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ROMAN À CLEF (French, "novel with a key"; also called livre à clef, "book with a key," pronounced roh MAHN ah CLAY): A narrative that represents actual historical characters and events in the form of fiction. Usually in this fictional setting, the author presents descriptions of real contemporary figures but uses fictitious names for them. However, the character's common traits and mannerisms would be so well-known that readers "in the know" would recognize them. Typically the "keys" would be published later if readers had trouble figuring out who was who.

Most literary historians think of the genre as a type of novel originating in seventeenth-century France in works like Madame de Scudéry's Le Grand Cyrus (1649-53) and Clélie (1656-60). However, examples actually exist from much earlier medieval poetry. For instance, in Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, the character Harry Bailly appears to have been an actual innkeeper who lived in Southwark. Many of the other pilgrims also appear to have real-life correspondences; J. M. Manly long ago summarized the evidence in Some New Light on Chaucer (NY, Henry Holt and Company, 1926).

More recent examples of this genre include The New Atlantis (1709), published with a key to its characters; Peacock's Nightmare Abbey (1818), which contained hidden versions of Coleridge, Byron, and Shelley; Aldous Huxley's Point Counter Point (1928); Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises; Somerset Maugham's Cakes and Ale; Aphra Behn's Love Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister; and Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men. In English, a roman à clef is often called a key-novel. In German, it is a Schlüsselroman.

ROMAN IMPERIAL PERIOD: After long centuries of representative democracy, within only a few generations, power in Roman government first collapsed into unofficial triumvirates and ultimately into dictatorships. Although Julius Caesar was a monarch in all but name, historians consider his nephew Octavian (alias Caesar Augustus) the first official Emperor, and his rise to power in 27 CE marks the end of the Roman Republican Period and the beginning of the Roman Imperial Period. Writers living during this enormous power shift include Cicero, Julius Caesar, Lucretius, Catullus, Livy, and Tibullus. Imperial writers who wrote primarily after the Republic collapsed include Horace, Ovid, Seneca, Longinus, Pliny the Elder, Jospehus, Lucan, Martial, Plutarch, Statius, Tacitus, Juvenal, Pliny the Younger, Suetonius, Marcus Aurelius, and Apuleius. The Roman Empire itself collapsed in the fifth century CE. Vandals sacked the city of Rome in 455 CE, and in 476, another wave of barbarians dethroned the last Western Emperor, Romulus Augustulus.

ROMAN REPUBLICAN PERIOD: The period of Roman history between 514 BCE up until 27 CE, when Rome was primarily and (at least officially) a Republic with elected senators. After Rome's traditional founding in 753 BCE, it fell under the power of Etruscan rulers who were viewed as tyrants. The Romans rebelled, and rose from a primitive monarchy to a complex system of indirect representation under Patrician families, where the richest individuals in select families were eligible for public office; they would represent either particular districts or a number of "clients" (the forerunners of modern special interest groups). By the first century BCE, Julius Caesar, Sulla, the Gracchi brothers, and other men increasingly upset this system--sometimes as part of oligarchic coalitions, sometimes as dictators (Latin imperatores). Although Julius Caesar was a monarch in all but name, historians consider his nephew Octavian (alias Caesar Augustus) the first official Emperor, and his rise to power in 27 CE marks the end of the Republican Period and the beginning of the Imperial Period. Examples of early Roman and Republican literature include Plautus, Ennius, and Terence. Writers that bridge the gap between the two periods include Cicero, Julius Caesar, Lucretius, Catullus, Livy, and Tibullus.

ROMAN STOICISM: The philosophy espoused by Marcus Aurelius's Meditations, "Roman Stoicism" actually originates with earlier Greek thinkers, a specific school of philosophers that met at the stoa in Athens. Stoicism asserts that the natural world consists of suffering, and that the appropriate response of a human being is to face this suffering with dignity and a lack of tears while doing one's duty, acknowledging that life and pleasure are transitory. The philosophy is often contrasted with Epicurean philosophy, which asserted that wisdom lay in a "carpe diem" existence in which humanity, faced with the transience of life, should strive to enjoy itself as much as possible by using reason and moderation to find pleasure. Both Epicureanism and Stoicism dealt with the same problem: the brevity of life. However, they reached opposite conclusions concerning the appropriate response to that problem. Roman characters like Aeneas in Virgil's Aeneid are often analyzed in terms of how they embody (or fail to embody) the virtues of Stoicism.

ROMANCE, GOTHIC: See gothic novel

ROMANCE, HISTORICAL A narrative that takes a small episode or group of episodes from some ancient or famous chronicle and then independently develops those events in much greater detail. Greek writers, for instance, often took small segments from Homeric epics and developed their own independent stories focusing on side-events or sub-plots that take place "in the background"--mostly concerning minor background characters with only occasional cameos by the major Homeric characters like Odysseus, Penelope, Agamemnon, or Ajax. Many medieval romances--such as Benoit de Sainte-Maure's Roman de Troie, Boccaccio's Il Filostrato, Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde, and John Lydgate's Fall of the Princes of Troy--similarly take material from Homeric legend and turn them into chivalric versions of the historical romance--complete with anachronistic knights and courtly love affairs.

In the words of Stephen Barney's introduction to Troilus and Criseyde in the third edition of the Riverside Chaucer, "We now name this genre historical romance, a genre frequently and skillfully used by Shakespeare, Stendhal, Dickens, Tolstoy, and Faulkner" (471). While not necessarily always writing medieval romances in poetic form, these later artists certainly have created works in the spirit of the historical romance. Constrast with the historical novel.

ROMANCE, MEDIEVAL (also called a chivalric romance): In medieval use, romance referred to episodic French and German poetry dealing with chivalry and the adventures of knights in warfare as they rescue fair maidens and confront supernatural challenges. The medieval metrical romances resembled the earlier chansons de gestes and epics. However, unlike the Greek and Roman epics, medieval romances represent not a heroic age of tribal wars, but a courtly or chivalric period of history involving highly developed manners and civility, as M. H. Abrams notes. Their standard plot involves a single knight seeking to win a scornful lady's favor by undertaking a dangerous quest. Along the way, this knight encounters mysterious hermits, confronts evil blackguards and brigands, slays monsters and dragons, competes anonymously in tournaments, and suffers from wounds, starvation, deprivation, and exposure in the wilderness. He may incidentally save a few extra villages and pretty maidens along the way before finishing his primary task. (This is why scholars say romances are episodic--the plot can be stretched or contracted so the author can insert or remove any number of small, short adventures along the hero's way to the larger quest.)

Medieval romances often focus on the supernatural. In the classical epic, supernatural events originate in the will and actions of the gods. However, in secular medieval romance, the supernatural originates in magic, spells, enchantments, and fairy trickery. Divine miracles are less frequent, but are always Christian in origin when they do occur, involving relics and angelic visitations. A secondary concern is courtly love and the proprieties of aristocratic courtship--especially the consequnces of arranged marriage and adultery.

Scholars usually divide medieval romances into four loose categories based on subject-matter:

(1) "The Matter of Rome": stories based on the history and legends of Greco-Roman origin such as the Trojan war, Thebes, mythological figures, and the exploits of Alexander the Great. The medieval poet usually creates an anachronistic work by turning these figures into knights as he knew them.

(2) "The Matter of Britain": stories based on Celtic subject-matter, especially Camelot, King Arthur, and his knights of the round table, including material derived from the Celto-French Bretons and Breton lais.

(3) "The Matter of England": stories based on heroes like King Horn and Guy of Warwick.

(4) "The Matter of France": stories based on Charlemagne, Roland, and his knights.

A large number of such romances survive due to their enormous popularity, including the works of Chrétien de Troyes (c. 1190), Hartmann von Aue (c. 1203), Gottfried von Strassburg (c. 1210), and Wolfram von Eschenbach (c. 1210). England produced its own romances in the fourteenth century, including the Lay of Havelok the Dane and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. In 1485, Caxton printed the lengthy romance Le Morte D'Arthur, a prose work that constituted a grand synthesis of Arthurian legends. Gradually, the poetic genre of medieval romance was superseded by prose works of Renaissance romance. See romance, renaissance.

ROMANCE, METRICAL: Any medieval romance written in verse or meter.

ROMANCE, MODERN: In contrast with medieval and Renaissance romance, the meaning of a modern romance has become more restricted in the 20th century. Modern nonscholarly speakers refer to romances when they mean formulaic stories recounting the growth of a passionate sexual relationship. The conventional plotline involves a third-person narrative or a first-person narrative told from the viewpoint of a young woman between the ages of eighteen and her late twenties. She encounters a potential paramour in the form of a slightly older man. The two are prevented from forming a relationship due to social, psychological, economic, or interpersonal constraints. The primary plot involves the two overcoming these constraints through melodramatic efforts. The story conventionally ends happily with the two characters professing their love for each other and building a life together. See melodrama, romance, medieval, and romance, renaissance.

ROMANCE, RENAISSANCE: The original medieval genre of metrical romances gradually were replaced by prose works in the 1500s. At that point, the meaning of a "romance" expanded to include any lengthy French or Spanish story written in the 1500s and 1600s involving episodic encounters with supernatural or exciting events. The connotations were of wild adventures rather than romantic longing as in the modern meaning of romance. See romance, medieval and romance, modern.

ROMANTIC COMEDY: Sympathetic comedy that presents the adventures of young lovers trying to overcome social, psychological, or interpersonal constraints to achieve a successful union. Commedia dell'arte is a general type of drama that falls into this category. Several Shakespearean plays such as The Taming of the Shrew and A Midsummer Night's Dream also fall into this category.

ROMANTIC POETS: See discussion under Romanticism.

ROMANTICISM: The term refers to the artistic philosophy prevalent during the first third of the nineteenth century (about 1800-1830). Romanticism rejected the earlier philosophy of the Enlightenment, which stressed that logic and reason were the best response humans had in the face of cruelty, stupidity, superstition, and barbarism. Instead, the Romantics asserted that reliance upon emotion and natural passions provided a valid and powerful means of knowing and a reliable guide to ethics and living. The Romantic movement typically asserts the unique nature of the individual, the privileged status of imagination and fancy, the value of spontaneity over "artifice" and "convention," the human need for emotional outlets, the rejection of civilized corruption, and a desire to return to natural primitivism and escape the spiritual destruction of urban life. Their writings often are set in rural, pastoral or Gothic settings and they show an obsessive concern with "innocent" characters--children, young lovers, and animals. The major Romantic poets included William Blake, William Wordsworth, John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Lord Gordon Byron. Contrast with Enlightenment. You can click here to download a PDF handout placing these periods of literary history in chronological order.

RONDEAU (French, "little circle"): A short poem consisting of ten, thirteen, or fifteen lines using only two rhymes which concludes each section with an abbreviated line that serves as a refrain. We can see an example of the rondeau in the following poem from Austin Dobson's With Pipe and Flute:

With pipe and flute the rustic Pan
Of old made music sweet for man;
And wonder hushed the warbling bird,
And closer drew the calm-eyed herd,
The rolling river slowlier ran.
Ah! would,--ah! would, a little span,
Some air of Arcady could fan
This age of ours, too seldom stirred
With pipe and flute!
But now for gold we plot and plan;
And from Beersheba unto Dan
Apollo's self might pass unheard,
Or find the night-jar's note preferred--
Not so it fared when time began
With pipe and flute!

The rondeau is an uncommon genre in English because of the need to repeat two rhymes so many times. Languages with matching masculine and feminine endings for nouns--such as French, Spanish, and Italian--serve as a much better medium for the genre. Cf. rondel, roundel, roundelay, villanelle.

RONDEL: A short poem resembling the rondeau. It usually totals fourteen lines containing only two rhyming sounds. The first two lines are repeated at the middle of the poem and again at the end. The rondel differs from the rondeau only in the number of lines and the use of complete (not partial) lines for the refrain. Cf. rondeau, roundel, roundelay, villanelle.

ROOT: (1) a base morpheme without affixes attached to it. (2) A word in an older language that became the source for future words in later languages. For instance, the Latin word unus ("one") is the root for Spanish uno and French une, which also mean "one." The Latin root word caballus (horse) gives us words such as words as the Spanish caballo, Old French caval, Modern English cavalry, and modern French cheval (all meaning horse or associated with horses). Words in different languages that ultimately descend from the same root--cousins and siblings on the linguistic family tree--are said to be cognates to each other. Etymology is the study of how words can be traced back to an older root.

ROOT CREATION: Creating a new word by inventing its form from scratch--without reference to any pre-existing word or sound.

ROUND CHARACTER: A round character is depicted with such psychological depth and detail that he or she seems like a "real" person. The round character contrasts with the flat character, a character who serves a specific or minor literary function in a text, and who may be a stock character or simplified stereotype. If the round character changes or evolves over the course of a narrative or appears to have the capacity for such change, the character is also dynamic. Typically, a short story has one round character and several flat ones. However, in longer novels and plays, there may be many round characters. The terms flat and round were first coined by the novelist E. M. Forster in his study, Aspects of the Novel. See also dynamic character, flat character, character, characterization, and stock character.

ROUNDED VOWEL: A vowel made with the lips sticking out--i.e., all of the back vowels except [a].

ROUNDEL: A poem in the pattern of the rondeau, but only having eleven lines. Like the rondeau and the rondel, the roundel uses only two rhymes and a twice-repeated refrain. Cf. rondeau, rondel, roundelay, villanelle.

ROUNDELAY: A term used as a generic label for fixed forms of poetry using limited rhymes--such as the rondeau, rondel, and roundel. The word roundelay can be used in reference to the musical background (setting) for a poem in a fixed form and also for a round dance that is to be performed while the music plays and the poem is recited or sung. Cf. rondeau, rondel, roundel, villanelle.

ROUNDHEAD: Not to be confused with round character, (see above), a Roundhead is a member or supporter of the parliamentarian or Puritan party during the English Civil War, one of those who opposed King Charles I (c. 1625-49) and his Cavalier followers. The designation comes from the way the Puritans tended to cut their hair ascetically short, which contrasted with the long luxurious locks of the Cavaliers. 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. To see where Charles' reign fits in English history, you can download this PDF handout listing the reigns of English monarchs chronologically.

RP: The linguist's abbreviation for received pronunciation, a prestigious British dialect used by the upper social classes and in public schooling.

RUBAIYAT: An Arabic term meaning a quatrain, or four-line stanza. The term is nearly always included in the title of any Arabic poem that is built upon such quatrains. The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (Edward Fitzgerald's loose translation of the eleventh-century Persian poet and astronomer Omar Khayyam's work) is probably the best known example for English-speakers. Two of its most famous quatrains appear below:

A book of verses underneath the bough,
A jug of wine, a loaf of bread--and thou
Beside me singing in the wilderness--
Oh, wilderness were Paradise enow!

The Moving Finger writes, and having writ,


Moves on; nor all your piety nor wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,
Nor all your tears wash out a word of it.

RUN-ON LINE: See discussion under enjambement. Not to be confused with a run-on sentence, a grammatical error.

RUNE: In a writing system designed to be scratched or carved on a flat surface such as wood or stone, the individual letters are known as runes. Typically, these markings have few or no curves, circles, or dots, but instead, each mark consists of a number of straight cuts or strokes. (The strokes may, however, involve complex combinations of vertical, horizontal, and diagonal lines.) Runic writing systems tend to appear in areas where paper or parchment are scarce or unknown or where ink is commonly unavailable. Typical runic marks might indicate ownership of a house or object, they may be magic spells designed to be cut or scratched on a shield as a pagan protective charm, and they may mark boundary stones. It is accordinly rare to find lengthy literary writings done in runes--which naturally tend to force brevity upon the communicant given the effort involved in cutting or carving them. Runes were common among ancient and medieval inhabitants of Scandinavia, the continental Germanic tribes, and among the Anglo-Saxons who invaded Britain. By the High Middle Ages, parchment, pen, and ink had largely displaced the runic writing systems. Contrast with ogam markings among the Celts.

SAGA: The word comes from the Old Norse term for a "saw" or a "saying." Sagas are Scandinavian and Icelandic prose narratives about famous historical heroes, notable families, or the exploits of kings and warriors. Until the 12th century, most sagas were folklore, and they passed from person to person by oral transmission. Thereafter, scribes wrote them down. The Icelandic sagas take place when Iceland was first settled by Vikings (930-1030 AD). Examples include Grettir's Saga, Njál's Saga, Egil's Saga, and the Saga of Eric the Red. The saga is marked by literary and social conventions including warriors who stop in the midst of combat to recite extemporaneous poetry, individuals wearing dark blue cloaks when they are about to kill someone, elaborate genealogies and "back-story" before the main plot, casual violence, and recitations of the names and features of magical swords and weapons. Later sagas show signs of being influenced by continental literature--particularly French tales of chivalry and knighthood. For modern readers, the appearance of these traits often seems to sit uneasily with the surrounding material. In common usage, the term saga has been erroneously applied to any exciting, long narrative. See cycle and epic.

SAINT: See discussion under vita.

SAINT'S LIFE: Another term for the medieval genre called a vita. See discussion under vita.

SALIC LAW: French law stating that the right of a king's son to inherit the French throne passes only patrilineally rather than matrilineally. In England, however, the English Queen Consort (a queen married to a ruling husband) can become the Queen Regnant (a queen ruling in her own right) if her husband dies and there are no other male relatives in line to inherit the throne. Likewise, in French Salic Law, if the queen remarries after the king dies, any children she has from the new husband cannot claim the throne. Likewise, if a male king dies without heirs, only his brothers and their male offspring can claim the throne. This right does not pass to male children of the queen that she might have later. However, under English law, a male descended from the English Queen can ascend to the throne. The differences between Salic and English Law regarding inheritance play a key part in Shakespeare's Henry V, in which King Henry must determine whether he can justly claim the throne of France.

SAMOYEDIC: A non-Indo-European branch of Uralic languages spoken in northern Siberia.

SAPPHIC METER:Typically, this meter is found in quatrains in which the first three lines consist of eleven syllables and the fourth line contains five. The metrical pattern is as follows in the first three lines: (foot #1) / u (foot #2) / x (foot #3) / u u (foot #4) / u (and foot #5) / x. The "x" in each case indicates a syllaba anceps--a syllable that may be either heavily or lightly stressed. In the last line, the pattern is (foot #1) / u u and (foot #2) / /.

The pattern is notoriously difficult in English, but more common in Greek. The term Sapphic comes from the name of the female Greek poet Sappho.

SAPPHIC ODE: Virtually identical with a Horatian ode, a Sapphic ode consists of quatrains in which the first three lines consist of eleven syllables and the fourth line contains five. The metrical pattern is described under Sapphic meter.

SAPPHICS: Verses written in Sapphic meter.

SAPPHIC VERSE: Verse written in Sapphic meter.

SARCASM: Another term for verbal irony--the act of ostensibly saying one thing but meaning another. See further discussion under irony.

SATEM LANGUAGE: One of the two main branches of Indo-European languages. These languages are generally associated with eastern Indo-European languages and they often have a sibilant sound rather than the palatal /k/ found in equivalent centum words. Click here for more information.

SATIRE: An attack on or criticism of any stupidity or vice in the form of scathing humor, or a critique of what the author sees as dangerous religious, political, moral, or social standards. Satire became an especially popular technique used during the Enlightenment, in which it was believed that an artist could correct folly by using art as a mirror to reflect society. When people viewed the satire and saw their faults magnified in a distorted reflection, they could see how ridiculous their behavior was and then correct that tendency in themselves. The tradition of satire continues today. Popular cartoons such as The Simpsons and televised comedies like The Daily Show make use of it in modern media. Conventionally, formal satire involves a direct, first-person-address, either to the audience or to a listener mentioned within the work. An example of formal satire is Alexander Pope's Moral Essays. Indirect satire conventionally employs the form of a fictional narrative--such as Byron's Don Juan or Swift's Gulliver's Travels. Ridicule, irony, exaggeration, and similar tools are almost always used in satire. Horatian satire tends to focus lightly on laughter and ridicule, but it maintains a playful tone. Generally, the tone is sympathetic and good humored, somewhat tolerant of imperfection and folly even while expressing amusement at it. The name comes from the Roman poet Horace (65 BCE-8 CE), who preferred to ridicule human folly in general rather than condemn specific persons. In contrast, Juvenalian satire also uses withering invective, insults, and a slashing attack. The name comes from the Roman poet Juvenal (60-140 CE), who frequently employed the device, but the label is applied to British writers such as Swift and Pope as well. Compare with medieval estates satire and spoof.

SATIRIC COMEDY: Any drama or comic poem involving humor as a means of satire.

SATYR PLAY: A burlesque play submitted by Athenian playwrights along with their tragic trilogies. On each day of the Dionysia, one tragedy was performed, followed by one satyr play.

SCANSION: The act of "scanning" a poem to determine its meter. To perform scansion, the student breaks down each line into individual metrical feet and determines which syllables have heavy stress and which have lighter stress. According to the early conventions of English poetry, each foot should have at least one stressed syllable, though feet with all unstressed syllables are found occasionally in Greek and other poetic traditions.

SCATOLOGY: Not to be confused with eschatology, scatology refers to so-called "potty-humor"--jokes or stories dealing with feces designed to elicit either laughter or disgust. Anthropologists have noted that scatological humor occurs in nearly every human culture. In some cultures and time periods, scatology is treated as vulgar or low-brow (for instance, the Victorian period in England). At other times, scatological elements appear in stories that are not necessarily meant to be low-brow. For instance, many serious medieval legends of demons link them to excrement, and the audience of French fabliaux appear to be noblemen and aristocrats rather than bourgeois rabble. Scatology also appears in medieval plays such as Mankind and in works associated various French fabliaux (singular fabliau). Chaucer relies heavily on scatological humor in "The Summoner's Tale." See fabliau.

SCHEMA ATTICUM: This popular grammatical construction appears in ancient Attic Greek (and it is later mimicked in New Testament Greek). It is a specific type of enallage in which a neuter plural subject takes a singular verb (Smith 9). Normally, this construction would be considered a grammatical error in Greek, but if poets, playwrights, or prophets do it intentionally, it becomes high art. The device leads to some interesting translation decisions in modern English editions of the Bible or Greek literature. Should the translator "normalize" the grammar so it doesn't look odd to English students? Or should the translator bravely insert his own English grammatical "error" to match the intentional "error" in the original Greek text? See schema pindarikon, below.

SCHEMA PINDARIKON: This popular grammatical construction appears in the ancient Attic Greek of Pindar and later in New Testament Greek. It is a type of enallage in which any compound subject takes a singular verb (Smith 9). Normally, that would be considered a grammatical error, but if the poet Pindar does it, it is high art. This general term contrasts with the more specific schema atticum, above.

SCENE: A dramatic sequence that takes place within a single locale (or setting) on stage. Often scenes serve as the subdivision of an act within a play. Note that when we use the word scene generically or in the text of a paper (for example, "there are three scenes in the play"), we do not capitalize the word. See The MLA Handbook, 6th edition, section 3.6.5 for further information involving capitalization of scenes.

SCEOP (A-S, "shaper," also spelled scop): An Anglo-Saxon singer or musician who would perform in a mead hall. Cf. bard.

SCENERY: The visual environment created onstage using a backdrop and props. The purpose of scenery is either to suggest vaguely a specific setting or produce the illusion of actually watching events in that specific setting.

SCHISM: A schism is a split or division in the church concerning religious belief or organizational structure--one in which a single church splits into two or more separate denominations--often hostile to each other. Click here for more information.

SCHOLASTICISM: In medieval universities, scholasticism was the philosophy in which all branches of educaton were developed and ordered by theological principles or schemata.

SCHOOL: While common parlance uses the word school to refer to a specific institute of learning, literary scholars use this term to refer to groups of writers or poets who share similar styles, literary techniques, or social concerns regardless of their educational backgrounds. In some rare cases, the group's members recognize that they share these concerns while they are alive, and they purposely name themselves or their movement to reflect their characteristics. For instance, the American Beat poets, the French Imagists, and the English Pre-Raphaelites recognized and named themselves as being part of their respective movements. It is far more common, however, for later generations of scholars and critics to look back and lump groups of artists or thinkers into specific schools. For instance, the Romantic poets, the Spenserians, the Cavalier poets, the Metaphysical poets, and the Gothic novelists are specific schools of literature, but these labels did not appear for the particular groups until years after the writers lived. Art historians make similar distinctions about the Bauhaus school, the Expressionist movement, the Fauves, the Cubists, and so on. Shared intellectual or philosophical tendencies mark schools of philosophy as well--such as the Epicureans, the Stoics, the Skeptics, the Sophists, the Platonists, and the Neo-platonists--and these terms are often applied in a general way to writers who existed in later centuries. Accordingly, we might speak of both Marcus Aurelius and Hemingway as part of the Stoic school, even though the two lived two thousand years apart from each other on different continents, and one was a meditative Roman Emperor who outlawed gladiatorial combat and the other an American ambulance driver obsessed with machisimo and bull-fighting. Keep in mind, divisions into such artificial schools of thought are often arbitrary, contradictory, and murky. They work best at pointing out general similarities rather than creating sharp, clear categorical labels.

SCHWA: The mid-central vowel or the phonetic symbol for it. This phonetic symbol is typically an upside down e. The schwa vowel appears in words like putt and sofa and duh. The same sound appears blended with an /r/ in words like pert, shirt, and motor. See also intrusive schwa.

SCIENCE FICTION (originally "scientifiction," a neologism coined by editor Hugo Gernsback in his pulp magazine Amazing Stories): Literature in which speculative technology, time travel, alien races, intelligent robots, gene-engineering, space travel, experimental medicine, psionic abilities, dimensional portals, or altered scientific principles contribute to the plot or background. Many purists make a distinction between "hard" science fiction (in which the story attempts to follow accepted scientific realism and extrapolates the outcomes or consequences of scientific discovery in a hard-headed manner) and "soft" science fiction (which often involves looser adherence to scientific knowledge and more fantasy-elements). The basic premise is usually built on a "what if" scenario--i.e., it explores what might occur if a certain technology or event occurred. Examples include Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey, Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, Isaac Asimov's Foundation, Octavia Butler's Dawn, H. G. Wells' The Invisible Man, Ursula LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness, Lois McMaster Bujold's Ethan of Athos, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles, Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, and William Gibson's Neuromancer. See also space opera, speculative fiction, and Cthulhu mythos.

SCOP (pronounced like "shop"): An alternative spelling of sceop. See sceop.

SCRIBAL CORRUPTION: A general term referring to errors in a text made by later scribes rather than the original authors. In many cases, these mistakes are obviously the result of human error while copying, such as accidentally repeating or leaving out a word or line(s) from the original manuscript. "Eye skips," for instance, are errors that result when a scribe's eye drops from the original word or line he was copying to a different word or line that begins with the same letter or word, causing him to leave out the intermediary material. Other scribal errors come about when a scribe attempts to "correct" or "simplify" a text he doesn't understand well. One of the more amusing examples of scribal corruption comes from the Anglo-Saxon monks of medieval Britain. There, a monk was copying a text that referred to heaven as the "Isle of Joy." The word joy in Anglo-Saxon was gliw. (It's the word that gives us the modern word glee.) Unfortunately, an Anglo-Saxon monk misread the final letter. This final letter was wynn--an Anglo-Saxon letter that looks sort of like the modern letter p, but which represents a /w/ sound. You can see samples of the letters by clicking here. The scribe mistakenly thought he was viewing the letter thorn, which represents a -th sound. Thus, he miswrote the word as Glith in an Anglo-Saxon educational poem called "Adrian and Ritheus." The error had its consequences. Hundreds of this scribe's newly Christianized and newly literate students therefore diligently learned that heaven was located on "The Isle of Glith." This no doubt caused some confusion initially among the early Christian converts. The problem of scribal corruption was still prevalent five hundred years later in Chaucer's day. Chaucer complains about the "negligence and rape" done to his poetry at the hands of his own scribe, Adam, in his short poem, "Chaucer's Wordes Unto Adam, His Owne Scrivyen."

SCRIBAL -E: When a scribe adds an unpronounced -e to words for reasons of manuscript spacing, this is called a scribal -e. This practice was common in the days before English orthography became standardized. Note that this practice should not be confused with the Middle English final -e, which often is pronounced as an unstressed syllable at the end of words in Chaucer and writings of the fourteenth century.

SCRIBE: A literate individual who reproduces the works of other authors by copying them from older texts or from a dictating author. In many parts of the ancient world, such as Classical Rome and Classical Greece, a large number of scribes were slaves who belonged to wealthy government officials and to poets or authors. In other cultures such as Egypt or Tibet, scribes have been seen as priestly or semi-magical individuals. In the medieval period, many monks were given the task of copying classics from the earlier period along with Bibles and patristic writings. Their efforts preserved much of Greco-Roman philosophy and history that might otherwise have been lost. See also auctor, scrivener and scriptorium.

SCRIM: In drama, a flimsy curtain that becomes transparent when backlit, permitting action to take place under varying lighting.

SCRIPTORIUM: An area set aside in a monastery for monks to work as scribes and copy books.

SCRIVENER: Another term for a scribe. The term scrivener became especially common during the 1700s and 1800s for legal copyists, as evidenced in works such as Melville's "Bartleby the Scrivener." See scribe above.



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