to wonder if his scandalous poem The Ars Amatoria ("The Art of Love") may have invoked the wrath of Emperor Augustus whose Julian Marian laws sought to curb adultery and illicit sexuality.
CARPE DIEM: Literally, the phrase is Latin for "seize the day," from carpere (to pluck, harvest, or grab) and the accusative form of die (day). The term refers to a common moral or theme in classical literature that the reader should make the most out of life and should enjoy it before it ends. Poetry or literature that illustrates this moral is often called poetry or literature of the "carpe diem" tradition. Examples include Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress," and Herrick's "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time." Cf. Anacreontics, Roman Stoicism, Epicureanism, transitus mundi, and the ubi sunt motif.
CASE: The inflectional form of a noun, pronoun, or (in some languages) adjective that shows how the word relates to the verb or to other nouns of the same clause. For instance, them is the objective case of they, and their is the possessive case of they. Common cases include the nominative, the accusative, the genitive, the dative, the ablative, the vocative, and the instrumental forms. Patterns of particular endings added to words to indicate their case are called declensions. Click here for expanded information.
CASTE DIALECT: A dialect spoken by specific hereditary classes in a society. Often the use of caste dialect marks the speaker as part of that particular class. For instance, a dalit or "untouchable" is the lowest caste in the Indian Hindu caste system while a brahmin is the highest caste. Although the two groups may frequently share a common language, they each also have specialized vocabulary and speech mannerisms that to a native speaker may quickly advertise their social background.
CATACHRESIS (Grk. "misuse"): A completely impossible figure of speech or an implied metaphor that results from combining other extreme figures of speech such as anthimeria, hyperbole, synaesthesia, and metonymy. The results in each case are so unique that it is hard to state a general figure of speech that embodies all of the possible results. It is far easier to give examples. For instance, Hamlet says of Gertrude, "I will speak daggers to her." A man can speak words, but no one can literally speak daggers. In spite of that impossibility, readers know Shakespeare means Hamlet will address Gertrude in a painful, contemptuous way. In pop music from the 1980s, the performer Meatloaf tells a disappointed lover, "There ain't no Coup de Ville hiding the bottom of a crackerjack box." The image of a luxury car hidden as a prize in the bottom of a tiny cardboard candybox emphasizes how unlikely or impossible it is his hopeful lover will find such a fantastic treasure in someone as cheap, common, and unworthy as the speaker in these lyrics. Sometimes the catachresis results from stacking one impossibility on top of another. Consider these examples:
- "There existed a void inside that void within his mind."
- "Joe will have kittens when he hears this!"
- "I will sing victories for you."
- "A man that studies revenge keeps his own wounds green."--Bacon
- "I do not ask much: / I beg cold comfort." --Shakespeare, (King John 5.7.41)
- "His complexion is perfect gallows"--Shakespeare, (Tempest 1.1.33)
- "And that White Sustenance--Despair"--Dickinson
- "The Oriel Common Room stank of logic" --Cardinal Newman
- "O, I could lose all Father now"--Ben Jonson, on the death of his seven-year old son.
- "The voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses" --e.e. cummings
For a more recent example, consider the disturbingly cheerful pop song by Foster the People, "Pumped Up Kicks," which deals with a school shooting. Here, the shooter/narrator thinks, "I've waited for a long time. Yeah, the sleight of my hand is now a quick-pull trigger. / I reason with my cigarette." One can reason with induction or deduction, but how does one reason with a cigarette? Here, the catachresis might evoke the idea of the "cool" kid using personal style instead of a persuasive argument, or it might evoke the imagery of torture--burning victims with a cigarette-butt to make one's point. This sort of evocative, almost nonsensical language is the heart of good catachresis. Other examples, in The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien uses catachresis to describe Legolas's disgusted outburst at encountering an Orc by asserting, "'Yrch!' siad Legolas, falling into his own tongue.'" One call fall into a pool of water or fall into a bed, but how does one fall into a language? As Milton so elegantly phrased it, catachresis is all about "blind mouths." Such catachresis often results from hyperbole and synaesthesia.
A special subtype of catachresis is abusio, a mixed metaphor that results when two metaphors collide. For instance, one U. S. senator learned of an unlikely political alliance. He is said to have exclaimed, "Now that is a horse of a different feather." This abusio is the result of two metaphors. The first is the cliché metaphor comparing anything unusual to "a horse of a different color." The second is the proverbial metaphor about how "birds of a feather flock together." However, by taking the two dead metaphors and combining them, the resulting image of "a horse of a different feather" truly emphasizes how bizarre and unlikely the resulting political alliance was. Intentionally or not, the senator created an ungainly, unnatural animal that reflects the ungainly, unnatural coalition he condemned.
Purists of languages often scrowl at abusio with good reason. Too commonly abusio is the result of sloppy writing, such as the history student who wrote "the dreadful hand of totalitarianism watches all that goes on around it and growls at its enemies." (It would have been better to stick with a single metaphor and state "the eye of totalitarianism watches all that goes on around it and glares at its enemies." We should leave out the mixed imagery of watchful hands growling at people; it's just stupid and inconsistent.) However, when used intentionally for a subtle effect, abusio and catachresis can be powerful tools for originality.
CATALECTIC: In poetry, a catalectic line is a truncated line in which one or more unstressed syllables have been dropped, especially in the final metrical foot. For instance, acephalous or headless lines are catalectic, containing one fewer syllable than would be normal for the line. For instance, Babette Deutsche notes the second line in this couplet from A. E. Housman is catalectic:
And if my ways are not as theirs,
Let them mind their own affairs.
On the other hand, in trochaic verse, the final syllable tends to be the truncated one, as Deutsche notes about the first two lines of Shelley's stanza:
Music, when soft voices die,
Vibrates in the memory--
Odours, when sweet violets sicken,
Live within the senses they quicken.
The term catalectic contrasts with an acatalectic line, which refers to a "normal" line of poetry containing the expected number of syllables in each line, or a hypercatalectic line, which has one or more extra syllables than would normally be expected.
CATALEXIS: Truncation of a poetic line--i.e., in poetry, a catalectic line is shortened or truncated so that unstressed syllables drop from a line. The act of such truncation is called catalexis. If catalexis occurs at the start of a line, that line is said to be acephalous or headless. See catalectic.
CATALOGING: Creating long lists for poetic or rhetorical effect. The technique is common in epic literature, where conventionally the poet would devise long lists of famous princes, aristocrats, warriors, and mythic heroes to be lined up in battle and slaughtered. The technique is also common in the practice of giving illustrious genealogies ("and so-and-so begat so-and-so," or "x, son of y, son of z" etc.) for famous individuals. An example in American literature is Whitman's multi-page catalog of American types in section 15 of "Song of Myself." An excerpt appears below:
The pure contralto sings in the organ loft,
The carpenter dresses his plank, the tongue of his foreplane whistles its wild ascending lisp,
The married and unmarried children ride home to their Thanksgiving dinner,
The pilot seizes the king-pin, he heaves down with a strong arm,
The mate stands braced in the whale-boat, lance and harpoon are ready,
The duck-shooter walks by silent and cautious stretches,
The deacons are ordained with crossed hands at the altar,
The spinning-girl retreats and advances to the hum of the big wheel,
The farmer stops by the bars as he walks on a First-day loaf and looks at the oats and rye,
The lunatic is carried at last to the asylum a confirmed case.... [etc.]
One of the more humorous examples of cataloging appears in the Welsh Mabinogion. In one tale, "Culhwch and Olwen," the protagonist invokes in an oath all the names of King Arthur's companion-warriors, giving lists of their unusual attributes or abilities running to six pages.
CATASTROPHE: The "turning downward" of the plot in a classical tragedy. By tradition, the catastrophe occurs in the fourth act of the play after the climax. (See tragedy.) Freytag's pyramid illustrates visually the normal charting of the catastrophe in a plotline.
CATCH: A lyric poem or song meant to be sung as a round, with the words arranged in each line so that the audience will hear a hidden (often humorous or ribald) message as the groups of singers sing their separate lyrics and space out the wording of the poem. For example, one might write a song in which the first line contained the words "up," the word "look" appears in the middle of the third line, the word "dress" appears in the second line, and the word "her" appears in the middle of the fourth line. When the song or poem is sung as a round by four groups of singers, the word order and timing is arranged so that the singers create the hidden phrase "look up her dress" as they sing, to the amusement of the audience as they listen to an otherwise innocent set of lyrics. Robert Herrick's "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time" is an example of a catch, and when William Lawes adapted the poem to music for Milton's masque Comus, it became one of the most popular drinking songs of the 1600s (Damrosche 844-45).
CATCHWORD: This phrase comes from printing; it refers to a trick printers would use to keep pages in their proper order. The printer would print a specific word below the text at the bottom of a page. This word would match the first word on the next page. A printer could thus check the order by flipping quickly from one page to the next and making sure the catchword matched appropriately. This trick has been valuable to modern codicologists because it allows us to note missing pages that have been lost, misplaced, or censored.
CATHARSIS: An emotional discharge that brings about a moral or spiritual renewal or welcome relief from tension and anxiety. According to Aristotle, catharsis is the marking feature and ultimate end of any tragic artistic work. He writes in his Poetics (c. 350 BCE): "Tragedy is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; . . . through pity [eleos] and fear [phobos] effecting the proper purgation [catharsis] of these emotions" (Book 6.2). (See tragedy.) Click here to download a pdf handout concerning this material.
CAUDATE RHYME: Another term for tail-rhyme or rime couée. See discussion under tail-rhyme.
CAVALIER: A follower of Charles I of England (ruled c. 1625-49) in his struggles with the Puritan-dominated parliament. The term is used in contrast with Roundheads, his Puritan opponents. Cavaliers were primarily wealthy aristocrats and courtiers. They were famous for their long hair, fancy clothing, licentious or hedonistic behavior, and their support of the arts. See Cavalier drama and Cavalier poets, below. Ultimately, Cromwell led the Roundheads in a coup d'état and established a Puritan dictatorship in England, leading to the end of the English Renaissance and its artistic, scientific, and cultural achievements. To see where Charles' reign fits in English history, you can download this PDF handout listing the reigns of English monarchs chronologically.
CAVALIER DRAMA: A form of English drama comprising court plays that the Queen gave patronage to in the 1630s. Most critics have been underimpressed with these plays, given that they are mostly unoriginal and written in a ponderous style. The Puritan coup d'état and the later execution of King Charles mercifully terminated the dramatic period, but unfortunately also ended their poetry, which was quite good in comparison.
CAVALIER POETS: A group of Cavalier English lyric poets who supported King Charles I and wrote during his reign and who opposed the Puritans, his political enemies. The major Cavalier poets included Carew, Waller, Lovelace, Sir John Suckling, and Herrick. They largely abandoned the sonnet form favored for a century earlier, but they still focused on the themes of love and sensuality and their work illustrates "technical virtuosity" as J. A. Cuddon put it (125). They show strong signs of Ben Jonson's influence.
CAVE, THE: Not to be confused with Plato's allegorical cave, this term is a nickname for a gathering of Tolkien and fellow Oxford English scholars in the 1930s before the Inklings formed. As Drout's J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia summarizes the details,the name comes from I Samuel 22:1-2, where the Cave of Adullam became the place for David's conpiracies against King Saul, possibly implying that the members of the Cave at Oxford saw themselves as righteously subversive of the academic establishment. Members of the Cave included C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Neville Coghill, Hugh Dyson, and Cleanth Brooks. They were distinguished scholars of various fields. Eventually, in 1933, C.S. Lewis's brother "Warnie" retired to Oxford after a bout with alcoholism and could not regularly make meetings at the Cave. C.S. Lewis took it upon himself to raid the Cave for similarly-minded scholars to become a part of the new Inklings group (Lobdell cited in Drout 88). Cf. Inklings and Cave, Plato's below.
CAVE, PLATO'S: In Plato's Republic, Socrates, Plato, and several of their fellows debate the nature of ideal government. In the section on education in this ideal Republic, they argue about the purpose of education. As part of Socrates' argument, the discussion veers into an allegory in which human existence is being trapped in a cave of ignorance, chained in place and unable to view anything except shadows cast on the wall. Some of those shadows are vague outlines of actual unseen truths beyond the perception of the senses; others are false images deliberately designed to mislead the cave-dwellers, keeping them content and unquestioning. The purpose of education becomes freeing the imprisoned human and forcing him to leave the cave, to look at the actual objects that make the shadows. Cf. Platonic Forms.
While reading Plato's cave as an allegory of education is a common interpretation, some philosophers (especially medieval readers) often took a more mystical approach to the Greek text, interpreting the cave as the material or physical world, while the shadows were mere outline of a greater spiritual truths--hidden and eternal beyond the physical world. C. S. Lewis coopts this idea in The Last Battle, in which the characters discover after death that Narnia has merely been a crude approximation of heaven, and the further they travel in the "onion ring," the larger and more beautiful and more true the inner rings become.
CEDILLA: A diacritical mark used in several languages, such as the ç in French.
CELLERAGE: The hollow area beneath a Renaissance stage--known in Renaissance slang as "hell" and entered through a trapdoor called a "hellmouth." The voice of the ghost comes from this area in Hamlet, which has led to scholarly discussion concerning whether or not the ghost is really Hamlet's father or a demon in disguise.
CELTIC: A branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Celtic includes Welsh and Breton. Celtic languages are geographically linked to western Europe, and they come in two general flavors, goidelic (or Q-celtic) and brythonic (or P-celtic).
CELTIC REVIVAL: A literary movement involving increased interest in Welsh, Scottish, and Irish culture, myths, legends, and literature. It began in the late 1700s and continues to this day. Thomas Gray's Pindaric ode The Bard (1757) and Ieuan Brydydd's publication of Some Specimens of the Poetry of the Ancient Welsh Bards (1764) mark its emergence, and Charlotte Guest's translation of The Mabinogion in 1839 marks its continued rise. Matthew Arnold's lectures on Celtic literature at Oxford helped promote the foundation of a Chair of Celtic at that school in 1877. The Celtic Revival influenced Thomas Love Peacock, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and W. B. Yeats, and probably led to the creation of the Abbey Theatre. A continuing part of the Celtic Revival is the Irish Literary Renaissance, a surge of extraordinary Irish talent in the late nineteenth and twentieth century including Bram Stoker, James Joyce, William Butler Yeats, Samuel Beckett, George Bernard Shaw, and Seamus Heaney.
CENOTAPH: A carving on a tombstone or monument, often in the form of a verse poem, biblical passage, or literary allusion appearing after the deceased individual's name and date of birth/death. Often used synonymously with epitaph.
CENSORSHIP: The act of hiding, removing, altering or destroying copies of art or writing so that general public access to it is partially or completely limited. Contrast with bowdlerization. Click here to download a PDF handout discussing censorship in great detail. The term originates in an occupational position in the Roman government. After the fifth century BCE, Rome commissioned "censors." These censors at first were limited to conducting the census for tax estimations, but in latter times, their job was to impose moral standards for citizenship, including the removal of unsavory literature. See also the Censorship Ordinance of 1559 and the Profanity Act of 1606.
CENSORSHIP ORDINANCE OF 1559: This law under Queen Elizabeth required the political censorship of public plays and all printed materials in matters of religion and the government. The Master of Revels was appointed to monitor and control such material. All of Shakespeare's early works were written under this act. We can see signs of alteration in his early works to conform to the requirements of the censors. Contrast with the Profanity Act of 1606.
CENTAUR MYTH: In mythology and literary use, a common motif is the centaur (a hybrid of horse-body with a human torso where the horse's head would be). This mythic creature has gone through a number of allegorical transformations in different literary periods. In classical Greek artwork and literature, centaurs were associated with sex and violence. Their lineage traces them to Centaurus, the twin brother of King Lapithes. Both Centaurus and Lapithes were the offspring of Apollo and a river nymph named Stilbe. Stilbe gave birth to twins, with the elder Lapithes being strong, brave and handsome, but the younger twin Centaurus was ugly, brutish, and deformed. Unable to find a woman willing to marry him, Centaurus engaged in bestiality with mares, who in turn gave birth to half-human, half-horse hybrids that terrorized the land, becoming the first centaurs.
Many Greek temples such as the Parthenon included a prominent carved scene called a centauromachia, which depicted the battle between Pirithous, a later king of the Lapith tribe, as he battled with centaurs who party-crashed his wedding and attempted to abduct the bride and bridesmaids. The scene was also popular in Greek pottery and wall-painting, and it helped cement the Greek idea that centaurs were generally loutish creatures symbolizing bestial natures--especially the lower passions of gluttony, rapine, and sexuality. Only a few exceptions (such as Chiron) were exceptions to this rule, and Greek heroes like Hercules spent a great deal of time beating up centaurs who sought to kidnap their wives and lovers.
Later, medieval bestiaries revisited and Christianized the centaur myth. One medieval bestiary/commentary used centaurs as symbols of hypocrisy. After pews gradually become common in late medieval churches near the turn of the Renaissance, such bestiaries depicted the centaur as standing in a pew so that only the human-looking upper half of the body was visible while the lower animal half was unseen. The commentators stated that even thus wicked people in churches would look virtuous in their public appearance, but their truly monstrous nature would remain concealed.
By the Enlightenment, pastoral artwork and paintings tended to depict centaurs more as frolicking, playful creatures--erasing earlier overtones of rape and evil, and by the late 19th-century, fantasy writers at the time of George MacDonald rehabilitated them, making them deuteragonists and tritagonists that heroes would encounter on their quests. Among the Inklings of the 1940s, C.S. Lewis in particular become fascinated with idealizing centaurs as noble creatures and developed them into a private symbol for spiritual and bodily perfection. Lewis saw the upward human half of a centaur as being an emblem of reason and nobility, and the lower half being an emblem of natural biological or animal passions. Thus, the centaur became his emblem for the healthy union of the material body and the intellectual/spiritual domains--an organism as God intended humans to be before the fall, or the perfect amalgamation of the chariot-driver, chariot, and horses in the allegory of the charioteer that Plato retells in Phaedrus.
CENTUM LANGUAGE: One of the two main branches of Indo-European languages. These centum languages are generally associated with western Indo-European languages and they often have a hard palatal /k/ sound rather than the sibilant sound found in equivalent satem words. See discussion under Indo-European.
CHAIN OF BEING: An elaborate cosmological model of the universe common in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The Great Chain of Being was a permanently fixed hierarchy with the Judeo-Christian God at the top of the chain and inanimate objects like stones and mud at the bottom. Intermediate beings and objects, such as angels, humans, animals, and plants, were arrayed in descending order of intelligence, authority, and capability between these two extremes. The Chain of Being was seen as designed by God. The idea of the Chain of Being resonates in art, politics, literature, cosmology, theology, and philosophy throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance. It takes on particular complexity because different parts of the Chain were thought to correspond to each other. (Seecorrespondences.) Click here for more information.
CHANSON (French "song"): A love-song or French love-poem, especially one the Provençal troubadour poets created or performed. Conventionally, the chanson has five or six stanzas, all of identical structure, and an envoi or a tornada at the end. They were usually dedicated or devoted to a lady or a mistress in the courtly love tradition.
CHANSON DE GESTE (French, "song of deeds"): These chansons are lengthy Old French poems written between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries glorifying Carolingian noblemen and their feudal lords. The chansons de geste combine history and legend. They focus on religious aspects of chivalry rather than courtly love or the knightly quests so common in the chivalric romance. Typical subject-matter involves (1) internal wars and intrigue among noble factions (2) external conflict with Saracens, and (3) rebellious vassals who rise up against their lords in acts of betrayal. Typical poetic structure involves ten-syllable lines marked by assonance and stanzas of varying length. The chansons de geste are in many ways comparable to epics. Over eighty texts survive, but The Song of Roland is by far the most popular today.
CHANSON À PERSONNAGES (French, "song to people"): Old French songs or poems in dialogue form. Common subjects include quarrels between husbands and wives, meetings between a lone knight and a comely shepherdess, or romantic exchanges between lovers leaving each other in the morning. See aubade.
CHARACTER: Any representation of an individual being presented in a dramatic or narrative work through extended dramatic or verbal representation. The reader can interpret characters as endowed with moral and dispositional qualities expressed in what they say (dialogue) and what they do (action). E. M. Forster describes characters as "flat" (i.e., built around a single idea or quality and unchanging over the course of the narrative) or "round" (complex in temperament and motivation; drawn with subtlety; capable of growth and change during the course of the narrative). The main character of a work of a fiction is typically called the protagonist; the character against whom the protagonist struggles or contends (if there is one), is the antagonist. If a single secondary character aids the protagonist throughout the narrative, that character is the deuteragonist (the hero's "side-kick"). A character of tertiary importance is a tritagonist. These terms originate in classical Greek drama, in which a tenor would be assigned the role of protagonist, a baritone the role of deuteragonist, and a bass would play the tritagonist. Compare flat characters withstock characters.
CHARACTERIZATION: An author or poet's use of description, dialogue, dialect, and action to create in the reader an emotional or intellectual reaction to a character or to make the character more vivid and realistic. Careful readers note each character's attitude and thoughts, actions and reaction, as well as any language that reveals geographic, social, or cultural background.
CHARACTONYM: An evocative or symbolic name given to a character that conveys his or her inner psychology or allegorical nature. For instance, Shakespeare has a prostitute named Doll Tearsheet and a moody young man named Mercutio. Steinbeck has the sweet-natured Candy in Of Mice and Men. Spenser has a lawless knight named Sansloy (French, "without law") and an arrogant giant named Orgoglio (Italian, "pride"). On a more physical level, Rabelais might name a giant Gargantuaor C.S. Lewis might call his talking lion Aslan (Turkish for "lion"). These names are all simple charactonyms. Cf. eponym.
CHASTUSHKA (plur. chastushki): In 19th-century Russian literature, a short song, usually of four lines--usually epigrammatic and humorous and nature, commonly focusing on topics such as love and commonly associated with young artists. Chastushki on political topics became more common in the 20th century. Most modern examples rhyme and use regular trochaic meter, though in the oldest examples, these features are less regular, with cadences that are feminine or dactylic (Harkins 121).
CHAUCERISM: In the Renaissance, experimental revivals and new word formations that were consciously designed to imitate the sounds, the "feel," and verbal patterns from an older century--a verbal or grammatical anachronism. Spenser uses many Chaucerisms in The Fairie Queene.
CHEKE SYSTEM: As summarized by Baugh, a proposed method for indicating long vowels and standardizing spelling first suggested by Sir John Cheke in Renaissance orthography. Cheke would double vowels to indicate a long sound. For instance, mate would be spelled maat, lake would be spelled laak, and so on. Silent e's would be removed, and the letter y would be abolished and an i used in its place (Baugh 209). It did not catch on.
CHIASM: A specific example of chiasmus, see below.
CHIASMUS (from Greek, "cross" or "x"):A literary scheme in which the author introduces words or concepts in a particular order, then later repeats those terms or similar ones in reversed or backwards order. It involves taking parallelism and deliberately turning it inside out, creating a "crisscross" pattern. For example, consider the chiasmus that follows: "By day the frolic, and the dance by night." If we draw the words as a chart, the words form an "x" (hence the word's Greek etymology, from chi meaning "x"):
The sequence is typically a b b a orabc cba. "I lead the life I love; I love the life I lead." "NakedI rose from the earth; to the graveI fallclothed." Biblical examples in the Greek can be found in Philippians 1:15-17 and Colossians 3:11, though the artistry is often lost in English translation. Chiasmus often overlaps with antimetabole.
CHICANO / CHICANA LITERATURE: Twentieth- and twenty-first-century writings and poetry by Mexican-American immigrants or their children--usually in English with short sections or phrases in Spanish. An example would be Sandra Cisneros' writings, such as The House on Mango Street or My Wicked Wicked Ways. Following the grammatical conventions for gender in Spanish, the adjective Chicano takes an -o suffix in reference to male authors and an -a suffix in reference to female authors. Cf. Latino Writing.
CHILDREN'S LITERATURE: See juvenile literature.
CHIMES: See discussion under cynghanedd.
CHIVALRIC ROMANCE: Another term for medieval romance. See also chivalry, below.
CHIVALRY: An idealized code of military and social behavior for the aristocracy in the late medieval period. The word "chivalry" comes from Old French cheval (horse), and chivalry literally means "horsemanship." Normally, only rich nobility could afford the expensive armor, weaponry, and warhorses necessary for mounted combat, so the act of becoming a knight was symbolically indicated by giving the knight silver spurs. The right to knighthood in the late medieval period was inherited through the father, but it could also be granted by the king or a lord as a reward for services.
The tenets of chivalry attempted to civilize the brutal activity of warfare. The chivalric ideals involve sparing non-combatants such as women, children, and helpless prisoners; the protection of the church; honesty in word and bravery in deeds; loyalty to one's liege; dignified behavior; and single-combat between noble opponents who had a quarrel. Other matters associated with chivalry include gentlemanly contests in arms supervised by witnesses and heralds, behaving according to the manners of polite society, courtly love, brotherhood in arms, and feudalism. See knight for additional information.
This code became of great popular interest to British readers in the 1800s, leading to a surge of historical novels, poems, and paintings dealing with medieval matters. Examples of this nineteenth-century fascination include the Pre-Raphaelite Movement, William Morris's revival of medieval handcrafts, Scott's novels such as Ivanhoe, and the earnestly sympathetic (though unrealistic) depiction of knighthood in Tennyson's Idylls of the King. In Tennyson's poem Guinevere, King Arthur describes the ideals of knighthood thus:
I made them lay their hands in mine and swear
To reverence the King, as if he were
Their conscience, and their conscience as their King
To break the heathen and uphold the Christ,
To ride abroad redressing human wrongs,
To speak no slander, no, nor listen to it,
To honor his own word as if his God's,
To lead sweet lives in purest chastity,
To love one maiden only, cleave to her,
And worship her by years of noble deeds,
Until they won her.
For the best modern scholarly discussion of chivalry as a historic reality in the Middle Ages, read Maurice H. Keen's Chivalry (Yale University Press, 1984).
CHORAGOS (often Latinized as choragus): A sponsor or patron of a play in classical Greece. Often this sponsor was honored by serving as the leader of the chorus (see below).
CHÒREE: Another term for trochee. See trochee.
CHORIC FIGURE: Any character in any type of narrative literature that serves the same purpose as a chorus in drama by remaining detached from the main action and commenting upon or explaining this action to the audience. See chorus, below.
CHORUS: (1) A group of singers who stand alongside or off stage from the principal performers in a dramatic or musical performance. (2) The song or refrain that this group of singers sings. In ancient Greece, the chorus was originally a group of male singers and dancers (choreuti) who participated in religious festivals and dramatic performances by singing commenting on the deeds of the characters and interpreting the significance of the events within the play. This group contrasts with the actors (Greek hypocrites). Shakespeare alters the traditional chorus by replacing the singers with a single figure--often allegorical in nature. For instance, "Time" comes on stage in The Winter's Tale to explain the passing years. Likewise, "Rumor" appears in Henry IV, Part Two to summarize the gossip about Prince Hal. See also choragos and choric figure, above.
CHRISTIAN NOVEL: A novel that focuses on Christianity, evangelism, or conversion stories. Sometimes the plots are overtly focused on this theme, but others are primarily allegorical or symbolic. Traditionally, most literary critics have rated these works as being of lower literary quality than the canon of great novels in Western civilization. Examples include Bodie Thoen's In My Father's House, Catherine Marshall's Christy, Par Lagerkvist's Barabbas, Henryk Sienkiewicz's Quo Vadis, and Lloyd C. Douglas's The Robe.
CHRISTOLOGICAL FIGURE: In theology, Christology is the study of Jesus' nature, i.e., whether Christ had both a human and divine nature, whether he had one sentient will alone or one human will and one divine will, whether he was theoretically capable of sin like humanity or perfectly righteous like the other persons in the trinity, whether he shared in the Father's omniscience or suffered from human afflictions like doubt or ignorance, whether he existed or not before his biological birth, whether he was equal in authority and power to the other persons in the trinity, and whether he actually had a physical body (the orthodox view) or was composed entirely of spirit (the Arian view).
In literary studies, the term christological has been commandeered to refer to (1) an object, person, or figure that represents Christ allegorically or symbolically, or (2) any similar object, person, or figure with qualities generally reminiscent of Christ. Examples of christological figures include the Old Man in Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, who after his struggle with the fish ends up bleeding from his palms and lying on the floor in a cruciform pattern; the lion Aslan in C. S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia, who allows himself like the lion of the tribe of Judah to be slain in order to redeem a traitorous child; and the unicorn in medieval bestiaries, which would lie down and place its phallic, ivory-horned meekly in a maiden's lap so that hunters might kill it--which medieval monks interpreted as an allegory of Christ allowing himself to enter the womb of the virgin Mary so that he might later be sacrificed. Zora Neale Hurston creates a christ-figure in Delia Jones, who in the short story "Sweat" suffers to support her ungrateful husband and "crawled over the earth in Gethsemane and up the rocks of Calvary many, many times . . ." and so on.
CHRONICLE: A history or a record of events. It refers to any systematic account or narration of events that makes minimal attempt to interpret, question, or analyze that history. Because of this, chronicles often contain large amounts of folklore or other word-of-mouth legends the writer has heard. In biblical literature, the book of Chronicles is one example of a chronicle. Medieval chronicles include Joinville's account of the Crusades and Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain, a source for much Arthurian legend. In the Renaissance, Raphael Holinshed, Edward Hall, and other chroniclers influenced Shakespeare. Chronicles were popular in England after the British defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588. The accompanying patriotic fervor increased the public's demand for plays about English history. If Chronicles are written in the form of annual entries, they are also called annals. See also lepotis.
CHRONOLOGICAL SNOBBERY: C. S. Lewis's term for what he describes as "the uncritical acceptance of . . . the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited," i.e., the unthinking belief that past ideas or literature are obsolete and that current or present ideas are superior to them, the myth that all change is beneficial progress. Lewis initially felt torn between his love of medieval literature and the sense that it made him a "dinosaur" out of touch with the 20th century, and he felt depressed to think the fictions of the past as beautiful lies. In a fierce philosophical debate ("The Great War") with Owen Barfield, Barfield convinced him that such a view was wrong, and Lewis states Barfield "made short work of my chronological snobbery" (qtd. in Duriez 45).
CHRONOLOGY (Greek: "logic of time"): The order in which events happen, especially when emphasizing a cause-effect relationship in history or in a narrative.
CHTHONIC: Related to the dead, the grave, the underworld, or the fertility of the earth. In Greek mythology, the Greeks venerated three categories of spirits: (1) the Olympian gods, who were worshipped in public ceremonies--often outdoors on the east side of large columned temples in the agora, (2) ancestral heroes like Theseus and Hercules, who were often worshipped only in local shrines or at specific burial mounds, (3) chthonic spirits, which included (a) earth-gods and death-gods like Hades, Hecate, and Persephone; (b) lesser-known (and often nameless) spirits of the departed; (c) dark and bloody spirits of vengeance like the Furies and Nemesis, and (d) (especially in Minoan tradition) serpents, which were revered as intermediaries between the surface world of the living and the subterranean realm of the dead. This is why snakes were so prominent in the healing cults of Aesclepius. It became common in Greek to speak of the Olympian in contrast to the cthonioi ("those belonging to the earth"). See Burkert 199-203 for detailed discussion.
CHURCH 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.
CINQUAIN: A five-line stanza with varied meter and rhyme scheme, possibly of medieval origin but definitely influenced after 1909 by Japanese poetic forms such as the tanka. Most modern cinquains are now based on the form standardized by an American poet, Adelaide Crapsey (1878-1918), in which each unrhymed line has a fixed number of syllables--respectively two, four, six, eight, and two syllables in each line--for a rigid total of 22 syllables. Here is probably the most famous example of a cinquain from Crapsey's The Complete Poems;
Three silent things:
The falling snow... the hour
Before the dawn... the mouth of one
Perhaps under the influence of diamante poems, many modern elementary school teachers have begun adding an additional set of conventions to the cinquain in which each line has a specific structural requirement:
Line 1 - Consists of the two-syllable title or subject for the poem
Line 2 - Consists of two adjectives totaling four syllables describing the subject or title
Line 3 - Consists of three verbs totaling six syllables describing the subject's actions
Line 4 - Consists of four words totaling eight syllables giving the writer's opinion of the subject.
Line 5 - Consists of one two-syllable word, often a synonym for the subject.
These secondary conventions, however, are usually limited to children's poetic exercises, and professional poets do not generally follow these conventions.
CIRCULAR STRUCTURE: A type of artistic structure in which a sense of completeness or closure does not originate in coming to a "conclusion" that breaks with the earlier story; instead, the sense of closure originates in the way the end of a piece returns to subject-matter, wording, or phrasing found at the beginning of the narrative, play, or poem. An example of circular structure might be "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," which ends with an ellipsis identical to the opening sequence, indicating that the middle-aged protagonist is engaging in yet another escapist fantasy. Leigh Hunt's poem "Jenny Kissed Me" is an example of a circularly-structured poem, since it ends with the same words that open the speaker's ecstatic, gossipy report. Langdon Smith's poem "Evolution" is circular in its concluding repetition of the opening phrase, "When you were a tadpole, and I was a fish," but it is also thematically circular, in that it implies the cycle of reincarnated love will continue again and again in spite of death. In many ways, the smaller tales within a larger frame narrative act as part of a circular structure, because each small tale begins by breaking the reader away from the larger, encompassing narrative and concludes by returning the reader to that larger frame-narrative.
CIRCUMLOCUTION: Roundabout or indirect speech or writing, rather than short, brief, clear writing. See discussion under periphrasis. Cf. related terms like acyrologia, ambage, macrologia, macrology, pleonasm, prolixity,tautology, and verbiage.
CITY DIONYSIA: See discussion under dionysia.
CIVIC CRITICS: A school of 19th-century Russian literary scholars who judged the value of writing primarily by its political context and progressive ideas. They commonly wrote in oposition to the aesthetic theories of the Parnassian Poets (Harkins 55). Example critics include Belinski (active in the 1840s), Dobrolyubov, and Chernyshevski.
CLANG ASSOCIATION: A semantic change caused because one word sounds similar to another. For instance, the word fruition in Middle English meant "enjoyment." In Modern English, its meaning has changed to "completion" because it sounds like the word fruit--hence the idea of ripeness, of growing to full size, as Algeo notes (314).
CLASSICAL: The term in Western culture is usually used in reference to the art, architecture, drama, philosophy, literature, and history surrounding the Greeks and Romans between 1000 BCE and 410 BCE. Works created during the Greco-Roman period are often called classics. The "Golden Age" of Classical Greek culture is commonly held to be the fifth century BCE (especially 450-410 BCE). The term can be applied more generally to any ancient and revered writing or artwork from a specific culture; thus we refer to "Classical Chinese," "Classical Hebrew," and "Classical Arabic" works. For extended discussion, click here. To download a PDF handout placing the periods of literary history in order, click here.
CLASSICAL HAIKU: Another term for the hokku, the predecessor of the modern haiku. See hokku and haiku.
CLASSICS: See discussion under classical, above.
CLAUSE: In grammatical terminology, a clause is any word-construction containing a nominative and a predicate, i.e., a subject "doing" a verb. The term clause contrasts with the term phrase. A phrase might contain nouns as appositives or objects, and it might contain verb-like words in the form of participles or gerunds, but it crucially lacks a subject "doing" a verb. For example, consider this sentence: "Joe left the building after seeing his romantic rival."
Clause: Joe left the building
Phrase: after seeing his romantic rival
If the clause could stand by itself as a complete sentence, it is known as an independent clause. If the clause cannot stand by itself as a complete sentence (typically because it begins with a subordinating conjunction), it is said to be a dependent clause. For expanded discussion and examples, click here. For a discusion of clauses according to functional type, click here ( TBA).
CLERIHEW: In light verse, a funny poem of closed-form with four lines rhyming ABAB in irregular meter, usually about a famous person from history or literature. Typically the historical person's name forms one of the rhymes. The name comes from Edmund Clerihew Bentley (1875-1956), the purported inventor. He supposedly had a habit of scribbling down such rhymes during dull lectures at school, including this one from his chemistry class:
Sir Humphrey Davy
He lived in the odium
Of having discovered sodium.
CLICHÉ: A hackneyed or trite phrase that has become overused. Clichés are considered bad writing and bad literature. Click here to download a PDF handout for more information. Cliché rhymes are rhymes that are considered trite or predictable. Cliché rhymes in poetry include love and dove, moon and June, trees and breeze. Sometimes, to avoid cliché rhymes, poets will go to hyperbolic lengths, such as the trisyllabic rhymes in Lord Byron's Don Juan.
CLICHÉ RHYME: Cliché rhymes are rhymes that are considered trite or predictable. They include love and dove, moon and June, trees and breeze. Sometimes, to avoid cliché rhymes, poets will go to hyperbolic lengths, such as the trisyllabic rhymes in Lord Byron's Don Juan.
The rain fell the fourth week in February like a crescendo, starting off slowly and reaching a peak of intensity on the night of Feb. 24, setting a record for the month.
—james bruggers, The Courier-Journal, "In 40 seconds, here's what 5 days of rain looked like at 42 spots across Kentuckiana,"5 Mar. 2018
McDormand's speech marked the emotional crescendo of a night in which several stars called for greater roles and equality for females in the film industry, as the #MeToo and Time's Up movements' momentum continue.
—CBS News, "Man arrested, accused of stealing Frances McDormand's Oscar trophy,"5 Mar. 2018
The drama built, a crescendo in the final seconds ….
—mike jensen, Philly.com, "No celebration for Penn as Yale wins a thriller,"2 Mar. 2018
Unlike the source book, Annihilation plays out in a crescendo.
—josephine livingstone, The New Republic, "Annihilation Is a Brilliant Splicing of Woolf With Cronenberg,"27 Feb. 2018
Fans roared, and the noise reached another crescendo.
—josh robbins, OrlandoSentinel.com, "Orlando Magic lose to Philadelphia 76ers 116-105,"25 Feb. 2018
The Oscars are the crescendo of awards season, with all of the glamorous shows and parties beforehand acting as prep for the most glamorous night yet.
—lauren sheffield, Harper's BAZAAR, "Here's What the Celebs Will Be Eating at the 2018 Academy Awards,"22 Feb. 2018
The music hit a crescendo, as Bates spun her around, holding her high on his right shoulder.
—jeff seidel, Detroit Free Press, "Novi Olympians to send 'hope and unity' message by skating to John Lennon's 'Imagine',"16 Feb. 2018
The roar was a rumble, a wave, a crescendo, an aria.
—ashley judd, Glamour, "Ashley Judd Looks Back On Her Iconic Women's March Speech: 'I Cherish My Memory of the Roar',"16 Jan. 2018