A posteriori

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SOFT SCIENCE FICTION: See discussion under science fiction.

SOLAR MYTH: Alvin Boyd Kuhn and Max Müller were philologists who attempted to explain the origin of a number of myths and religious practices by linking them to the animistic worship of various celestial phenomena including meteorological events (weather gods), sky gods (e.g. Ouranos), and astronomical bodies (stars, planets, moon, and most especially the sun). The name "Solar Deity" refers to such a god generally, and "Solar Myth" is thus the term most often linked with this school of thought. Scholars in the "Solar Myth" school tend to trace multiple deities or heroes (even in a single narrative) back to primitive sun worship and identify analogues in various legends of sun gods. Some medievalists like Roger S. Loomis have gone so far as to trace various Arthurian characters back to Celtic Solar Deities. The theory fell into disfavor in late twentieth-century scholarship partly because of its reductive "one-size-fits-all" approach to mythology, and partly because some of the claims of Kuhn and Müller have been demonstrably proven false. For instance, while Solar Myth theorists first argued that various tribal deities and heros in Homer and in Hindu mythology were later incarnations of early sun deities, later archeological or philological evidence showed some of these local gods were real historical figures who were later elevated to godhood in the belief of future generations. An example of this was Alfred Lyall's demonstration that the names of certain Rajasthan deities could be linked to historical Rajput clan leaders who lived only a century or two before their "apotheosis" into mythology.

SOLECISM (from the Greek city Soloi): The area around the city of Soloi in ancient Cilicia had a population who spoke a nonstandard form of Attic Greek. Accordingly, the dominant Athenians tended to make fun of them, parody them in plays, beat them up for lunch money, etc. The term soloikos thus came to connote grammatical mistakes, blunders in declension, errors in diction, and whatnot. This gives rise to our equivalent modern English term, solecism. David Smith notes solecisms can be helpful. In the original koine Greek, the New Testament book of Revelation has a large number of solecisms, a fact quite annoying to Saint Augustine, but which has been very useful to modern biblical scholars seeking to distinguish John of Patmos (the author of Revelation) from earlier church fathers like the disciple John (who lived too early and spoke a different dialect).

SOLILOQUY: A monologue spoken by an actor at a point in the play when the character believes himself to be alone. The technique frequently reveals a character's innermost thoughts, including his feelings, state of mind, motives or intentions. The soliloquy often provides necessary but otherwise inaccessible information to the audience. The dramatic convention is that whatever a character says in a soliloquy to the audience must be true, or at least true in the eyes of the character speaking (i.e., the character may tell lies to mislead other characters in the play, but whatever he states in a soliloquy is a true reflection of what the speaker believes or feels). The soliloquy was rare in Classical drama, but Elizabethan and Jacobean playwrights used it extensively, especially for their villains. Well-known examples include speeches by the title characters of Macbeth, Richard III, and Hamlet and also Iago in Othello. (Contrast with an aside.) Unlike the aside, a soliloquy is not usually indicated by specific stage directions.

SONG: A lyric poem with a number of repeating stanzas (called refrains), written to be set to music in either vocal performance or with accompaniment of musical instruments. See dawn song and lyric, above and stanza, below.

SONNET: A lyric poem of fourteen lines, usually in iambic pentameter, with rhymes arranged according to certain definite patterns. It usually expresses a single, complete idea or thought with a reversal, twist, or change of direction in the concluding lines. There are three common forms:

(1) Italian or Petrarchan

(2) English or Shakespearean

(3) Miltonic

The Petrarchan sonnet has an eight line stanza (called an octave) followed by a six line stanza (called a sestet). The octave has two quatrains rhyming abba, abba, the first of which presents the theme, the second further develops it. In the sestet, the first three lines reflect on or exemplify the theme, while the last three bring the poem to a unified end. The sestet may be arranged cdecde, cdcdcd, or cdedce.

The Shakespearean sonnet uses three quatrains; each rhymed differently, with a final, independently rhymed couplet that makes an effective, unifying climax to the whole. Its rhyme scheme is abab, cdcd, efef, gg. Typically, the final two lines follow a "turn" or a "volta," (sometimes spelled volte, like volte-face) because they reverse, undercut, or turn from the original line of thought to take the idea in a new direction.

The Miltonic sonnet is similar to the Petrarchan sonnet, but it does not divide its thought between the octave and the sestet--the sense or line of thinking runs straight from the eighth to ninth line. Also, Milton expands the sonnet's repertoire to deal not only with love as the earlier sonnets did, but also to include politics, religion, and personal matters.

SONNET CYCLE: Another term for a sonnet sequence. See discussion below.

SONNET SEQUENCE: Also called a sonnet cycle, this term refers to a gathering or arrangement of sonnets by a single author so that the sonnets in that group or arrangement deal with a single theme, situation, a particular lady, or alternatively deal with what appears to be a sequential story. Petrarch, Sidney, Spenser, and Shakespeare all engaged in this practice, or at least the early editors of their works did. The first major sonnet cycle in English was Sir Philip Sidney's Astrophil and Stella (written in the early 1580s, published in 1591). Others include Daniel's Delia, Lodge's Phillis, Drayton's Idea's Mirror, Constable's Diana, and Spenser's Amoretti. Shakespeare's 154 sonnets, however, are best known of any sonnet sequences today.

SONS OF BEN: A school of literature consisting mostly of cavalier poets who were admirers/imitators of Ben Jonson. The Sons of Ben focused on "lyrics of love and gallant compliment," as M. H. Abrams phrases it (213). The Sons of Ben include Sir John Suckling, Thomas Carew, Robert Herrick, and Richard Lovelace.

SOUBRETTE: A maidservant of independent and saucy temperament in the Italian commedia dell'arte. This stock character helps two or more young lovers overcome the blocking agent that prevents their happy union.

SOUND SYMBOLISM: Often, several words with similar meaning may coincidentally have a similar phoneme- combination in them. Because this particular sound occurs in this pattern of words, the sound itself may become strongly associated with some quality in the words' connotation. This accident can become a building block in poetry, allowing literary artists to choose words that convey some additional indirect meaning or create a line in which the sound symbolism echoes or mirrors or contrasts with the content in that line. For example, Denning and Leben point out how the phoneme combination /sl/ indicates a certain slippery nature in English words (43):



The connotations associated with this sound mean a poet can use several /sl/ sounds in a specific line to convey that slipperiness indirectly. Alternatively, when coining a new neologism, the creator of a new lubricant might use the phoneme combination /sl/ in the new product name to convey that quality. Poets describing a sword-fight might want to convey swishing and clattering sounds indirectly through alliteration, describing how the "swaggering swain swung his sword in answer" or the "clever cut came close to carving him as he jerked back blocking the blow." Because the alliteration not only borders on onomatopoeia but actually connects with the content of the lines--i.e., the sword-fight--it enters the realm of sound symbolism.

SOURCE: (1) An earlier work of literature or folklore used as the basis of a later work. Scholars use the term source only when it is clear that one of the manuscripts or one piece of oral transmission influenced a specific later work. If that relationship is not clear, two works sharing similar material or subject-matter are said to be analogues if it is uncertain which one influenced the other or if both might originate from some third, lost source. See also stemma and Ur-text. (2) When students write a research paper, their sources are the original places where they found facts, ideas, and quotations. Primary sources are the main work of literature the students are citing and analyzing (such as Shakespeare's Macbeth or Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises). A secondary source comes from all other materials--especially those later writings scholars produce about Macbeth or Hemingway (or whatever the topic is). Secondary sources might include articles in peer-reviewed journals, biographies of the author, books analyzing or discussing a particular work of literature, and so on. All literary analyses should use quotations or references to the primary text as the main componant of an argument--especially in the case of a close-reading. Longer literary assignments such as research papers should also make use of appropriate secondary research. See also peer-reviewed journal.

SPACE OPERA: A subgenre of "soft" science fiction especially popular between 1930-1960, often used in a derogatory sense. These space operas are novels or short stories set in the distant future after humanity has spent centuries or millenia colonizing the entire galaxy--or sometimes multiple galaxies. The narratives typically feature some form of easy space travel via imaginary technologies such as "hyperspace drives" or "warp nacelles." This easy method of travel and colonization allows the formation of huge space fleets to fight each other using laser cannons and nuclear missiles. Behind these aramadas, vast interstellar empires compete with each other (or with rebel forces, or with alien species) for territorial control or political power. The governments imagined in these books are often feudal in nature or else they are based loosely on empires from Earth's past history--i.e., the Roman Empire, the British Empire of the 19th century, the Caliphates of the Middle East, the Samauri Shogunates of 16th century Japan, and so on. In other cases, seeking models for future history, the authors frequently rely upon parallels with the American West or the exploration of Africa, and they create parallels between sailing ships and spaceships, even going so far as adding space pirates. They frequently present readers with stark contrasts in social and geographic terrain--i.e., contrasting ice-worlds with desert worlds, or technologically wealthy space-merchants with impoverished barbarians, and so on. The stories often focus on characterization, drama, and (most especially) action rather than theme, symbolism or other literary devices.

The first example is probably Edison's Conquest of Mars (published 1898). The editor Brian Aldiss later amassed a two-volume collection of space operas prior to 1979 in Galactic Empires. Other famous space operas include E.E. Smith's Lensman series, and the genre's literary grandchildren include Frank Herbert's Dune series, Lois McMaster Bujold's "Miles Vorkosigan" saga, Isaac Asimov's Foundation series, Catherine Asaro's Saga of the Skolian Empire, and pop culture films and television series like Star Wars and Star Trek, both of which have spawned literally hundreds of spinoffs and pulp fiction novels in their own rights.

SPEAKER, POETIC: See poetic speaker.

SPECIALIZATION: A semantic change restricting the referents of a word--i.e., a linguistic movement from a more general to a more specific meaning for a word. For instance, the Old English word wif (Modern English wife) once meant merely "woman." However, through linguistic specialization it has come to mean "married woman" more specifically. In Middle English, a single French loanword might be adopted twice over different centuries--once from early Anglo-Norman French, and afterward from Central French. They would have slight differences from each other in spelling and pronunciation--so English speakers would give each one a slightly specialized meaning--even though the two originally meant the same thing in French. Examples include chief (leader of a war band) and chef (leader of a kitchen). Both were once the same word more or less meaning "leader" generally.

SPECULATIVE FICTION: Also called "alternative history," speculative fiction is science fiction that explores how the "real world" we live in today might be different if historic events had unfolded with slight changes. For instance, Robert Harris' novel Fatherland asks, what would Germany look like three decades later if Nazi Germany had won World War II? Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale asks, what would the U.S. look like if a reproductive crisis (widespread sterility) allowed a fundamentalist regime to come to power and control women's reproduction?

SPEECH ACT THEORY: An idea set forth by J. L. Austin's How to Do Things with Words, which argues that language is often a mode of action rather than a means of communication or conveying information. Language-use that conveys information is called constative, and constative sentences by their very nature are either true or false in the sense that they are accurate or inaccurate. Language-use that serves as a mode of action is called performative. Performative language causes something to happen merely by making assertion. Examples include the "I do" statement in a wedding ceremony. Here, the act of making the assertion is the same as the action itself. Other examples include the following ones:

  • betting ("I bet ten dollars that he drops the ball.")

  • composing a will ("To my beloved daughter, I leave my house and my second-best bed.")

  • umpiring ("Strike three! You are out!")

  • passing sentence ("This court finds you guilty of negligent homicide.")

  • christening ("You are christened John.")

  • knighting ("I dub thee Sir Lancelot.")

  • blessing ("In nomine patri, filii, et spiritu sancti, benedicite")

  • firing ("You're fired.")

  • bidding ("I bid ten dollars.")

  • baptizing ("I baptize you in the name of the father and the son and the holy ghost.")

In these examples above, the act of making the assertion is the same as performing the act. Thus, these are examples of performative language.

SPEECH PREFIX: Often abbreviated "s.p.," this term in drama refers to a character's name or an abbreviated version of a character's name which indicates what actor is speaking subsequent words in the text of a play. Conventionally, in modern drama a colon or period separates the speech prefix from the lines to be read. Here is an example with the prefixes indicated in bold:

CASS: Dost thou hear, my honest friend?
CLOWN: No, I hear not your honest friend, I hear you. (Othello 3.1.20-21)

Here, the first speech prefix (Cass:) indicates Cassio is speaking the subsequent lines. Cassio's words end when the next speech prefix indicates the Clown is responding to his question.

SPELLING PRONUNCIATION: An unhistorical way of pronouncing a word based on the spelling of a word.

SPELLING REFORM: Any effort to make spelling closer to actual pronunciation.

SPENSERIAN STANZA: A nine-line stanza rhyming in an ababbcbcc pattern in which the first eight lines are pentameter and the last line is an alexandrine. The name spenserian comes from the form's most famous user, Spenser, who used it in The Fairie Queene. Other examples include Keat's "Eve of Saint Agnes" and Shelley's "Adonais." The Spenserian stanza is probably the longest and most intricate stanza generally employed in narrative poetry.

SPIRANT: Another term in linguistics for a fricative.

SPIRIT GUIDE: A conventional figure in mythology, in the medieval visio and in shamanistic myths that serves as (1) a guide to a lost or wandering soul or to (2) a guide to the dreaming psyche of another character. The Greeks, for instance, referred to Hermes Mercury as a psychopompos, a soul-carrier to direct the deceased through the caverns of Avernus to the edge of the River Styx, where Charon would ferry the souls of the dead across the water into Hades. The figure of Anubis guided Egyptian spirits to the afterlife, and so on. In the medieval tradition of the visio, the spirit guide would serve as a commentator for the confused soul of a sleeping individual. Thus, we have a grandfather figure guiding our narrator in the Somnium Scipionis, or Virgil and Beatrice steering Dante through the Inferno and upwards toward Paradiso, or the ghost of Pearl explaining to her grieving father the nature of heaven. Chaucer gleefully throws this medieval convention on its head in The Book of the Duchess by making the narrator slip out of bed naked to follow his spirit-guide (a puppy) for a short while during a hunt--only to get lost and bumble on without it until he finds the grieving Knight in Black. Non-medieval examples of the spirit guide include the ghost of Marley who chastizes Ebeneezer Scrooge in Dickens' A Christmas Carol, the totemic spirits prominent in the visionquests of Amerindian tribes, or even the ebon bird guiding the rock-n-roll revenant seeking revenge in Brandon Lee's film, The Crow.

SPIRITUAL AUTOBIOGRAPHY: An autobiography (usually Christian) that focuses on an individual's spiritual growth. The plot is typically chronological in structure, and it usually focuses on inner struggles within the narrator, moving from pre-religious life, to a psychological crisis followed by a conversion narrative, to labor within the church or within evangelical missions. The work often concludes with an implied (or explicit) call to readers to convert. Examples include Saint Patrick's Confession and Saint Augustine's Confessions.

SPONDAIC: The adjective spondaic describes a line of poetry in which the feet are composed of successive spondees. See spondee, below.

SPONDEE: In scansion, a spondee is a metrical foot consisting of two successive strong beats. The spondee typically is "slower" and "heavier" to read than an iamb or a dactyl. Some words and phrases in English naturally form spondees when they alone constitute a poetic foot. Examples of such spondees include football, Mayday, shortcake, plop-plop, fizz-fizz, dumbbell, drop-dead, goof-off, race track, bathrobe, breakdown, dead man, black hole, and love song. See meter for extended discussion, or click here to download a PDF handout that contrasts spondees with other types of poetic feet.

SPOOF: A comic piece of film or literature that ostensibly presents itself as a "genre" piece, but actually pokes fun at the clichés or conventions of the genre through imitative satire. Examples from the twentieth century include the novel Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story, which is a postmodern spoof of those literary conventions found in Gothic horror novels about vampires and modern Harlequin romances about boy-meets-girl narratives. Examples from medieval literature include Chaucer's "Sir Thopas," which mocks the popular meter and conventions of medieval romance. Late twentieth-century films have proven especially prone to being spoofed in the last three decades, as witnessed by Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, The Naked Gun 33 and 1/3, Blazing Saddles, and Young Frankenstein, which spoof popular genres such as film noire, police dramas, the western film, and 1930s black and white classic horror movies, respectively.

SPOONERISM: The comic (and usually unintentional) transposition of two initial consonants or other sounds. For example, saying "the queer old dean" when one means to say, "the dear old queen," or speaking of "beery wenches" when one means "weary benches" would be spoonerisms. The word comes from the flustered English clergyman and Oxford don, Reverend W. A. Spooner (1844-1930), who was famous for such slips of the tongue. Spooner, in an apocryphal account, once supposedly told a negligent student, "You have tasted two worms, hissed my mystery lectures, and you must leave Oxford by the first town drain." He of course meant to say, "You have wasted two terms, missed my history lectures, and you must leave Oxford by the first down-train."

SPRACHBUND: (Ger. "speech bond"): A group of languages--often technically unrelated to each other otherwise--that are spoken in the same geographic area or shared by members of the same occupation. Since they tend to share many bilingual speakers, they tend to influence each other through loanwords and linguistic adaptations.

SPREAD VOWEL: Also called an unrounded vowel, in linguistics, a vowel made with the corners of the lips retracted so the lips are against the teeth. See unrounding.

SPRECHSPRUCH (German, "saying, epigram"): This charming alliterative term refers to a short lyrical poem set to music common among the German Minnesingers. The term is usually used in contrast with the Spruch (the original gnomic verse meant to be spoken and read), while the Sprechspruch is meant to be sung. The first examples appear in the 1100s, and the most famous collection is the Bescheidenheit ("Modesty"), which was a popular anthology until the 1500s.

SPREZZATURA (Italian, "recklessness"): An Italian term that doesn't translate well into English, the word embodies both the appearance of reckless spontaneity and its opposite quality, careful and practiced preparation. Sprezzatura is carefully practicing witticisms, cultured eloquence, and feats of athletic prowess in private, and then later, when other viewers are present, pretending to make the witticism, the eloquent speech, or the athletic feat "off-the-cuff," i.e., spontaneously and effortlessly. It would appear to viewers that the courtier's superior performance was one triggered by superior creativity, wit, and athleticism, and the performance would elide the hours of preparation that the courtier took in developing the skill. The Italian writer Baldessare Castiglione argues in his treatise, The Book of the Courtier (1528), that sprezzatura is one of the defining requirements for a young nobleman. Sir Thomas Hoby translated Castiglione's treatise into English in 1561, where the treatise had a profound influence on courtly manners in the Renaissance.

SPRUNG RHYTHM: Also called "accentual rhythm," sprung rhythm is a term invented by the poet-priest Gerard Manley Hopkins to describe his personal metrical system in which the major stresses are "sprung" from each line of poetry. The accent falls on the first syllable of every foot and a varying number of unaccented syllables following the accented one, but all feet last an equal amount of time when being pronounced. Hopkins wrote in his Preface to Poems (1918) the following definition:

[It] is measured by feet of from one to four syllables, regularly, and for particular effects any number of weak or slack syllables may be used. It has one stress, which falls on the only syllable, if there is only one, or, if there are more, then scanning as above, on the first, and so gives rise to four sorts of feet, a monosyllable and the so-called accentual Trochee, Dactyl, and the First Paeon [q.v.] And there will be four corresponding natural rhythms; but nominally the three are mixed and any one may follow any other. And hence Sprung Rhythm differs from Running Rhythm [q.v.] in having or being only one nominal rhythm, a mixed or "logaoedic" one, instead of three, but on the other hand in having twice the flexibility of foot, so that any two stresses may either follow one another running or be divided by one, two, or three slack syllables. [. . .] It is natural in Sprung Rhythm for the lines to be rove over, that is for the scanning of each line immediately to take up that of the one before, so that if the first has one or more syllables at its end the other must have so many the less at its beginning. [. . .] Two licenses are natural to Sprung Rhythm. The one is rests, as in music. [. . .] The other is hangers or outrides, that is one, two, or three slack syllables added to a foot and not counted in the nominal scanning. They are so called because they seem to hang below the line or ride forward or backward from it in another dimension than the line itself.

The result of this technique is unusual metrical irregularity, but Hopkins claimed that sprung rhythm is found in most speech and in prose and music. This poetic method actually predates Hopkins, as it was not unknown in Old English and Middle English alliterative verse. However, Hopkins' poetry helped revitalize interest in accentual rhythm, and sprung rhythm has had a profound influence on T. S. Eliot, Dylan Thomas, and Ted Hughes, as well other modernists. See also scansion and meter, above. To read through a poem written in sprung rhythm, click here.

SQUIRE: A knight-in-training, a young boy who has spent several years as a page to learn humility, patience, and the manners of polite society and who is now acting as the servant of a knight while he perfects his combat and riding skills. In older medieval times, the offices of page and squire were limited to the children of aristocrats. By the fourteenth century, wealthy middle class or bourgeois parents began making arrangements for their children to be trained as pages in noble households. Chaucer himself served as a page when he was young, for instance, even though he was of common birth. In Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Chaucer depicts a young squire as primarily concerned with romance and good manners, while the older generation, represented by his father, the pilgrim Knight, appears more concerned with important military matters. This depiction might reveal something of medieval attitudes toward knights, i.e., that "real" knights were a dying breed, and these noble warriors were being replaced by younger foppish courtiers.

STAGE: An area set aside or deliberately constructed as a place for actors, dancers, musicians, or singers to perform. Often (but not always) a stage is located in an indoor theater or a large outdoor arena. It often has seating provided for an audience. See arena stage, apron stage, fourth wall, thrust stage, theater in the round, and scrim. Probably the most famous stage in English history is the Globe Theater in Shakespeare's London.

STAGE DIRECTION: Sometimes abbreviated "s.d.," the term in drama refers to part of the printed text in a play that is not actually spoken by actors on stage, but which instead indicates actions or activity for the actors to engage in. In Shakespeare's day, these instructions were often given in Latin. See exit / exuent and manet / manuent.

STANDARD ENGLISH: The more prestigious variety of English described in prescriptivist dictionaries and grammars, taught by instructors, and used for public affairs. Typically the standard version of a language has no regional limitations, but it instead appears across a wide geographic area. It typically "does not tolerate variation," as Horobin phrases it (193), and is more resistant to change than slang or jargon.

STANZA: An arrangement of lines of verse in a pattern usually repeated throughout the poem. Typically, each stanza has a fixed number of verses or lines, a prevailing meter, and a consistent rhyme scheme. A stanza may be a subdivision of a poem, or it may constitute the entire poem. Early English terms for a stanza were "batch," "stave," and "fit." (Contrast with verse paragraph and couplet as alternative units of poetry, and contrast with genres such as ballad, haiku, and ode.)

STASIMON (plural stasima): From Greek "stationary song," a stasimon is an ode sung by the chorus in a Greek play after the chorus takes its position in the orchestra. The stasima also serve as dividing segments separating episodia of dialogue spoken by the actors. Structurally, a tragedy involves a balanced alternation between the episodia and the stasimon. See also chorus, episodia, and orchestra.

STATIC CHARACTER: A static character is a simplified character who does not change or alter his or her personality over the course of a narrative. Such static characters are also called flat characters if they have little visible personality or if the author provides little characterization for them. The term is used in contrast with a round or dynamic character. See character, flat character, round character, and characterization.

STATIONERS' REGISTER: Stephen Greenblatt provides the following definition:

The account books of the Company of Stationers (of which all printers were legally required to be members), recording the fees paid for permission to print new works as well as the fines exacted for printing without permission. The Stationers' Register thus provides a valuable if incomplete record of publication in England. (1143)

STAVE: Another term for stanza. See stanza.

STEM: In linguistics, a form consisting of a base and an affix to which other affixes can be attached.

STEMMA (plural stemmata): A record or diagram similar to a family tree showing the connections between manuscripts of a given literary work. See discussion under Ur-text.

STEREOTYPE: A character who is so ordinary or unoriginal that the character seems like an oversimplified representation of a type, gender, class, religious group, or occupation. Cf. stock character, below.

STICHOMYTHY: Dialogue consisting of one-line speeches designed for rapid delivery and snappy exchanges. Usually, the verbal parrying is accompanied by the rhetorical device of antithesis (see under schemes) and repetitive patterns. The result is highly effective in creating verbal tension and conflict. The earliest examples come from Greek tragedy, where the technique was quite common. Examples also appear in Hamlet (III, iv), Richard III (IV, iv), and Love's Labour's Lost. Molière was fond of it as well in Les femmes savantes. Stichomythy has become increasingly rare in modern drama, however.

STILNUOVISTI (Italian, "New Style"): See discussion under dolce stil nuovo.

STOCK CHARACTER: A character type that appears repeatedly in a particular literary genre, one which has certain conventional attributes or attitudes. In the Old Comedy of Greek drama, common stock characters included the alazon (the imposter or self-deceiving braggart), the bomolochos (the buffoon); and the eiron, the self-derogatory and understating character. Stock characters in Elizabethan drama include the miles gloriosus (the braggart soldier), the melancholic man, the heroine disguised as a handsome young man, the gullible country bumpkin, and the machievelle as a villain. Stock characters in medieval romances include the damsel in distress, the contemptuous dwarf, the chivalrous, handsome young knight, the wild man of the woods, and the senex amans (the ugly old man married to a younger girl). In modern detective fiction, the prostitute-with-a-heart-of-gold, the hard-drinking P.I., and the corrupt police-officer are stereotypical stock characters. Stock characters in western films might include the noble sheriff, the whorehouse madam, the town drunkard, etc.

STOICISM: See discussion under Roman Stoicism.

STOP: Also called a plosive, in linguistics, a stop is any sound made by rapidly opening and closing airflow.

STORNELLI: Italian flower songs--often interspersed within a larger work. Robert Browning adapts many of these into English variants for his poem, "Fra Lippo Lippi."

STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS: Writing in which a character's perceptions, thoughts, and memories are presented in an apparently random form, without regard for logical sequence, chronology, or syntax. Often such writing makes no distinction between various levels of reality--such as dreams, memories, imaginative thoughts or real sensory perception. William James coined the phrase "stream of consciousness" in his Principles of Psychology (1890). The technique has been used by several authors and poets: Katherine Anne Porter, Dorothy Richardson, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Dorothy Richardson, T. S. Eliot, and William Faulkner. Some critics treat the interior monologue as a subset of the more general category, stream of consciousness. Although interior monologues by earlier writers share some similarities with stream of consciousness, the first clear appearance is in Edouard Dujardin's Les lauriers sont coupés (The Laurels Have Been Cut, 1888). Perhaps the most famous example is the stream of consciousness section in James Joyce's Ulysses, which climaxes in a forty-odd page interior monologue of Molly Bloom, an extended passage with only one punctuation mark. Cf. interior monologue.

STRESS: In linguistics, the emphasis, length and loudness that mark one syllable as more pronounced than another. In poetry, see discussion under meter and sonnets.


STROKE LETTER: In paleography, a stroke letter was one made mostly from minims (i.e., straight vertical lines). These included the letters i, m, n, u, and v. Such stroke letters in medieval handwriting are often hard to distinguish from one another when written in close proximity to each other. This led to scribes inventing modifications like the dotted i and the "descender" letters j and y to help distinguish them visually.

STRONG DECLENSION: In Germanic languages, any noun or adjective declension in which the stem originally ended in a vowel.

STRONG VERB: In Germanic languages, a strong verb is one whose linguistic principal parts were formed by ablaut of the stem vowel, as opposed to a weak verb, which forms its parts by adding a dental suffix such as -d or -t to th end of the stem. Examples of a strong verb surviving into modern English would be the verb swim, with forms like swim, swam, swum, as opposed to a weak verb like indicate, indicated, or have indicated.

STROPHE: In classical Greek literature like the play Antigonê and the Pindaric Odes, the strophe and the antistrophe were alternating stanzas sung aloud. In drama, the chorus would sing the strophe, probably with rhythmic pantomine or dance involved, and then the chorus would switch to the antistrophe. It is possible the dance or pantomine would then change directions or focus, alternating from the left or right side of the stage depending upon the strophe movement or the contrasting antistrophe movement.

STRUCTURAL GRAMMAR: Also called structuralism, this term refers to a descriptivist approach to grammar associated with mid-twentieth-century linguists such as Franz Boas, Edward Sapir, and Leonard Bloomfield. The purpose of this approach is to describe how language is actually used rather than prescribing a "correct" version for students to learn.

STURGEON'S LAW: When asked why so much of science fiction consisted of "crap" (junk literature), science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon, reportedly responded that "90% of everything was crap." His point was that, yes, most science fiction was poorly written, but the vast bulk of all writing everywhere is also poorly written, so there's no surprise that a similar ratio of quality to crud appears in any particular genre. This adage has been called Sturgeon's Law by science fiction fans.

STYLE: The author's words and the characteristic way that writer uses language to achieve certain effects. An important part of interpreting and understanding fiction is being attentive to the way the author uses words. What effects, for instance, do word choice and sentence structure have on a story and its meaning? How does the author use imagery, figurative devices, repetition, or allusion? In what ways does the style seem appropriate or discordant with the work's subject and theme? Some common styles might be labeled ornate, plain, emotive, scientific, or whatnot. Most writers have their own particular styles, thus we speak of the "Hemingway style" or "Dickensian style." Click here for more information.

STYLISTICS: Aspects of form or style in contrast with aspects of content, i.e., stylistics are those features that distinguish how certain writers write rather than what they write about--such as sentence length, preferred rhetorical devices, tendencies in diction, etc.

SUBJECTIVE GENITIVE: A genitive case common in Greek grammar in which the genitive functions as the origin or source (or subject) of the entire grammatical construction. David Smith notes that in such cases the substantive modified by the genitives acts like the object; he points to Philippians 4:7 as an example of a subjective genitive: "the peace of [from] God" (Smith 9). In such cases, the Greek indicates that the peace comes from God, not that the peace belongs to God, and this distinction is hard to convey in English without tweaking the preposition of by replacing it with from. Technically, of is a grammatically accurate choice but it inaccurately suggests a purely possessive genitive in English; from conveys the sense of origin more accurately, but it falsely suggests a dative/ablative construction. Philippians 3:14 is another example.

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