A posteriori

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PART (Latin partum, "a piece"): An actor's role in a play, the character the actor portrays or pretends to be. The term comes from Renaissance drama. Since it was too expensive in Shakespeare's day to print playbooks for every single actor involved in a play, penny-pinching acting companies would only give each actor a roll of paper called a "part"; the part would list the dialogue for one character and all the cues belonging to that character (Greenblatt 1140). The term role, synonymous with "part," is similarly derived from such rolls of paper (ibidem).

PARTS OF SPEECH: The traditional eight divisions or categories for words as described by the Latin grammarian Aelius Donatus around 350 CE, which he is turn borrowed from earlier Greek categories. In English, these are slightly modified:

English Parts of Speech:

(1) Nouns

(2) Pronouns
(3) Verbs
(4) Adjectives
(5) Adverbs
(6) Articles
(7) Prepositions
(8) Conjunctions

Interjections are usually treated as a separate category from the other parts of speech.

Donatus' Latin Parts of Speech:

(1) Nouns

(2) Pronouns
(3) Verbs
(4) Adjectives
(5) Adverbs
(6) Interjections
(7) Prepositions
(8) Conjunctions

PARTIBLE SUCCESSION: The opposite of primogeniture, partible succession is the practice in which all the children share equally in an inheritance. Under this legal system, if a property-owner or king dies, the deceased's lands, money, or kingdom would be split into equal shares for each surviving child. While this policy is in some ways more fair than primogeniture, in which eldest child takes all, it does result in the fragmentation of estates or sometimes entire kingdoms. In the late medieval period, primogeniture was the common practice in much of Europe and Britain, but in the early "dark ages," partible succession was notoriously common among some Celtic tribes in England and the Merovingian and Frankish tribes of France and Germany. This practice is behind King Lear's sycophantic games in the first act of King Lear, as the play is set in ancient Celtic times, though the subplot about Edgar involves the much later later practice of primogeniture.

PASSUS (Latin, "step"): William Langland uses the term passus to refer to each numbered subdivision of his poem, The Vision of Piers Plowman. The idea is each section is a "step" toward salvation or spiritual truth. Cf. canto and fit.

PASTORAL (Latin pastor, "shepherd"): An artistic composition dealing with the life of shepherds or with a simple, rural existence. It usually idealized shepherds' lives in order to create an image of peaceful and uncorrupted existence. More generally, pastoral describes the simplicity, charm, and serenity attributed to country life, or any literary convention that places kindly, rural people in nature-centered activities. The Greek Theocritus (316-260 BCE) first used the convention in his Idylls, though pastoral compositions also appear in Roman literature, in Shakespeare's plays, and in the writings of the Romantic poets. Typically, pastoral liturgy depicts beautiful scenery, carefree shepherds, seductive nymphs, and rural songs and dances. Conventional names for the shepherds and nymphs come from bastardized Latin nicknames such as Mopsy, Flopsy, and Dorcas (from Mopsius, Doricas, etc.). See also pastoral elegy under elegy.

PASTORAL ELEGY: See discussion under pastoral and elegy.

PATHETIC FALLACY: A type of (often accidental or awkward) personification in which a writer ascribes the human feelings of his or her characters to inanimate objects or non-human phenomena of the natural world. J. A. Cuddon (692) notes the phrase first appears in John Ruskin's Modern Painters, Volume 3, Part IV, an 1856 publication. For Ruskin, the term is derogatory. An example might be Coleridge's Christabel, in which we read of a dancing autumn leaf:

The one red leaf, the last of its clan

That dances as often as dance it can.

For Ruskin, only the greatest of poets can get away withAside from the negative connotations, the term is more or less synonymous with "personification."

PATHOS (Greek, "emotion"): In its rhetorical sense, pathos is a writer or speaker's attempt to inspire an emotional reaction in an audience--usually a deep feeling of suffering, but sometimes joy, pride, anger, humor, patriotism, or any of a dozen other emotions. You can read more about rhetorical uses for pathos here. In its critical sense, pathos signifies a scene or passage designed to evoke the feeling of pity or sympathetic sorrow in a reader or viewer.

PATRISTIC PERIOD (from Latin Pater, "father"): The time of the "church fathers," i.e., the time of the early Church and the Church's first theologians, running through the last days of the apostles through the time of Saint Augustine's conversion and Saint Jerome's compilation of the Bible in the fourth and fifth centuries after Christ. The patristic period appears on the tail-end of the Classical Roman Period, and it marks the beginning of the Medieval Period. Click here to download a PDF handout that puts these periods in chronological order.

PATROLOGIA GRAECA: See discussion under Patrologia Latina, below.

PATROLOGIA LATINA: A famous (or perhaps infamous) scholarly collection of 228+ fat volumes of biblical and theological commentary that has been both a boon and bane to twentieth-century medieval scholarship. The Patrologia Graeca reproduces a series of Greek writings from the patristic and medieval Christian writers, while the Patrologia Latina covers the same sort of material in Latin sources. These works are often not available in print in any other texts. This collection, known familiarly as the PL or "the Migne" (after one of its French editors), includes vast quantities of theological interpretations, Biblical exegesis, typological and anti-typological discussion, medieval treatises on hagiography, medieval medicine, lapidary lore, and oodles of relevant materials necessary for students seeking to understand the medieval world and medieval literature. Unfortunately, the material is all in Latin, with facing French translations, which makes it less useful for English-speakers hindered by linguistic inabilities. Additionally, a series of editors compiled the volumes of the PL and they did not follow the same system of cataloging and organization as their predecessors. The result is a confusing mishmash that requires four volumes of indices and an additional index to the indices. Four generations of scholars have blessed the PL as an astonishing and ambitious collection of medieval lore, while simultaneously cursing it as a devilish, misorganized amalgam riddled with errors, typos, and blunders in pagination. The PL is being displaced from its throne by the Corpus Christianorum, an electronic collection superseding the older half-edited material. However, major research libraries at this time are more likely to have an old, dusty set of shelves devoted to the PL than to have an expensive, computerized copy of the Corpus Christianorum. For a student of medieval literature who can speak Latin, the best starting spot is the index to the indices, and from there work one's way backward. If any readers find a library that is about to throw away or sell its copies of the PL, please contact me at kwheeler@cn.edu. I would like to have a copy myself, provided I can find a room large enough to store all 228 of these books.

PATRON: See discussion under patronage, below.

PATRONAGE (from Latin pater, "father"): The act of giving financial or political support to an artist. A person who provides financial support for an artist is known as a patron regardless of his or her gender. Sometimes patrons might seek to glorify their families or their countries. For instance, the Emperor Augustus was a patron for Virgil. Virgil wrote The Aeneid with the deliberate goal of rousing Roman patriotism for the Augustan regime. Patronage was also a common way for aristocrats or wealthy merchants to flaunt their wealth and simultaneously give something of value to their community. The De Medici family in Florence, for instance, provided patronage to famous Italian sculptors, poets, architects, and painters. In England, John of Gaunt and Richard II both served as patrons for Chaucer at various points in his career. Many literary works are dedicated to a patron. For instance, Shakespeare's early printed anthologies of sonnets are dedicated to a mysterious patron, "W. H." In Renaissance drama, acting companies were required to have an important noble or royal family member as a patron, for actors not in the service of such illustrious individuals were punishable as vagabonds and tramps. Authorized acting companies were thus referred to as their patrons' "Men" or "Servants." For most of Shakespeare's dramatic career, his acting company was first known as the Lord Chamberlain's Men. After Queen Elizabeth died, the name was changed to the King's Men in 1603, when King James I ascended the throne and took up patronage of the company.

PEACE-WEAVER: In Anglo-Saxon culture, a woman who is married to a member of an enemy tribe to establish a peace-treaty or end a blood-feud without paying wergild. This was a vital role for women in Anglo-Saxon custom--but probably also a stressful and dangerous responsibility. Hildeburh and Freawaru in Beowulf and the speaker of "The Wife's Lament" are probably examples of characters in Old English literature who are peace-weavers.

PEASANTS' REVOLT: Also known as Wat Tyler's Rebellion, this uprising occurred in 1387 when lower-class Londoners and workers from the surrounding areas, fed up with repressive government measures such as the Labor Statutes of 1351, marched on London and incinerated the Savoy palace belonging to John of Gaunt and damaged property belonging to other noblemen, appealing directly to the young king, Richard II, for his intervention. The rebels burned unfavorable contracts and records of debt. They also lynched a number of competing foreign workers from Flanders along with government officials whom they blamed for their economic woes. According to legend, they chanted, "When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?" (i.e., when Adam and Eve first existed, who was an aristocrat?) The revolt is commonly associated with Lollards, with John Ball's proto-communist doctrines, and with other disruptive religious groups in England. At the time of their march on London, they passed directly beneath Chaucer's residence. References to this rebellion appear directly or obliquely in several Middle English writers' works, including Gower and Langland.

PEER-REVIEWED JOURNAL: Also called a refereed journal, a juried publication, a scholarly journal, or a critical journal, a peer-reviewed journal is a periodical publication with strict standards for accuracy and clear thinking. Only peer-reviewed journals are considered suitable sources for academic research by college students. Most are published two to four times a year. These publications are held in such high esteem because, when an article is submitted for publication, it is passed on to two or three other experts in the field; they in turn critique the author's thinking and check the article's claims and facts to make sure it is as accurate as possible and (theoretically) free from distorting political, religious, ideological bias; citation errors; logical fallacies; and misattributions. This contrasts with a book, in which only a copy-editor or two will check for typos, but nobody challenges the author's ideas, and it contrasts even more starkly with a web page like this one, in which no official structure is consistently available to ensure scholarly accuracy let alone find all the typos. Good college students learn to use peer-reviewed journals; they do not rely on Google and web-browsing for their primary information. Some of the most important peer-reviewed journals for medieval literature students in English include The Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Medievalia et Humanistica, Medium Aevum, Arthuriana, Medieval Studies, Neuphilologische Mitteilungen, the PMLA, Philological Quarterly, Reading Medieval Studies, Speculum, Chaucer Review, and Studies in the Age of Chaucer. The tell-tale signs of a scholarly journal are its typically copious footnotes, the absence of advertisements or glossy photographs, often its plain, unadorned cover, its guidelines in the back or front for scholarly submissions, and its pages, which are typically on expensive acid-free paper to ensure archival survival. Often libraries do have these journals available in electronic databases (such as JSTOR) that can be searched as easily and as efficiently as webpages, so students have no excuse for not using them. If you need help, contact your teacher or a reference librarian. Bribe this helper with chocolate.

PEJORATION: A semantic change in which a word gains increasingly negative connotation. For instance, the word lewd originally referred to laymen as opposed to priests. It underwent pejoration to mean "ignorant," then "base" and finally "obscene," which is the only surviving meaning in Modern English usage. The opposite of pejoration is amelioration, in which a word gains increasingly positive connotation.

PEN NAME: Another term for nom de plume. The word indicates a fictitious name that a writer employs to conceal his or her identity. For example, Samuel Clemens used the pen name "Mark Twain." William Sydney Porter wrote his short stories under the pen name "O. Henry." Mary Ann Cross used the pen name "George Eliot" to hide that she was a female writer, just as science-fiction writer Alice Bradley Sheldon used the pen name "James Tiptree, Junior." Ben Franklin used a variety of pen names such as "Silence Do-good," Jonathan Swift once used the name Lemuel Gulliver, and so on. Writers might choose to use a pen name as a way to keep a certain name associated with certain types of work, so that a writer might use one name for westerns and another name for science fiction novels. Other authors might seek to hide their identity to avoid negative repercussions (such as hate-mail, imprisonment, lynch-mobs, or even execution--all of these misfortunes can and do occur to authors, especially those writing in totalitarian regimes).

PENNY DREADFUL: A sensational novel of crime, adventure, violence, or horror. The term is an English archaism referring to cheaply printed books bound in paper at only a few pennies' cost. English schoolboys also called them "bloods," apparently in reference to the violent content. The equivalent term in American slang is "dime-novel," again referring to the cheap price, or "pulp fiction," referring to the cheap wood-pulp pressed to make the paper. My personal favorite penny dreadful from pre-1800 writing is Varney the Vampire: Or, The Feast of Blood! The title gives some indication of the content.

PENTAMETER: When poetry consists of five feet in each line, it is written in pentameter. Each foot has a set number of syllables. Iambs, spondees, and trochees are feet consisting of two syllables. Thus, iambic pentameter, spondaic pentameter, and trochaic pentameter lines would have a total of ten syllables. Anapests and dactyls are feet consisting of three syllables. Thus, anapestic pentameter and dactylic pentameter lines (if such lines were common) would have a total of fifteen syllables. See foot and meter. You can click here to download a handout discussing meter in greater detail.

PENTATEUCH: The first five books of the Hebrew Bible--i.e., Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

PERFECT RHYME: Another term for exact rhyme or true rhyme. See exact rhyme.

PERFORMATIVE LANGUAGE: See discussion under speech act theory.

PERICOPE (Grk, "section"; the last syllable rhymes with "dopey"): (1) In biblical studies, a story, brief passage, or selection from gospel narrative or passage found embedded inside another story, narrative, or passage. (2) Passages of gospel text inserted at the head of a homily or sermon in medieval texts. See frame narrative.

PERIOD: See discussion under periodization and periods of English literature.

PERIODIC ESSAY: The forefather of modern periodicals like magazines and literary journals, these publications contained essays appearing at regular intervals (monthly, quarterly, and so on). The subject-matter varied from current events, literary criticism, social commentary, fashion, geographic and architectural features of London, childhood memories, and whatever other reverie entered the author's head. The essays often began with a Latin epigraph as a rhetorical flourish illustrating the good taste and education of the "gentleman author," a practice that has fallen out of favor in more fiercely democratic and egalitarian times. The first literary periodicals were French. They included Journals des Scavans (1665). Italian ones followed such as Giornale de Letterati (1668). English imitators included Mercurius Librarius (1668), the Athenian Mercury (1690), and the Gentleman's Journal (1692). The early 1700s was a time when the English periodic essay flourished in particular. This time was especially important in the development of the modern periodical and in the growing acceptance of the essay as a valid genre. Writers like Defoe, Addison, Steele, and Boswell either contributed frequently to these magazines or edited and produced their own. The Tatler (1709), the Spectator (1711), and the Guardian (1731), all established by Addison and Steele, became profoundly influential in shaping the writing habits and publication customs of the modern world. Most of these publications ran for only two or three years before vanishing, but some lasted for decades. The Gentleman's Magazine first came out in 1731 and the last issue appeared in 1907, for instance, and the Quarterly Review (1809) was still being published as of 1991, when I last subscribed.

PERIODIC SENTENCE: A long sentence that is not grammatically complete (and hence not intelligible to the reader) until the reader reaches the final portion of the sentence. An example is this sentence by Bret Harte:

And pulseless and cold, with a Derringer by his side and a bullet in his heart, though still calm as in life, beneath the snow lay he who was at once the strongest and yet the weakest of the outcasts of Poker Flat.

The most common type of periodic sentence involves a long phrase in which the verb falls at the very end of the sentence after the direct object, indirect object and other grammatical necessities. For example, "For the queen, the lover, pleading always at the heart's door, patiently waits." In a non-periodic sentence, we would normally write, "Always pleading at the heart's door, the lover waits patiently for the queen." The non-periodic sentence is clearer in English. It tends to follow the subject-verb-object pattern we are accustomed to. The periodic sentence is more exotic and arguably more poetic, but initially confusing.

Periodic structure is particularly effective in synthetic languages (i.e. languages in which meaning does not depend on the order of words). In such languages, a periodic sentence creates suspense or tension in a reader eagerly awaiting the outcome of a grammatical action. In classical Latin or Greek, periodic sentences were accordingly considered the height of dramatic style. In English, however, the result can become confusing or comic if the writer loses control, as evidenced in the work of Victorian novelist George Bulwer-Lytton, which has been much mocked by modern readers. Milton's employs a periodic style in Paradise Lost because he seeks boldly to imitate the features of a classical epic--including the very grammatical structure of the original Latin and Greek works he loves and emulates. Compare to anastrophe.

PERIODIC STYLE: A style of writing in which the sentences tend to be periodic. See discussion under periodic sentence, above. Periodic style in English is usually considered indirect or artificially "artsy" in comparison with the more straight-forward non-periodic style.

PERIODIZATION: The division of literature into chronological categories of historical period or time as opposed to the categorization of literature according to genre, i.e., categories based on conventional features shared between works of similar type. For instance, if I were organizing my bookshelf, and I placed all the books from the early 1800s on one shelf, and all the books written in the Victorian period on the next shelf, and all the twentieth-century books on the last shelf, I have organized my literature by periodization. If, however, I placed all the books containing tragic drama together on one shelf, ands placed all my Western novels on another shelf, and put all the poetry collections on the last shelf, I have organized my books according to genre. (Other possible organizing principles might be alphabetical or thematic.) Periodization is not always clear. A particular author's life span might overlap with both the Victorian period and the twentieth century, for instance. Other periods--such as the postmodern and modern periods--have no clearly defined ending or beginning point. Still, the intellectual exercise can be useful for thinking about how particular literary artists fit (or don't fit) into an era and for thinking about the zeitgeist or "spirit-of-the-age" in which they live.

PERIODS OF ENGLISH LITERATURE: The common historical eras scholars use to divide literature into comprehensible sections through periodization. Dividing literature into these sometimes arbitrary periods allows us to better compare and contrast the writing, poetry, and drama produced in different ages, to more easily trace chains of influence from one writer to another, and to appreciate more readily the connection between historical events and intellectual trends. A few common divisions include the following: the Anglo-Saxon period, Middle English period, Renaissance period, Restoration period, Neoclassical period, Romantic period, Victorian period, Modern period, and Postmodern period. No universally accepted scheme exists for the divisions. For instance, some editors or anthologists might lump both the Anglo-Saxon and Middle English periods together as the Medieval period. Another might subdivide the Renaissance into the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods, and so on. Click here for a PDF handout listing the periods in more detail.

PERIODS OF LITERATURE: See discussion under periods of English literature.

PERIPETEA: Another spelling of peripeteia. See below.

PERIPETEIA (Also spelled peripetea, Greek for "sudden change"): The sudden reversal of fortune in a story, play, or any narrative in which there is an observable change in direction. In tragedy, this is often a change from stability and happiness toward the destruction or downfall of the protagonist.

PERIPETY: Another term for peripeteia. See above. The word was particularly common in older English writing.

PERSONA (Plural, personae or personas; Latin,"mask"): An external representation of oneself which might or might not accurately reflect one's inner self, or an external representation of oneself that might be largely accurate, but involves exaggerating certain characteristics and minimizing others. One of the most famous personae is that of the speaker in Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal." Here, the Irish author Swift, outraged over Britain's economic exploitation of Ireland, creates a speaker who is a well-to-do English intellectual, getting on in years, who advocates raising and eating Irish children as a means of economic advancement. Another famous persona is Geoffrey Chaucer's narrator in The Canterbury Tales, who presents himself as poetically inept and somewhat dull. Contrast with alter ego and poetic speaker.

PERSONAL ENDING: In linguistics and grammar, a verb inflection that shows if the subject is first person, second person, or third person.

PERSONAL SYMBOL: Another term for a private symbol. See below.

PERSONIFICATION: A trope in which abstractions, animals, ideas, and inanimate objects are given human character, traits, abilities, or reactions. Personification is particularly common in poetry, but it appears in nearly all types of artful writing. Examples include Keat's treatment of the vase in "Ode on a Grecian Urn," in which the urn is treated as a "sylvan historian, who canst thus express / A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme," or Sylvia Plath's "The Moon and the Yew Tree," in which the moon "is a face in its own right, / White as a knuckle and terribly upset. / It drags the sea after it like a dark crime." When discussing the ways that animistic religions personify natural forces with human qualities, scientists refer to this process as "anthropomorphizing," sometimes with derogatory overtones. A special sub-type of personification is prosopopoeia, in which an inanimate object is given the ability of human speech. Apostrophe (not to be confused with the punctuation mark) is a special type of personification in which a speaker in a poem or rhetorical work pauses to address some abstraction that is not physically present in the room. See also prosopopoeia, apostrophe therianthropic, and theriomorphic.

PETRARCHAN CONCEIT: A conceit used by the Italian poet Petrarch or similar to those he used. In the Renaissance, English poets were quite taken with Petrarch's conceits and recycled them in their own poetry. Examples include comparing eyes to the stars or sun, hair to golden wires, lips to cherries, women to goddesses, and so on. His oxymora, such as freezing fire or burning ice, were also common.

PETRARCHAN SONNET: See discussion under sonnet.

PETRINE DOCTRINE: Roman Catholics (and pretty much all medieval Christians in western Europe) have traditionally believed the Petrine doctrine. The Petrine doctrine is the belief that Saint Peter was given special authority by Christ that has since passed on to each Pope. In the Gospel narratives, Matthew 16:18-19, Christ states, "You are Peter [petrus], the Rock [petros], and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. To you I will give the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. What you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and what you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (A similar verse is found in John 21:15-17.) Medieval and modern Catholics believed the Archbishop of Rome (i.e., the Pope) was in direct apostolic lineage back to Saint Peter. That means the Archbishop who anointed the Pope had been annointed by others all the way back to Saint Peter. Thus, the Pope inherited the same special authority Saint Peter had.

The Orthodox Greek church did not share this belief. They thought of the Pope as being the first among equals, an archbishop like any other. He did not have authority to command the whole church. The two halves of the medieval church in the West and the East argued about this, but that was the sum of the dispute for several centuries. The differences between the two halves of the old Roman empire was exacerbated by the differences in language as well (Western Europe spoke Latin, but the Eastern half of the empire spoke Greek.) See also schism.

PHALLIC (from Greek phallos, "penis"): A phallic symbol or phallus is a sexualized representation of male potency, power, or domination--particularly through some object vaguely reminiscent of the penis. Common phallic symbols include sticks, staves, swords, clubs, towers, trees, missiles, and rockets. Contrast with a yonic symbol. See also herm.

PHALLUS: See discussion under phallic.

PHATIC COMMUNICATION: Exchanges or conversation designed primarily not to transmit information, but rather to reinforce social bonds, signal the beginning or end of a conversation, or engage in ritual activities. For instance, if we pass a stranger in the hallway and say, "Hi, howya doing?" and pass on after a nod, the linguistic exchange was not an actual request for data, but merely a politeness acknowledging the other's presence. Similarly, "thanks for stopping by" or "you're welcome, come again" are all social lubricants to ease the transition to and from ritual activity rather than attempts at factual communication. Phatic communication is the term for this phenomenon.

PHILOSOPHY (Greek, "Love of wisdom"): The methodical and systematic exploration of what we know, how we know it, and why it is important that we know it. Too frequently, students use the term somewhat nebulously. They often mistakenly state, "My philosophy about X is . . ." when they really mean, "My opinion about X is . . ." or "My attitude toward X is . . ." Traditional areas of Western philosophic inquiry include the following areas.

  • logic: the use of critical thinking, particularly binary yes/no thinking and inductive/deductive reasoning, as a means of testing ideas and debate--logos.

  • epistemology: the study of how we know things with any certainty and what limitations there may be to our ability to think, perceive, and understand

  • ontology: the study of being and what constitutes objective and subjective existence, and what it means to exist

  • ethical forensics: the study of what is right and wrong, why it is right or wrong, and whether a common basis for of absolute morality can be found outside the individual mind in the laws of nature or the community

  • aesthetic theory: the study of what makes some things seem beautiful that have no practical benefit and whether these things are necessary in some way

  • empirical thought: the practice of controlling observable phenomena to test hypotheses with repeatable experiments (an idea that has become profoundly important for scientific proof, though it is not, as many people mistakenly argue, the only basis for scientific proof)

  • metaphysics: speculative thought about matters outside the perceivable physical world

PHONEME: The smallest sound or part of a spoken word that serves as a building block in a larger syllable or word, and which cannot be broken down further into smaller constitutive sounds. Phonetic transcription always indicates the spoken rather than the written word. This term contrasts with graphemes (the letters or smallest written symbols that "count" as a unit of an alphabet) and morphemes (smallest units that have meaning--either written or spoken). For instance, in the word rerun, the morphemes are re- and run. Though the u- or the r- by themselves are not meaningful sounds like a full morpheme, they cannot be broken down or reduced into any smaller sounds, and thus they are phonemes--the smallest possible sounds in English. Linguists often transcribe English words into phonetic markings to indicate subtle differences in accent, pronunciation, etc., which may or may not correspond to the graphemes (the markings we use to symbolize sounds--i.e., the written word). When they do so, they often enclose the phonetic symbols in slashes /laik Is/ and enclose the graphic markings in chevrons so the reader can tell whether that linguist is discussing the spoken form of the word or the written form of the word. Contrast with graphemeand morpheme.

PHONETICS: The study of phonemes, or units of sound in spoken language.

PHONETIC TRANSCRIPTION: Written symbols that linguists use to represent speech sounds. One common transcription system is the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet). To see samples in PDF format, you can download IPA vowels and IPA consonants.

PHONOGRAM: A written symbol that indicates a spoken sound. Students should not confuse this term with a gramophone (an antique record-player).

PHONOLOGY: According to Algeo, "The units of sound (phonemes) of a language with their possible arrangements and varieties of vocal expression" (329). More generally, the study of sounds and sound-systems in a language.

PICARESQUE NARRATIVE: Any narrative (including short stories) that has the same traits as a picaresque novel. See discussion under picaresque novel.

PICARESQUE NOVEL (from Spanish picaro, a rogue or thief; also called the picaresque narrative and the Räuberroman in German): A humorous novel in which the plot consists of a young knave's misadventures and escapades narrated in comic or satiric scenes. This roguish protagonist--called a picaro--makes his (or sometimes her) way through cunning and trickery rather than through virtue or industry. The picaro frequently travels from place to place engaging in a variety of jobs for several masters and getting into mischief. The picaresque novel is usually episodic in nature and realistic in its presentation of the seamier aspects of society.

The genre first emerged in 1553 in the anonymous Spanish work Lazarillo de Tormes, and later Spanish authors like Mateo Aleman and Fracisco Quevedo produced other similar works. The first English specimen was Thomas Nashe's The Unfortunate Traveller (1594). Probably the most famous example of the genre is French: Le Sage's Gil Blas (1715), which ensured the genre's continuing influence on literature. Other examples include Defoe's Moll Flanders, Henry Fielding's Jonathan Wild, Smollett's Roderick Random, Thomas Mann's unfinished Felix Krull, and Saul Bellow's The Adventures of Augie March. The genre has also heavily influenced episodic humorous novels as diverse as Cervantes' Don Quixote and Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

PICARO (Spanish "thief," also called picaroon): A knave or rascal who is the protagonist in picaresque novels. See discussion under picaresque novel, above.

PICKUP SYLLABLE: Another term the unstressed syllable in anacrusis.

PICTOGRAPH: See discussion under ideograph.

PIDGIN: A simplified, limited language combining features from many languages and used among persons who share no common language amongst themselves. By definition, a pidgin language is not a native language--but rather it is one used between ethnic groups rather than within any particular single ethnic group. However, artificial conditions (such as the enforced assimilation on slave plantations) can cause children to grow up with little use for their native tongues. This can cause the pidgin language to develop into a much richer creole.

PIECE-BIEN-FAIT: The French term for the dramatic genre called the "well-made play." See discussion under well-made play.

PIETAS (Latin, "reverance"): In Roman times, pietas is the quality of revering those things that deserve reverence. The word is the source for our modern English word piety and piousness (reverence toward the divine), but the Latin term is far more all-embracing--indicating not only devotion to the gods, but also devotion to one's gens (family) and patria (homeland or country). Thus, it also means patriotism and familial responsibility. In Virgil's Aeneid, one epithet frequently applied to Aeneas is pius Aeneas, implying that Aeneas particularly embodies this quality so valued by the Romans.

PILGRIMAGE: An act of spiritual devotion or penance in which an individual travels without material comforts to a distant holy place. The journey often has spiritual overtones--it may symbolize a journey to the celestial city of heaven or repeat the journey of a saint or biblical hero. Pilgrimage has become a prominent symbol in both Western Christian writings and Middle-Eastern Islamic writings. John Bunyon's Pilgrim's Progress and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales are two literary examples using the pilgrimage motif.

P'ING HUA: A Chinese yarn or tall tale. The genre typically involves a strong narrative presence and colloquial or idiomatic Chinese. The tone is realistic, but the content is typically fantastic or hyperbolic. Contrast with the Russian skaz.

PIT: In indoor theaters during the Renaissance, the most expensive and prestigious bench seating was the pit--an area directly in front of the stage. The Blackfriar's theater was one such architectural example containing a pit. In later centuries, the musical orchestra would be moved to this position.

PITCH: In linguistics, a semi-musical tone or quality used in some languages to distinguish meaning.

PLACE OF ARTICULATION: The point in the oral cavity where the position of speech organs (lips, teeth, tongue, etc.) is most important for a particular sound.

PLAGIARISM: Accidental or intentional intellectual theft in which a writer, poet, artist, scholar, or student steals an original idea, phrase, or section of writing from someone else and presents this material as his or her own work without indicating the source via appropriate explanation or citation. Click here for more information.

PLATONIC: In common usage, people often use the word "platonic" to mean "intellectual rather than physical." Thus, a Platonic love-affair is one in which the couple is attracted to each other for mental or psychological qualities rather than bodily attributes. More specifically, however, Platonic philosophy is Plato's idea that behind (or above or outside) the imperfect physical world, another intangible world of abstract ideas has its own existence. These abstract-but-perfect ideas (called Platonic forms) appear only as dim outlines (or shadows) in the physical world. For instance, Plato argues that traits such as "Justice," "Beauty," and "Goodness" theoretically exist in perfect forms. Material creatures, who cannot see or enjoy the abstract quality of Beauty itself, can only enjoy specific manifestations of Beauty--such as sunsets or starlight or silvery snow. What the unenlightened do not realize is that it is not these specific objects they should admire, but the quality of beauty behind them--the form of absolute Beauty that is eternal and unchanging even as specific sunsets fade and yearly snowfalls melt away. Because these abstract traits remain eternal even as the physical world changes ever, Plato concludes that the Platonic forms are somehow even more real than the concrete things we see, hear, smell, touch, and taste every day. His breathtaking, nearly mystical conclusion is that the physical world is the illusion or dream, and the world of the mind is closer to the "real" world of the eternal forms.

Platonic thinking profoundly influences Plotinus, Boethius, Saint Augustine, Castiglione's The Book of the Courtier, Spenser's "Hymn in Honor of Beauty," Shelley's "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty," and Wordsworth's Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood.

PLATONIC FORM: The ideas, images, or patterns of which physical reality is but an imperfect or transitory symbol or expression. See discussion under Platonic.

PLATONISM: See discussion under Platonic.

PLAY: A specific piece of drama, usually enacted on a stage by diverse actors who often wear makeup or costumes to make them resemble the character they portray. See drama.

PLEONASM: A habit of speech or writing in which an idea repeats itself in a single sentence, i.e., a redundancy. For example, "tiny little town" is a pleonasm, as opposed to "tiny town" or "little town." Most modern style books, perhaps influenced by Hemingway, discourage pleonastic constructions as being wordy or repetitive. I also steer students away from them. However, pleonasms have been fashionable in other centuries. Geoffrey of Vinsauf favored them in his twelfth-century style manual, the Poetria Nova. The New Testament book of Mark happily used them, as David Smith points out (8). Consider Mark 13:33, "Blepete, agrupneite!" ("Watch out! Be aware!") in which the author emphasizes alertness by using a pleonasm.

PLOSIVE: In linguistics, another term for a stop.

PLOT: The structure and relationship of actions and events in a work of fiction. In order for a plot to begin, some sort of catalyst is necessary. While the temporal order of events in the work constitutes the "story," we are speaking of plot rather than story as soon as we look at how these events relate to one another and how they are rendered and organized so as to achieve their particular effects. Note that, while it is most common for events to unfold chronologically or ab ovo (in which the first event happens first, the second event happens second, and so on), many stories structure the plot in such a way that the reader encounters happenings out of order. A common technique along this line is to "begin" the story in the middle of the action, a technique called beginning in medias res (Latin for "in the middle[s] of things"). Some narratives involve several short episodic plots occurring one after the other (like chivalric romances), or they may involve multiple subplots taking place simultaneously with the main plot (as in many of Shakespeare's plays).

PLUCK BUFFET: Anthropologists suggest that pre-adolescent male children in a variety of cultures share the game of "pluck buffet." In this game, one child trades blows on the arm or chest with another to see who is "bravest" or "toughest." Alternatively, pluck buffet also refers to any game in which two individuals challenge each other to some contest (often archery) and the loser must receive a strike from the winner. For instance, the poem "Garland" depicts Richard the Lion-Hearted and Robin Hood having an archery contest, and the loser must "Beare a buffet on his hede." This becomes an important theme in ballads like Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne. Pluck buffet may also lie at the heart of a Celtic motif known as the "trade of blows" in which one warrior agrees to trade strikes with another; in the case of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, pluck buffet takes a potentially lethal turn when Gawain and the green elf-knight play the game using giant axes.

POETIC DICTION: Distinctive language used by poets, i.e., language that would not be common in their everyday speech. The most common signs of poetic diction include involve archaisms, neologisms, rhyme, and unusual figures of speech. Teachers often point to Spenser's use of words like gentil and tobraken, or Shakespeare's use of abysm and climature, or Emily Dickinson's use of thee and thine. When they ask students, "why did this poet write in such a way?" students often mistakenly reply, "Because that's the way people talked back then." On the contrary, in the 1500s, Spenser is resurrecting language that was common in Chaucer's day in the 1300s--not the language of his own time. The words abysm and climature are made-up words Shakespeare invented from abyss/chasm and climate/temperature, not words he would hear in everyday use on the London streets. Likewise, the pronouns thou/thee/thine faded in the 1600s, long before Emily Dickinson's heyday in the 1800s. These poets chose such language precisely because it is unusual for their time--because it is different from humdrum ordinary speech. (That's what makes it striking poetry, after all.)

The concept of literary decorum (and its requirement for certain genres and characters to use lofty, elevated language) also generated thick poetic diction. As M. H. Abrams notes in volume I of The Norton Anthology, the results were phrases such as "the finny tribe" for "fish" and the "the bleating kind" for "sheep" (2958). To modern poets, such phrasing might seem overblown. The point, however, is that poetic diction is vastly different from daily speech.

POETIC LICENSE: The freedom of a poet or other literary writer to depart from the norms of common discourse, literal reality, or historical truth in order to create a special effect in or for the reader. When applied to prose writers, the term is often called "artistic license." Contrast with verisimilitude.

POETIC JUSTICE: The phrase and the idea was coined by Thomas Rymer in the late 1600s. He claimed that a narrative or drama should distribute rewards and punishments proportionately to the virtues and villainies of each character in the story. Thus, when a particularly vicious character meets a despicable end appropriate for his crimes, we say it is "poetic justice." This formula for resolving plots has fallen into disfavor in later centuries, and no widely influential critics today advocate such a formula without qualifications.

POETIC SPEAKER: The narrative or elegiac voice in a poem (such as a sonnet, ode, or lyric) that speaks of his or her situation or feelings. It is a convention in poetry that the speaker is not the same individual as the historical author of the poem. For instance, consider the poet Lord Byron's mock epic Don Juan. Lord Byron wrote the poem as a young man in his late twenties. However, the speaker of the poem depicts himself as being an elderly man looking back cynically on the days of youth. Clearly, the "voice" talking and narrating the story is not identical with the author. In the same way, the speaker of the poem "My Last Duchess" characterizes himself through his words as a Renaissance nobleman in Italy who is cold-blooded--quite capable of murdering a wife who displeases him--but the author of the poem was actually Robert Browning, a mild-mannered English poet writing in the early nineteenth-century. Many students (and literary critics) attempt to decipher clues about the author's own attitudes, beliefs, feelings, or biographical details through the words in a poem. However, such an activity must always be done with caution. Shakespeare may write a sonnet in which the poetic speaker pours out his passion for a woman with bad breath and wiry black hair (Sonnet 130), but it does not necessarily mean that Shakespeare himself was attracted to halitosis, or that his wife had black hair, or that he had a fling with such a woman. In fact, it is a convention in some genres, such as the medieval visio or dream vision, that the poetic speaker is a dull, imperceptive caricature of the author. See also authorial voice and dream vision, above.

POETRY: A variable literary genre characterized by rhythmical patterns of language. These patterns typically consist of patterns of meter (regular patterns of high and low stress), syllabification (the number of syllables in each line of text), rhyme, alliteration, or combinations of these elements. The poem typically involves figurative language such as schemes and tropes, and the poem may bend (or outright break) the conventions of normal communicative speech in the attempt to embody an original idea or convey a linguistic experience. Many modern students mistakenly believe that rhyme is the dominant feature separating poetry from prose (non-poetic) writings. However, rhyme is actually a fairly recent addition to poetry. In classical Greece and Rome, meter was the trait that separated poetry from prose.

POINT OF VIEW: The way a story gets told and who tells it. It is the method of narration that determines the position, or angle of vision, from which the story unfolds. Point of view governs the reader's access to the story. Many narratives appear in the first person (the narrator speaks as "I" and the narrator is a character in the story who may or may not influence events within it). Another common type of narrative is the third-person narrative (the narrator seems to be someone standing outside the story who refers to all the characters by name or as he, she, they, and so on). When the narrator reports speech and action, but never comments on the thoughts of other characters, it is the dramatic third person point of view or objective point of view. The third-person narrator can be omniscient--a narrator who knows everything that needs to be known about the agents and events in the story, and is free to move at will in time and place, and who has privileged access to a character's thoughts, feelings, and motives. The narrator can also be limited--a narrator who is confined to what is experienced, thought, or felt by a single character, or at most a limited number of characters. Finally, there is the unreliable narrator (a narrator who describes events in the story, but seems to make obvious mistakes or misinterpretations that may be apparent to a careful reader). Unreliable narration often serves to characterize the narrator as someone foolish or unobservant. See also authorial voice.

POINT OF VIEW CHARACTER: The central figure in a limited point of view narration, the character through whom the reader experiences the author's representation of the world. See point of view, above.

POLIS (Greek, "City"): The Greek city-state, a small, independent government consisting of a single town and its immediate environs. Some of these city-states were democracies in which every male citizen voted on every government action. Others were oligarchies in which a few rich or aristocratic families cooperated and shared powers. Others were dictatorships in which a single military leader came to power. The two most influential city-states were Athens and Sparta. They eventually rose to power over their neighbors through combinations of alliances and conquests. Athens was famous for its culture and art and intellectual life. Sparta was famous for its toughness and its martial lifestyle.

POLYGENESIS: The theory that, if two similar stories, words, or images appear in two different geographic regions or languages, they are actually unrelated to each other. Each one arose independently. For an analogy, in both early Mayan architecture and in Egyptian architecture, pyramids are striking engineering features. However, since no contact took place between the two cultures, archeologists believe each group invented the design independently rather than adopting it from a single source (such as one group borrowing it from the other). Circumstances such as the lack of mortar, concrete, or flying buttresses ensured that both Mayans and Egyptians would come up with a wide-base structure to support any large or tall edifice--leading to pyramid designs by default.

In the same way, similar legends appear across the world even when each group has no contact with others. Many cultures that master metallurgy create legends or myths about crippled smiths (witness Hephaestus or Vulcan in Greco-Roman myth, Weiland in Norse and Germanic legend, and Silverhand in Celtic myth). Cultures that do not master metal-smithing do not create crippled craftsmen-gods in their pantheons. This can be explained by the theory of polygenesis. Men who are crippled cannot join the hunters in gathering food or join the farmers in digging irrigation ditches, so they tend to stay in the village and work as craftsmen, developing skills that ultimately seem magical to the untrained without these years of experience. However, the archetype of the crippled craftsman/god does not appear in cultures without the technology of metal-working.

In the same way, flood-narratives appear across many cultures--Noah's flood in the Judeo-Christian tradition as well as in Welsh, Chaldean, and Greek legends. Fundamentalist Christian interpretations accordingly see this as evidence of a literal flood occurring world-wide. Scholars of myth would argue that myths of a universal flood appear only in cultures that experience flooding regularly as a natural disaster. Aborigines in the Australian outbreak or desert-dwelling tribesmen do not necessarily share such a legend. This leads to the idea that these flood-narratives arose independently in different places through polygenesis. See also archetype. Contrast with monogenesis.

POLYSYLLABIC: Having more than one syllable.

POLYSYNDETON: Using many conjunctions to achieve an overwhelming effect in a sentence. For example, "This term, I am taking biology and English and history and math and music and physics and sociology." All those ands make the student sound like she is completely overwhelmed. It is the opposite of asyndeton. Both polysyndeton and asyndeton are examples of rhetorical schemes. For a literary example of polysyndeton, click here.

POMPÉ: In classical Greco-Roman culture, many major festivals were marked by a pompé. A pompé was a combination of a parade, pilgrimage, and religious procession Worshipper would don special garb, line up in rows by the thousands, and then travel through the city or from one holy site to another (such as from the Parthenon to the site of the Eleusinian mysteries). The most important pompé in Athens celebrated Athena's birthday. On this day, her shrine would be cleaned and scrubbed, and the cult statue would be physically carried or carted in a procession leading to the Aegean, where it would be cleansed with sea-water and given a new peplos (woman's cloak) to wear for the upcoming year.

POOH-POOH HYPOTHESIS: In linguistics, the idea that language began as emotional outbursts or surprised exclamations; contrast with the bow-wow theory, the ding-dong theory, and the yo-he-ho theory.

PORTMANTEAU WORD: The French term for a linguistic blending.

PORTRAIT EN CREUX: A rhetorical or literary device in which a writer mentions an absence to evoke the counterpart presence. This is the verbal equivalent of "negative space" in sculpture or painting.

POSTMODERNISM: A general (and often hotly debated) label referring to the philosophical, artistic, and literary changes and tendencies after the 1940s and 1950s up to the present day. We can speak of postmodern art, music, architecture, literature, and poetry using the same generic label. The tendencies of postmodernism include (1) a rejection of traditional authority, (2) radical experimentation--in some cases bordering on gimmickry, (3) eclecticism and multiculturalism, (4) parody and pastiche, (5) deliberate anachronism or surrealism, and (6) a cynical or ironic self-awareness (often postmodernism mocks its own characteristic traits). In many ways, these traits are all features that first appeared in modernism, but postmodernism magnifies and intensifies these earlier characteristics. It also seems to me that, while modernism rejected much of tradition, it clung to science as a hopeful and objective cure to the past insanities of history, culture and superstition. Modernism hoped to tear down tradition and longed to build something better in its ruins. Postmodernism, on the other hand, is often suspicious of scientific claims, and often denies the possibility or desirability of establishing any objective truths and shared cultural standards. It usually embraces pluralism and spurns monolithic beliefs, and it often borders on solipsism. While modernism mourned the passing of unified cultural tradition, and wept for its demise in the ruined heap of civilization, so to speak, postmodernism tends to dance in the ruins and play with the fragments.

Some of the new literary movements growing from postmodernism include the darker or horrific tales of science fiction, neo-Gothic literature, late twentieth-century horror stories, concrete poetry, magic realism, Theater of the Absurd, and so on. Finally, postmodernism is often used loosely and interchangeably with the critical movements following post-structuralism--the growing realms of Marxist, materialist, feminist, and psychoanalytical approaches to literature that developed during and after the 1970s. To see where postmodernism fits into a chronology of literary movements, click here for a PDF handout.

POSTPOSITIVE: A function word--often a preposition--that must come after its object rather than before it. By definition, a postpositive word or phrase cannot begin a sentence. Several words in Latin and Greek are postpositives.

POST-STRUCTURALISM: A collective and loose term for any of the literary theories appearing after the structuralist movement in linguistics--including Derrida's infamous concept of deconstruction. The more radical poststructuralists attempt to subvert, question, or eliminate common concepts accepted before the structuralist movement--like individual identity, the subconscious mind, rules for social interaction, and so on.

PREFIX: A morpheme added to the beginning of a word. For instance, the prefix re- can be added to the word play to create the word replay.

PREQUEL (formed from the prefix pre- and the root word sequel): A novel, play, film, or other narrative usually written after the popular success of an earlier work but set before the events in that successful earlier work, and incorporating characters, settings, and situations with which the audience is already familiar. Contrast with sequel and series.

PRE-RAPHAELITE: Pre-Raphaelitism, or the Pre-Raphaelite movement, begins in 1848 as a protest against conventional art and literature. A band of young London artists, poets, and intellectuals formed a "brotherhood" dedicated to re-creating the type of medieval art existing before the Renaissance. Hence, they took their name from Raphael (1483-1520), the earliest major Renaissance artist in Italy. Like the Romantic poets, Pre-Raphaelites wished to regain the spirit of simple devotion and adherence to nature. Hence, they rejected modernity, mass production, and urbanization. Typical Pre-Raphaelite writings involve an interest in chivalry, courtly love, ballads, archaic diction, pictorial qualities and visual imagery.

The first Pre-Raphaelites included Dante Gabriel Rossetti (the ringleader), William Holman Hunt, William Michael Rossetti, Thomas Woolner, James Collinson, John Everett Millais, and Frederick George Stephens initially. The movement later grew to include or influence Dante Rossetti's sister, the poet Christina Rossetti; William Morris, the craftsman and writer; the author Swinburne, and Burne-Jones the artist. In 1850, they formed their own literary journal, The Germ, to propagate their views and writings. Click here to download a PDF file of Christina Rossetti's poem, "A Birthday," to sample the diction and style of Pre-Raphaelite poetry.

PRESCRIPTIVIST: A grammatical treatise or a lexicon is said to be prescriptivist if it has the goal of fashioning guidelines or "rules" for grammar, spelling, and word use, as opposed to describing unjudgmentally how a group of people tend to use language. Contrast with descriptivist.

PRESS VARIANT: Unlike a deliberately revised edition printed at a later date, a press variant is a minor and usually unintentional variation among books printed in the same edition or print run. Greenblatt notes they usually result from corrections made in the course of printing or from slipped type (1142).

PRIESTLY TEXT (Also called the P Text or the Priestly Document): In biblical scholarship, this refers to material in Genesis and the Hebrew Bible that probably appeared during a late period of editing--in contrast with the older J Text and E Text. The name P Text comes from "Priestly Text." Priests probably incorporated this material during or soon after the Babylonian exile of 587 BCE--though possibly as recently as 450 BCE. (Some scholars in the minority argue that portions of the material might date "pre-exilicly" from the late eighth/early seventh century BCE during Hezekiah's reign, but this stance is not widely held.) At the time of the exile, the Judaic priests were probably desperate to retain their unique monotheistic beliefs in the face of overwhelming Babylonian influence, but they also faced the challenge of harmonizing their world view with that of Babylonian tradition.

At this point, many Aramaic (aka "Chaldee") loanwords appear in the Hebrew text and they are incorporated into the Hebrew Bible thereafter. This influence explains why today most biblical concordances and dictionaries (such as the 1979 version of Strong's Comprehensive Concordance of the Bible) refer to their Hebrew sections as a "Concordance of Hebrew and Chaldean," a "Hebrew and Chaldee Dictionary," or a "Hebrew and Aramaic Dictionary." Christ will still be using some Aramaic terms 400 years later in the New Testament gospels, which show how influential and long-lasting the linguistic effects of the Exile were on the Hebrew vocabulary. Biblical scholars think that Genesis 1:1-2:3 and other sections such as Genesis 6 come from the P Text, and these are probably the latest additions to the Genesis account. The foreign loanwords mean these sections couldn't have been written before coming into contact with the Chaldeans--at least not in the form in which they come down to us today in surviving manuscripts.

Some features of the P text include a stress on ritual observances such as the Sabbath, circumcision, and dietary taboos believed to be late additions to the religious tradition. Other features of the P text--such as the details of the Passover ritual, ordination ceremonies, and descriptions of the tabernacle--appear to have come from now lost older manuscript traditions after being updated and modified in the P tradition. Finally, the P text is marked the prominence it gives to Aaron (as opposed to the dominant role of Moses in the J and E texts), the account of Moses' death in Deuteronomy, the legal materials of Leviticus and Numbers, and a series of genealogies showing some influence from Mesopotamian sources.

If students are reading a study Bible like the Anchor Bible series, the editors helpfully mark which sections come from the J, E, and P Texts.


PRIMARY SOURCE: Literary scholars distinguish between primary sources, secondary sources, and educational resources. Students should also. To understand the difference, click here.

PRIMATE: See discussion under Chain of Being.

PRIMOGENITURE: The late medieval custom of allowing the first born legitimate male child to inherit all of his father's properties, estates, wealth, and titles upon the father's death. Primogeniture was a key issue in determining succession to the royal throne, and it plays an important part in Edmund's villainy in King Lear, in King Henry V's claim to the French throne in Henry V, and in many other Shakespearean plays. In medieval times, primogeniture lead to huge social problems since Western Europe was producing large numbers of second born militarily trained knights who had no means of making a livelihood. Since the firstborn son inherited everything, the only legitimate option for the other sons was becoming celibate and then joining the church hierarchy as clerics or entering monasteries. Since this was not always a preferable option for hot-blooded young men, many involved themselves in coups to gain the family estate, took up lives of brigandage, or became mercenaries and wandered from one war to another seeking their fortunes. When Pope Urban II called the first crusade to reclaim Jerusalem, the church saw that part of the solution to this problem was to provide a legitimate arena of warfare for these dispossessed knights. The opposite custom of dividing inheritance is known as

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