A posteriori


VINERY (also known as vinework



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VINERY (also known as vinework): Another term for filigree work in medieval manuscripts. Scott defines this type of decoration in the following manner: "Delicate, conventional designs, usually in gold, on a flat coloured surface, in overall patterns of curling vines, branches, and sprigs and/or leaves; used as a background to miniatures and initials and on band borders and miniature frames" (Scott 371).

VINEWORK (also known as vinery): Another term for filigree work in medieval manuscripts. Scott describes this common type of decoration in the following manner: "Delicate, conventional designs, usually in gold, on a flat coloured surface, in overall patterns of curling vines, branches, and sprigs and/or leaves; used as a background to miniatures and initials and on band borders and miniature frames" (Scott 371).

VIRELAY: An old French term for a short poem consisting of (A) short lines using two rhymes and (B) two opening lines that recur intermittently. A second form of the virelay consists of stanzas made up of shorter and longer lines, the lines of each kind rhyming within one stanza and with the rhymes of the shorter lines rhyming with the longer ones of the preceding stanza. The form never became popular in English because of the difficulties with the set rhyming of English words and the potential for monotony, but Chaucer apparently wrote many virelays in his youth.

VIRGULE: (1) In poetry, a forward-slash mark ( / ) used in scansion to mark the boundaries of poetic lines (i.e. line breaks) or alternatively, they may be used to indicate the boundaries of poetic feet. See foot, meter, and scansion. (2) In linguistics, the same mark surrounds a phonetic transcription to indicate the enclosed material represents phonemes rather than graphemes.

VISIO: The Latin name for the medieval genre of the dream vision. See dream vision.

VISIONARY: Visionary writing has the qualities of prophecy--perhaps it is apocalyptic in imagery, or it may be predictive in its insights, or it may contain a core of moral truth. Many of the Romantic poets (especially Blake) have been labeled visionary. Note that in its literary sense, visionary writing need not be religious in nature, though it frequently is. Contrast with the terms mystic and dream vision.

VISUAL IMAGERY: Imagery that invokes colors, shapes, or things that can be seen. See discussion under imagery.

VISUAL POETRY: See concrete poetry.

VITA (Latin, "a life," plural and genitive form, vitae): The word vita has two common meanings in English scholarship. First, for medievalists, a vita is a medieval literary genre, one commonly called "a saint's life" or a "hagiography." The saint's life is a narrative focusing on the miraculous occurrences associated with saints (famous holy individuals especially martyrs and apostles). The genre was extraordinarily popular in past centuries. Of the surviving medieval narratives about the lives of medieval men and women, 90% are vitae. The conventions of the genre often include (1) a dramatic conversion to Christianity or to an eremitical/monastic life, (2) a sequence of miracles to confound pagans or evil authority-figures, (3) divine intervention in the plot-line, (4) the threat or actual experience of horrible mutilation, torture, or martyrdom, and (5) a continuation of miracles associated with the saint's relics after the saint's death, often accompanied by the material incorruptability of the dead body and the supernatural gustatory imagery of roses. It is interesting to note that, to my knowledge, the vita is one of the few literary genres in which a deus ex machina ending is not only expected, but actually forms a significant contribution to the common themes of the genre. See deus ex machina, genre, and relic.

In its second, more modern sense, a vita or curriculum vitae is a summary of a scholar's work, publications, teaching, and education--a sort of extended resume. In academic jargon, this sort of document is a "c.v." For an example of my own curriculum vitae, click here.

VOCABULARY: The stock of available words in (1) a given language or (2) a given speaker of that language.

VOCALIZATION: In linguistics, the change from a consonant sound to a vowel sound.

VOCATIVE: In a synthetic or declined language, a grammatical case used to invoke or call to another person.

VOGUE WORD: A word that appears in fashionable use or in pop culture. Often these vogue words and vogue expressions have a short shelf life and fall from English use within a few years' time. For example, the exclamation "snap!" as an interjection of excitement among American teenagers is probably a current vogue word, just as the phrase "big mook" was a vogue word from the late 1920s and early 1930s.

VOICE: See speaker, poetic.

VO LANGUAGE (pronounced "Vee-Oh"): A language that tends to place the verb before the grammatical object in a sentence. Modern English is a VO language. Contrast with an OV language.

VOLITIVE: A verb form that expresses a wish, command, or the speaker's will. In many languages, an identical verb form is used for both the intentive (which expresses intention) and the volitive.In English verbs, the future tense is often used as a volitive future. For example, English uses the same verb form (will) to express both the future tense ("It will rain tomorrow") and a future volitive or intentive ("By heaven, I will finish the assignment tomorrow"). In the first example, the rain itself has no volition, so the sentence merely expresses a future event. In the second example, the speaker is actually expressing his desired course of action, not necessarily making a prediction. This ambiguity can lead to translation problems when English speakers look at writings in other languages. For instance, David P. Smith notes in 1 Corinthians 14:15, the Greek translation is "I will pray" and "I will sing." In Greek, the verbs express or emphasize a desire to do these activities in the future as opposed to an indication of future reality. In English, the distinction is not necessarily clear.

VOLKERWANDERUNG (German: "folk-wandering"): Also called the Germanic migrations, this term refers to the mass migration of Germanic tribes westward across Europe between 375 CE and 750 CE. This demographic movement pushed the Vandals, Ostrogoths, and Goths into the boundaries of the Roman Empire in the fifth century, speeding its dissolution. The same movement also pushed the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes across the channel into Celtic Britain, where they in turn dislocated the native Celtic population by driving them into Cornwall, Wales and Scotland in the western and northern parts of Britain and even into Brittany in northeastern France. These Anglo-Saxon tribes formed the basis of the English people and their tongue became known as Old English. The late stages of the Volkerwanderung involved northern Germanic Viking tribes from Norway, Scandinavia, and Denmark pillaging the British isles and much of Britain.

VOLTA: Also called a turn, a volta is a sudden change in thought, direction, or emotion near the conclusion of a sonnet. This invisible volta is then followed by a couplet or gemel (in English sonnets) or a sestet (in Italian sonnets). Typically, the first section of the sonnet states a premise, asks a question, or suggests a theme. The concluding lines after the volta resolve the problem by suggesting an answer, offering a conclusion, or shifting the thematic concerns in a new direction.

VULGAR LATIN: The uneducated Latin used in everyday speech in the Roman Empire, as opposed to the more refined Classical Latin used in literature and governmental address.

VULGATE, THE: Saint Jerome's Latin anthologized compilation and translation of the Bible, prepared in the fourth century CE and used as the authorized version in Roman Catholic liturgical services up until Vatican II. The term vulgate as an adjective also refers loosely to any commonly recognized or accepted version of a work, so we might half-jokingly call The Riverside Chaucer "the vulgate Chaucer," or whatnot.

WAKA: A Japanese genre of poetry closely related to the tanka, consisting of alternate five- and seven-syllable lines. The primary difference seems to be that the word waka dates back to the sixth century BCE, while the more familiar terms tanka and uta date back to an eighth-century CE poetry anthology, the Manyoshu. See tanka.

WANDERJAHR (German, "Wander-Year"): A period in a character's life during which she is absent from her normal routine, engaged in thought, travel, and a quest for novel experiences or insight.

WAR OF THE ROSES: A civil war in England that lasted from 1455-1487 between the families descended from Edward III and the families descended from Henry IV. The event forms the background of Shakespeare's Henry VI plays and strongly influenced Sir Thomas Malory's depiction of King Arthur in Le Morte Darthur as he wrote in 1469-1470. Click here for more discussion.

WEAK DECLENSION: In linguistics, a Germanic/Teutonic noun or adjective that changes little from one declension to another. The consonant [n] is prominent in this declension.

WEAK ENDING: In poetry, another term for a feminine ending, in which the last syllable of a metrical line is unstressed. See discussion under meter.

WEAK VERB: In linguistics, a Germanic verb whose principle parts require the addition of a dental suffix--i.e., typically a /d/ or a /t/. Contrast with a strong verb, one whose linguistic principal parts were formed by ablaut of the stem vowel, Examples of a strong verb surviving in 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.

WEDGE: A diacritical mark used in some Eastern European countries. It indicates a sound like the digraph in checkers.

WEIGHT: The quality created in a syllable of verse in which that syllable both (a) has heavy stress and (b) has a long vowel that stretches out the duration of time necessary to pronounce that syllable. For instance, consider this line by Tennyson:

God-gifted organ voice of England.

As Babette Deutsch points out, in this line of nine syllables, we have five syllables with heavy stress, and in each case, the vowel is a "long" vowel (193). See quantitative and qualitative meter.

WELL-MADE PLAY (French, "la piece bien faite"): A form of French theater developed in the 1800s. Eugène Scribe and Victorien Sardou popularized it. The well-made play involves secrets and timely arrivals of surprise characters and sudden twists in plot introduced by external threats. In modern critical parlance, the term is considered pejorative and it refers to any overly neat and precisely constructed play, especially one that uses artificial authorial interventions to cause problems for the characters. Well-made plays continued to be popular through the 1950s. A recent example is Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap from 1952. Ibsen's A Doll's House also exhibits traits of the well-made play.

WELTANSCHAUUNG (German, "manner of looking at the world"): The philosophy of an individual, an artist, or a group of like-minded individuals, especially the philosophy concerning one's relationship to civilization. Cf. Weltansicht, below.

WELTANSICHT (German, "world-sight"):The general attitude toward life and reality an individual or character demonstrates. Cf. Weltanschauung, above.

WELTSCHMERZ (German "world-woe"): According to Shipley's Dictionary of World Literature (623), Jean Paul (1763-1825) coined this German phrase to refer to the sentimental pessimism one feels--the sorrow, disillusionment, and discontent one accepts as a part of existence--especially when comingled with egotism, arrogant pride, and cynicism. This attitude is especially prevalent in certain post-Napoleonic German and Italian existential writers including Musset, Leopardi, Platen, and Heine--but it also typifies some English poets/poems such as the poetic speaker in Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (Shipley 632).

WÊN and WU: The two main classes of traditional Chinese drama: civil (wên) and martial (wu). The "script" of these plays is more like a roughly outlined scenario than an actual dramatic text as westerners understand drama. The plays include dialogue in prose and verse, dancing, mime, operatic singing, and acrobatics. Conventionally, the action takes place on a square stage. The subject-matter deals with traditional legends and historical events. The narrative points to a moral, and their setting seems to be a timeless amalgamation of various Chinese periods blended together.

Various props are conventionally simple and may represent various other objects. For instance, a table may represent a wall, an altar, a hill, a judicial bench, or a bridge. To represent wind, characters on the edge of the stage will flap four black flags vigorously. A cap marked with red cloth represents a decapitated head, and so on. Likewise, there are symbol gestures for actors. For example, holding a sleeve up near one's eyes denotes weeping.

Musical accompaniment is done with instruments similar to a Western fiddle, but the orchestra (which also stands on the stage) uses brass percussion instruments. Both actors and singers use falsetto voices, though comedic actors render their lines in basso tones.

There are four types of character in Chinese drama: shêng (general male characters), tan (general female characters), hua-lien (strong vigorous male characters with faces painted like masks), and ch'ou (comedians). Costumes for each role are lavish, adapted from the styles of T'ang, Sung, Yüan, and Ming dynasties. Conventionally, emperors wear red on stage, government officials wear yellow, and so on. The make-up for various characters denotes their personality: yellow face-paint indicates guile; black indicates integrity and honesty; white indicates treachery and deceit; red shows loyalty and courage, and green indicates a character is a demon, brigand, or outlaw. Blue or red beards indicate a creature is a supernatural being, and the length of a character's beard indicates the character's relative status and prestige.

Wên and Wu conventions have had a powerful influence on later forms of Chinese drama. Contrast with No plays and karagöz puppet-theater.

WERGELD: An alternative spelling for wergild. See wergild, below.

WERGILD (Anglo-Saxon, lit. "man-gold," also spelled wergeld): The legal system of many Germanic tribes, including the Anglo-Saxons. This tradition allowed an individual and his family to make amends for a crime by paying a fine known as wergild to the family of another man whom he had injured or killed. The price varied depending upon the nature of the injury and the status of the injured man. Surviving laws of Wihtfrid (8th century CE) show how elaborate the wergild system had become by the ninth century. Wihtfrid included a varying price in silver for each tooth knocked out during a fight. If an individual could not or would not pay the wergild, the injured family was considered within its traditional rights to kill a member of the culprit's family of similar rank and status. This process often led to extended blood-feuds lasting several generations. The concerns of wergild appear prominently in Anglo-Saxon poems such as Beowulf, in which the supernatural predations of the monsters are figured in the legalistic language associated with this practice. See also peace-weaver. NB: Wergild should not be confused with Danegeld, the practice of paying extortive Vikings to go away without attacking.

WEST GERMANIC: A sub-branch of the Germanic family of languages including Dutch, English, and German, in contrast with the North Germanic sub-branch (including Old Norse, Norwegian, and Icelandic) and the East Germanic sub-branch (which included the now extinct language of Gothic).

WEST SAXON: The Old English dialect spoken in Wessex.

WESTERN: A literary and cinematic genre marked by numerous conventions. The usual setting is a short main street in a dust-blown frontier village of the American west during the 1800s. Traditionally, the protagonists wear white hats and the antagonists wear black hats. Conventional characters include Mexican bandits, stereotypical Plains Indians bedecked in feathered headresses, a town drunkard, a local madame who assists the protagonist, and so on. Often, the thematic concern is a struggle between law and lawlessness, between communal health and chaotic individualism. Historical accuracy usually comes second place to action, and the dramatic climax often takes the form of a dual or gunfight at high noon. "Spaghetti westerns" are a cinematic subgenre of the western film consisting of those films overseen by Italian directors and filmed completely or partly in Italy--including a large number of Clint Eastwood westerns from the 1960s and 1970s. Recent writers of westerns include Louis Lamour, Walter Van Tilburg Clark, A. B. Guthrie, Conrad Richter, and H. L. Davis.



WHEEL: See under discussion of Bob-and-Wheel.

WHEEL-AND-BOB: Another term for Bob-and-Wheel.

WHIG: In Questions of English, Marshall notes the term Whig originally was an insulting nickname for Scottish Presbyterian rebels, but after 1680 it became a label for the political faction in England that opposed James, Duke of York (James II) as an heir to the throne because of his Roman Catholicism. Eventually, during the time of Swift, Addison, Steele, and Johnson in the 1700s, the terms Tory and Whig became the names of the two major political factions in England. Tories were associated with the Established Chuch of England (the Anglican Church) and conservative country gentry, but the Whigs were associated with religious dissenters (Quakers, anabaptists, Puritans, etc.) and the rising bourgeois class of industrialists wanting political change. In modern British politics, the term Tory today remains informally attached to the Conservative party, but the word Whig has fallen out of political use for the Liberal Party (Marshall 11-12). See also Tory

WHORF'S HYPOTHESIS: A proposal that language affects how its speakers perceive and react to the world--and that the limitations of language thus become the limitations of human thought. Although first set forward by amateur linguist Benjamin Whorf (i.e., a fire engineer writing in an M.I.T. alumni magazine) and inspired by a false understanding of Inuit (Eskimo) language, this hypothesis has been remarkably influential in cognitive psychology and linguistics. In fiction like George Orwell's 1984, government control of language allows the party to expunge thoughtcrime (illegal ideas) in its dystopian monopoly of intellect. This idea is based largely on Whorf's Hypothesis.

WIDOW: In printing, a widow is a single short line ending a paragraph but separated from the earlier lines in that paragraph by a page break, thus appearing by itself at the top of the next page or column. Widows traditionally should be avoided in printing and in college essays. Luckily for students, writers can avoid such a faux pas by turning on "widow/orphan control" on their word processors. The trick in Microsoft Word is to click on the "format" option and then select "paragraph." Then select "line and page breaks" to find the appropriate option. Contrast with orphan.

WILLING SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF: Temporarily and willingly setting aside our beliefs about reality in order to enjoy the make-believe of a play, a poem, film, or a story. Perfectly intelligent readers can enjoy tall-tales about Pecos Bill roping a whirlwind, or vampires invading a small town in Maine, or frightening alternative histories in which Hitler wins World War II, without being "gullible" or "childish." To do so, however, the audience members must set aside their sense of "what's real" for the duration of the play, or the movie, or the book.

Samuel Coleridge coined the English phrase in Chapter 14 of Biographia Literaria to describe the way a reader is implicitly "asked" to set aside his notions of reality and accept the dramatic conventions of the theater and stage or other fictional work. Coleridge writes:

. . . My endeavours should be directed to persons and characters supernatural, or at least romantic; yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith (quoted in Cuddon, page 1044).

Coleridge may have been inspired by the French phrase, "cette belle suspension d'esprit de law sceptique" from François de La Mothe le Vayer, or by Ben Jonson's writing where Jonson notes, "To many things a man should owe but a temporary belief, and suspension of his own judgment." Cf. verisimilitude.

WINCHESTER MANUSCRIPT: A handwritten book or manuscript by two scribes containing the text of Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur. Librarian Walter Oakeshott discovered the text in 1934. It had been locked in a safe in the Warden's lodgings of Winchester College. The scholar Lotte Hellinga later demonstrated that the manuscript had been kept in William Caxton's print-shop at the same time that he was working on his 1485 printed edition of Le Morte D'Arthur. The Winchester MS provides additional autobiographical information about Malory. It has different divisions and decorations than the Caxton print, and literally thousands of variant readings. The best facsimile is N. R. Ker's The Winchester Malory: A Facsimile, as published by Oxford University Press in conjunction with the Early English Text Society (Oxford, 1976).

WISH FULFILLMENT: In psychoanalytic criticism, wish fulfillment refers to something in literature that satisfies the conscious or subconscious desires of either the creator or the reader of a work. A writer of action adventure stories, for instance, might imagine a male protagonist who is stronger, tougher, younger, and smarter than himself. This protagonist lives a sophisticated life of international intrigue; he woos exotic women and foils evil plots, doing all the things the writer himself cannot do. Readers sharing similar conscious or unconscious fantasies may be attracted to such stories to fulfill their own desires vicariously. Nearly all popular literature has some element of wish fulfillment in it. This phenomenon usually begins with children's literature and fairy tales ("and they lived happily ever after"). Some juvenile fantasy novels offer beautiful and exotic landscapes where the lines between good and evil are always clear and distinct, and where magic allows the characters to participate in or control awesome events. Crime novels may present readers with characters who live outside the constrictions of law and morality in a way the reader cannot. Harlequin romance novels or similar bodice-rippers promise whirlwind romance and steamy sex without unpleasant physical consequences or imperfect enjoyment. Western novels offer unspoiled naturalistic landscapes and lawless terrain far away from the pollution, litter, and legislative restrictions of the modern world.

Aside from popular entertainment, the same element of wish fulfillment can appear in more serious literary works as well. Utopian literature fulfills our desires for a perfect society, even as it critiques the failures of real government. An atheistic critic might argue that religious narratives are another example of wish fulfillment, pointing out that stories of eternal life in paradise for the good fulfills humanity's desire to avoid death, that tales of angels or benevolent spirits fulfill our desires to be loved, protected, and watched over, that descriptions of hell or apocalypse fulfill our desires for all criminals and wrong-doers to be punished and the imperfections of the world wiped away.

Wish fulfillment is not limited to positive desires. Freud speaks of thanatos (the death wish), a subconscious desire to reject life and the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. The Oedipal complex is a subconscious desire to murder or destroy a father-figure and incestuously take his sexual role with the mother. Through psychological projection, viewers may sublimate destructive desires by placing it on the characters in a tragedy, "enjoying" a healthy orgy of grief and catharsis. Readers may also project their own subconscious impulses toward hateful or forbidden behavior onto the villain, marveling at the antagonist's imaginary crimes and paradoxically reveling in the bad guy's eventual punishment at a safe distance.

Note that clever writers might create characters and imagine these characters with sufficient psychological detail to suggest elements of fictional wish fulfillment in them, as if an imaginary person had psychological depth of her own. For instance, Chaucer creates the fictional Wife of Bath, an aging pilgrim seeking her sixth husband while on pilgrimage. The Wife tells a tale to the other pilgrims. Her narrative includes a fairy tale hag who embodies the desires of the Wife herself. This hag wins the love of a handsome young knight, gains dominance over him in the marriage, and through his love and submission, magically transforms herself into a young woman again. These desires might correspond to the fantasies of the Wife of Bath herself as a fictional storyteller. See also escapist literature.

WIT: In modern vernacular, the word wit refers to elements in a literary work designed to make the audience laugh or feel amused, i.e., the term is used synonymously with humor. In seventeenth-century usage, the term wit much more broadly denotes originality, ingenuity, and mental acuity--especially in the sense of using paradoxes, making clever verbal expressions, and coining concise or deft phrases. As Alexander Pope put it, "True Wit is Nature to advantage dress'd, / What oft was thought, but ne'er so well express'd."

"WITHIN": In the stage directions for Shakespeare's plays, a "noise within" indicates offstage sound effects such as shouts, drums, and trumpets. These noises were produced typically in the tiring-house.

WORLD ENGLISH: English as used worldwide or internationally and the common features of this international English.

WOUND-RAIN: Also called blood-rain, this is a supernatural motif common in Old Norse sagas in which a rain of blood--sometimes boiling--falls on a ship or field, or, alternatively, an unattended and clean weapon spontaneously begins to drip blood. This motif serves as foreshadowing of coming violence. Old Icelandic literature probably borrowed the motif from Irish sources (see Robert Cook's notes to the Penguin Classics edition of Njal's Saga, page 321).

WRENCHED ACCENT: As Babette Deutsch phrases it, wrenched accent is "The triumph of metrical stress over word accent when the two conflict" (195). Normally, a word like body typically has a strong stress on the first syllable and a weaker stress on the second syllable. However, the overwhelming pattern of surrounding meter can come into conflict with this natural stress pattern and even overwhelm it, as is the case in the last line of this stanza by Rossetti:

"And many's the good gift, Lord Sands,
You've promised oft to me;
But the gift of yours I keep today,
Is the babe in my body." (qtd. in Deutsch 195)

WYNN (or wyn): A letter shape used in writing Middle English. Click here to see an example.

WYRD: Often translated as "fate," wyrd is an Anglo-Saxon term that embodies the concept of inevitability in Old English poetry. Unlike destiny, in which one imagines looking forward into the future to see the outcome of one's life, wyrd appears to be linked to the past. As an example illustrating this difference, a male speaker might claim, "It is my destiny to eat too many hamburgers, develop high cholesterol, and die of a heart attack in Pittsburgh at age fifty-three." The speaker is predicting what will inevitably happen to him, what is fated to occur sometime in the future. On the other hand, one might claim, "It is my wyrd to be born as a Caucasian child to impoverished parents who neglected to feed me properly, so that my health is always bad." In the first case, the speaker describing destiny implies that the future is set, and therefore the outcome of his life is beyond his control. In the second case, the speaker describing wyrd implies that the past is unchangeable, and therefore the current circumstances in which he finds himself are beyond his alteration. In Anglo-Saxon narratives, heroic speakers like Beowulf describe themselves as being "fated" (i.e., having a wyrd) that requires them to act in a certain way. It is Beowulf's wyrd to help King Hrothgar, not because some abstract destiny wills it so, but because in the past, Hrothgar helped Beowulf's father, and it is Beowulf's duty to return that favor. The exact circumstances are beyond Beowulf's control, but Beowulf can choose how he reacts to that "fate." This idea contrasts with the Greek idea of moira.

Although wyrd dies out in Middle English and Early Modern usage, some scholarly speculation has posited that the three "weird" sisters in Macbeth may actually be the three "wyrd" sisters, thus the three fates in an archetypal form.

XANADUISM: Academic research that focuses on the sources behind imaginative works of literature and fantasy. John Livingstone Lowes, in his publication The Road to Xanadu (1927), inspired the name, which in turn goes back to Coleridge's visionary poem "Kubla Khan" (i.e., "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree . . ."). More recently, the term has been used in a pejorative sense to describe scholarship involving dubious scrutiny of amorphous, difficult-to-prove sources, especially simplistic studies lacking any redeeming theoretical perspectives.

XENIA: The Greek term for the Laws of Hospitality. The custom in classical Greece and other ancient cultures that, if a traveler comes to a strange town, he can ask for food, shelter, and gifts to help him on his journey. In Greek tradition, the host was considered responsible for his guest's comfort and safety, and a breach of those laws of hospitality was thought to anger Zeus (Roman Jupiter), the king of the gods.

XENOPHANIC: This adjective refers to itinerant poets who make use of satire and witticism. The term comes from the Greek name Xenophanes, the wandering Ionian poet of classical Greece circa 550 BCE.

YAHOO: A coarse, filthy, smelly, bestial, barbaric, bipedal creature only vaguely resembling a human. Jonathan Swift coined the term in Gulliver's Travels, applying it to a race of humanoid brutes in contrast with the civilized race of intelligent horses, the Houyhnhnms. The term has since become a popular allusion. Mark Twain and other writers use it to refer to bumpkins, louts, or yokels. One wonders what the internet search engine Yahoo thus implies about its users. The term yahoo has also become a popular outcry or exclamation when a speaker is engaged in something boisterous.

YALE SCHOOL: A group of critics at Yale University who are known primarily for deconstructionist interpretations--the group includes Paul de Man, J. Hillis Miller, Geoffrey Hartman, and Harold Bloom.

YARD (Old English geard, closely related to OE eard, "earth"): In theater architecture during the Renaissance, the yard is the central area open to the area in theaters such as the Globe. Groundlings typically stood in this spot, unlike the more prodigal audience members who paid extra for a seat in the balconies. Admission in the yard in public theaters cost a penny in Shakespeare's day.

YARN (Old English gearn): An informal name for a long, rambling story--especially one dealing with adventure or tall-tales. The genre typically involves a strong narrative presence and colloquial or idiomatic English. The tone is realistic, but the content is typically fantastic or hyperbolic.Cf. the Chinese p'ing hua and the Russian skaz.

YAHWIST TEXT (aka J Text): In biblical studies, this textual tradition contrasts with the E Text and the P Text appearing in Genesis and other parts of the Torah. As for the abbreviation "J," in German transliteration of Hebrew, the letter "J" is used for "Y." Thus, scholars today refer to the "J Text" or the Yahwist Text when they discuss a textual tradition referring to God as Yahweh or Yahweh Elohim but which never refers to God as Elohim alone.

The J Text was once thought to have been written about 999-800 BCE, but more recent scholarship suggests it should be dated after the period of exile (597, 587/586 BCE). It is written in a dialect we associated with the city of Jerusalem and the kingdom of Judah, the more southerly of the tribal nations. This contrasts with the E Text, in which the material is associated linguistically with the region of Ephraim and which probably dates between 799-700 BCE. These two textual traditions of the E Text and the J text probably existed independently of each other for some time, but the northern kingdom of Israel was destroyed toward the end of the eighth century. The priests of Judah seem to have incorporated the E Text into their J Text tradition after that. This resulted in occasional duplications and repetition of detail in the Pentateuch; often the same tale would be told twice, once with a northern orientation and once with a southern perspective. We can see the same phenomenon in the biblical books of Kings and Chronicles. The resulting blend, complete with more recent additions such as late foreign loanwords, late religious rituals like the Sabbath, and imagery borrowed from Mesopotamian poetry and religions, is called the "P Text" or the Priestly Document. If students are reading a study Bible like the Anchor Bible series, the editors helpfully mark which sections come from the E Text, the J Text, and the P Text. A sample of material that comes from the J Text includes the material in Genesis 1:1-2:3, which probably was actually written much later than the subsequent material in Genesis 2:4 and afterward. Click here for a more detailed discussion.

YEARBOOK: An annually published book or journal, especially one containing information or statistics about that year in particular. Examples include college yearbooks and encyclopedia yearbooks. Some scholarly journals produce separately issued yearbooks with annotated bibliographies or summaries of scholarly publications for the past year within a specific field, such as The Year's Work in Anglo-Saxon Studies.

YEOMAN (Middle English yeman, probably a contraction of "young man"): In early Middle English, the term referred to freemen or freeholders, lower-class peasants who had obtained their freedom from serfdom, and as members of the new bourgeoisie were thus free to join guilds, purchase lands, or work as day laborers for hire. The term later came to mean in particular an attendant servant or lesser official who serves in a royal or noble household for paid wages rather than feudal obligations. The yeoman in the General Prologue to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales appears to be such a servant hired to aid the Knight.

YOGH: A letter shape used in writing Middle English and some Anglo-Saxon texts. It resembled a letter "three" often partially set below the line. In some handwriting, the screen would flatten the top of the letter into a horizontal line. Here is an example of an uppercase and lowercase yogh with the more common curved top:





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YO-HE-HO THEORY: In linguistics, the idea that language first began as a way to facilitate cooperative labor. Contrast with the bow-wow theory and the ding-dong theory.

YONIC (from Sanskrit yoni, "vagina"): A yonic symbol is a sexualized representation of femininity and reproductive power--particularly through some object vaguely reminiscent of the vagina. Common yonic symbols include cups, cauldrons, chalices, goblets, wells, caves, tunnels, circles, hoops, pots, and other containers. An example would be found in Shakespeare's sonnet 154, where we read of how a virgin takes the torch of love and stops the flame of "hot desire" when "This brand, she quenched in a cool well by, / which from Love's fire took heat perpetual." Contrast with a phallic symbol.

YOUNG MAN SONNETS: The first seventeen sonnets in the Shakespearean collection published in 1609. These sonnets break the normal sonnet conventions in that the implied situation is not a poetic speaker wooing a cold and distant female as the implied audience. Instead, the speaker is addressing a handsome young man and trying to convince him he should settle down and have children. Sonnets 18-26 may also be considered a part of this series, though these poems focus much more on the destructive aspects of time. Contrast with the "dark lady sonnets."

YUËH-FU (Chinese "music bureau"): A form of Chinese poetry in mixed meter and short lines, with a five-word line being most common. The number of stanzas was likewise variable. The conventions of the genre include a monologue or dialogue presented in dramatic form revolving around some misfortune. The name comes from the music bureaus that were a fixture of Chinese decoration. These bureaus contained sheets of popular songs and ballad-type lyrics. Cf. ballad.

ZANI (Italian, "clown"): A stock character in the commedia dell'arte, the zani was a buffoonish servant, a jester, a butt of jokes, i.e., what twentieth-century entertainment would call a "stooge." The modern English word zany comes from this Italian term.

ZEITGEIST (German "Time-ghost" or "Spirit of the Age"): The preferences, fashions, and trends that characterize the intangible essence of a specific historical period.

ZENO'S PARADOX: The name comes from Zeno of Elea (born c. 495-480 BCE). Zeno proposed four paradoxes in order to challenge accepted notions of space and time as defined in various philosophical circles. The term "Zeno's Paradox" is usually applied to the paradox of the arrow or the paradox of Hercules and the tortoise, but the other two paradoxes are often lumped under the same designation. To illustrate a sample paradox, Zeno asks the audience to imagine the great athlete Achilles engaged in a race with a tortoise. The tortoise is given a head start of twelve feet or so in front of Achilles, and the race-track is a hundred yards long. When the race begins, Achilles begins charging ahead with a speed much faster than the tortoise's crawl. However, to reach the half-way point between his starting position and the tortoise's position, Achilles must spend half of his time reaching the midway point before he has covered half the distance. Then again, before Achilles can ever travel a quarter of the distance to the tortoise (the half-way point to the half-way point), he must spend half of his time covering that distance. Then again, according to traditional definitions of space and time, he must spend half his time traveling to reach the half-way point to that half-way distance, and so on, ad infinitum. No matter how fast Achilles runs, by the normal definitions of spatial and temporal distance, Achilles will never be able to catch up with the turtle because an endless series of "half-way" points must be crossed first. In fact, any movement at all should be impossible because Achilles must cross an endless number of "halfway" points before any motion can take place at all, each movement taking an infinitely smaller slice of time to do. Zeno's paradoxes perplexed mathematicians and logicians for millennia. It wasn't until Cantor developed the theory of infinite sets that the paradoxes could be fully resolved--but that idea only came about in the 1860s and 1870s. In literature, postmodern writers such as Umberto Eco, Italo Calvino, and postmodern films like Run Lola Run all use allusions to Zeno's Paradox to convey ideas about the absurdity of time and distance.

ZEUGMA (Greek "yoking" or "bonding"): Artfully using a single verb to refer to two different objects grammatically, or artfully using an adjective to refer to two separate nouns, even though the adjective would logically only be appropriate for one of the two. For instance, in Shakespeare's Henry V, Fluellen cries, "Kill the boys and the luggage." (The verb kill normally wouldn't be applied to luggage.) If the resulting grammatical construction changes the verb's initial meaning, the zeugma is sometimes called syllepsis. Examples of these syllepses abound--particulary in seventeenth-century literature:

"If we don't hang together, we shall hang separately!" (Ben Franklin).


"The queen of England sometimes takes advice in that chamber, and sometimes tea."
". . . losing her heart or her necklace at the ball." (Alexander Pope).
"She exhausted both her audience and her repertoire." (anonymous)
"She looked at the object with suspicion and a magnifying glass." (Charles Dickens)
"Miss Bolo went home in a flood of tears and a sedan chair." (Charles Dickens)
[King Charles I was . . .] "Circled with his royal diadem and the affections of his people." (Mistress Evelyn)
"I fancy you were gone down to cultivate matrimony and your estate in the country" (Goldsmith)
"Her beauty pierced mine eye, her speech my wo[e]ful breast, / Her presence all the powers of my discourse."

Zeugma is also known as synezeugmenon. Some rhetoricians subdivide zeugma according to the location of the verb that functions as the shared connector, referring to a zeugma as a prozeugma or protozeugma if the connector comes before the various subsequent components (as illustrated in the last example listed above). They refer to the figure as a mesozeugma if the connector appears in the middle of a phrase. For example, "And now a bubble burst, and now a world" (Lanham 99). Rhetoricians refer to the figure as a hypozeugma if the connector appears at the end. An example of a hypozeugma would be "Hours, days, weeks, months, and years do pass away" (Sherry, quoted in Lanham 88).



ZOHAR (Hebrew, "splendor"): A medieval commentary on the Pentateuch appearing in several books written in Aramaic and Hebrew, widely considered the most important work of Kabala. It first appeared in 13th century Spain, published by Moses de Leon, who claimed it was the work of a legendary second century Rabbi, Shimon bar Yochai.


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