Glossary

Wish the textbook defined terms with more than one example? This page is a slow, but on-going effort to provide alternative explanation and additional examples for some of the terms in your textbook readings and all of the ones linked from my other posts. (Suggestions welcome.)

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ANECDOTE: a short narrative (true rather than fictional) added to an essay to create a specific effect on readers.

Anecdotes are often used to elicit emotion (tug at heartstrings or make a reader laugh). They can add interest by providing unusual information that while not strictly needed for the topic, enhances it in some way. A well-chosen anecdote lingers in a readers mind.


COOLING: an aspect of the writing process that moves the draft away from the author’s eyes for several hours (at minimum) and preferably several days.

Finishing an essay at least a day before a due date allows you to come back to the piece with a refreshed attitude. As you revise, look at the essay as if you were the audience and not the author. Can you improve the readability? Do you need to change passive voice to active? Do you need to remove clichés or hesitant language?

Hint: do a “save as” before you revise. Then if you decide you need to see your original for comparison, you still have it. (And if you include the word “revision” in the name rather than simply a version number, you won’t confuse the two.) After the revision, “save as” again and then proofread. The version you submit for grading should be the “essay title_revised_proofread” one.


FOILa character whose personality, attitudes, appearance, and/or actions serve as a contrast to another character.

Most of us will associate the word with aluminum foil, which makes a surprisingly good mnemonic. Aluminum foil has a reputation for absorbing more heat when the dull side is showing (not true, btw, according to Reynolds FAQ page), and so cooks consciously chose to use either the shiny side or the dull, depending on the effect they want. Literary foils are used intentionally for effect, too:  one character’s traits seem more noticeable when another shows a contrasting side.

Here are two examples from Hamlet:

At first glance, Fortinbras seems like a Norwegian version of Hamlet: he’s a prince, he was named after his father, and his father’s death forced him into action. However, Shakespeare includes his small part as a foil for Hamlet. Fortinbras, whose name translates from the French words fort and bras to “strong of arm,” is an ambitious prince, ready for a crown, eager to lead an army to fight, and able to step into a leadership role in Denmark at the tragic end of her monarchy.  Hamlet is none of those things.

A foil can be a major character, too. Laertes and Hamlet grew up together at Elsinor castle, so the two would have been shaped by shared childhood experiences. As young men, each left Denmark to learn about the world, and both were away from home when their fathers were murdered. How they revenge, though, is like the aluminum foil analogy. Hamlet absorbs the heat and radiates inward. He internalizes and analyzes his feelings, shares his revenge plans with only one trusted friend, and then spends nearly the entire play threatening a revenge that almost does not happen. Laertes is the contrast: he goes from unaware to accusatory to murderous in 50 lines.

Examples of foils found in pop culture: Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, Harry Potter and Hermione Granger, Len Goodwin and Bruno Tonioli.

FRAMING: using related material in both the introduction and the conclusion.

Describing how vanilla affects our senses, Diane Ackerman* uses a bubble bath as a way to introduce and conclude her topic:

Craving vanilla, I start the bathwater gushing, and unscrew the lid of a heavy glass jar of Ann Steeger of Paris’s Bain Créme, senteur vanille. A wallop of potent vanilla hits my nose … (157)

When I finally emerge from the tub into which I climbed at the beginning of this discussion, I apply Ann Steeger’s vanilla body veil, which smells edible and thick as smoke. …then, in a divine vanilla stupor, seep into bed and fall into a heavy orchidlike sleep (161).

The bubble bath is only the anecdotal frame, however. The four pages in between move from personal association to production details to a general history of vanilla.

* “Taste.” A Natural History of the Senses. Random House, New York. 1990. Print.

FREEWRITING: an aspect of the writing process that encourages the writer to let words flow without judgment.

Without the necessary preparation, freewriting simply burps shallow thought and reaction onto a page. If, however, a writer works from familiarity with the subject, freewriting can be spontaneous and insightful. Psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi says people are “in flow” when they reach a “balance between ability level and challenge.” For many writers, freewriting seems to be that combination of goal, skill, and immersion in the moment that leads to flow.

No matter how pleasing the results of a freewriting session, the technique is more a warm up exercise than a final product. The writing needs cooling and a careful revision. Consider doing a reverse outline to think solely about how points might be (re)organized. Next, any additional supporting information needed for transitions between claims can be added.

My grading experience indicates that essays built on freewriting often have more spelling and grammar mistakes. This is almost certainly a result of how quickly sentences are generated in combination with the dictum that freewriting is not judged until completion. Those who freewrite should anticipate the need for a more thorough proofreading.


METER: measurement. In poetry, songs, and dances, the measurement refers to a pattern of accents.

When measuring the rhythm in a poem, a foot is the smallest unit of repetition.  Associate the “foot” of poetry lines with your own foot as you tap out rhythms in song lyrics: whether you perform a series of both firm and soft taps or you tap only on an accent and not at all on the softer beats, you are measuring a foot with your foot!

How about a very old tune as an example? First, sing it without tapping your feet:

I’VE been WORKing ON the RAILroad ALL the LIVE long DAY

Now go back and add the toe tapping. Did you find your toes counting out more than just the accents? Your tapping was counting the music beats and not just those of the words. Poems also have some musicality. Scholars consider the musicality of voice and the length of the sound as components of meter.

Here’s a verse where the foot is four beats with the accent on the first and fourth:

RO·ses are RED/ VI·o·lets BLUE/ SUG·ar is SWEET/ AND so are YOU

And here’s another verse, this time a pop song*, with a similar foot:

LOOK at the STARS/ LOOK how they SHINE/ FOR you/ AND every·thing YOU/DO/ YEAH they were ALL/ YELL·ow …

Notice the variations on the foot? Musicians call this “syncopation.” In this example, the lyrical foot is shortened at “for you” and even more so at “do.” The resulting stumble in rhythm calls attention to the wording and consequently, to the song’s lyrics.

Go back to your chapter reading. Can you now see that all the terms for metrical feet and metrical lines are there less to be a torture and more to help you be very specific about describing a poem’s rhythmic flow?

* Coldplay. “Yellow.” Parachutes. Liverpool: Parlophone, 2000. CD.

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