A posteriori

Line one consists of a single noun. Line two

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Line one consists of a single noun.

  • Line two consists of two adjectives that describe the noun, usually separated by a comma.

  • Line three consists of three gerunds or present participles associated with the noun in line one.

  • Line four consists of four nouns in any order. Two nouns are associated loosely with the noun appearing in line one. The other two nouns--while somehow similar in nature with the other nouns in this line--are associated loosely with the final noun later appearing in line seven.

  • Line five consists of three gerunds or present participles associated with the final noun later appearing in line seven.

  • Line six consists of two adjectives that describe the final noun appearing in line seven.

  • Line seven consists of a single noun. This noun traditionally is an antonym or a word contrasting with the noun appearing in line one, or a noun that in some way contrasts with that noun appearing in line one--though some modern variants merely use another synonym for the first line or even even repeat the noun from line one.

    This sounds complicated, but the overall design is simple to see in a complete poem. Here is a typical example:

    Fiery, bright

    Scorching, burning, laughing
    Summer, daylight, moonbeams, shadows
    Whispering, rustling, sleeping
    Cool, eclipsed

    DIAPER WORK: In spite of how unpleasant the word sounds, diaper work is actually a common, beautiful design in medieval manuscripts. Here is Kathleen Scott's succinct summary of diaper work: "A type of decorative background in which a series of parallel lines intersect at a 90-degree angle with another series of parallel lines to form a diamond lattice or a square lattice, with the internal surfaces rendered in colours and gold; usually used in miniatures." The overall result is much like the effect of modern wallpaper, in which a pattern appears over and over again in a slightly different location. This type of diaper work is often used as the background for medieval images.

    DIARY: An informal record of a person's private life and day-to-day thoughts and concerns. Conventionally, daily entries take epistolary form with the introductory phrase, "Dear Diary." Since the subject-matter is so intimate, the authors of diaries usually do not intend for their contents to be published--though many famous ones have been published posthumously--including the diary of Sameul Pepys (complete with all his sexual indiscretions) or the diary of William Bird. Other important diaries include those of George Fox, John Wesley, and Fanny Burney in England, and (in America) Sarah K. Knight. Contrast with memoir and autobiography.

    DICTION: The choice of a particular word as opposed to others. A writer could call a rock formation by many words--a stone, a boulder, an outcropping, a pile of rocks, a cairn, a mound, or even an "anomalous geological feature." The analytical reader then faces tough questions. Why that particular choice of words? What is the effect of that diction? The word choice a writer makes determines the reader's reaction to the object of description, and contributes to the author's style and tone. Compare with concrete diction and abstract diction, above. It is also possible to separate diction into high or formal diction, which involves elaborate, technical, or polysyllabic vocabulary and careful attention to the proprieties of grammar, and low or informal diction, which involves conversational or familiar language, contractions, slang, elision, and grammatical errors designed to convey a relaxed tone.

    DIDACTIC LITERATURE: Writing that is "preachy" or seeks overtly to convince a reader of a particular point or lesson. Medieval homilies and Victorian moral essays are often held up as examples of didactic literature, but one might argue that all literature is didactic to one extent or another since the written word frequently implies or suggests an authorial attitude. Sometimes, the lesson is overtly religious, as in the case of sermons or in literature like Milton's Paradise Lost, which seeks to "justify God's ways to men." In a more subtle way, much of Romantic literature hints at a critique of urbanized and mechanized life in 19th-century London. See homily, propaganda, Victorian.

    DIERESIS (also called an umlaut): A diacritic mark (¨) to show that vowels represent sounds of different quality--Algeo provides German Brüder ("brothers") and Bruder ("brother") as an example (316). In English, this marking indicates that the second of two vowels is pronounced separately from the earlier vowel. For instance, coöperate is pronounced as four syllables, not three, and the dieresis helps indicate this.

    DIFFÉRANCE: Jacque Derrida's French term (untranslatable in English), which puns on the verb différer meaning "to differ" and "to defer," which he uses as an antonym for logocentrism (Cuddon 246). Basically, Derrida's starting spot is the linguist Sausure's theory about the arbitrary nature of language (i.e., that the combination of phonetic sounds we use a "sign" has no logical connection with the object it refers to). Derrida then pushes this idea to its logical extreme, "that to differ or differentiate is also to defer, postpone or withhold [meaning]" (246). Thus absolute meaning continuously and endlessly remains one step removed from the system of signs/words/symbols we use to discuss meaning. Cf. deconstruction.

    DIGRAPH: Any use of two alphabetical letters to indicate a single phonetic sound. For instance, in phonograph, the letters

    spell the /f/ sound. Likewise, in the word dumb, the letters create the /m/ sound, and in pick, the creates the /k/ sound. English regularly uses digraphs like ,
  • and to indicate sounds for which there is no single symbol in the commonly used alphabet. Contrast with dipthong.

    DIMETER: A line containing only two metrical feet. See meter and foot.

    DIMIDIATION: The heraldic practice of combining two animals in a coat-of-arms into a single composite creature.

    DIMINUTIVE: Any affix meaning "small." It can suggest cuteness or an emotional attachment. An example is the word piglet, where the diminutive alters the normal word pig.

    DING-DONG THEORY: The linguistic theory that language began as instinctive responses to stimuli (Algeo 316).

    DIONYSIA: The Athenian religious festivals celebrating Dionysus in March-April. Dionysus (Roman Bacchus) was the god of intoxication, celebration, powerful emotion, and loss of self-control. At his festival, priests would sacrifice goats on the theater stage, and then actors would perform tragic plays in honor of the god, interspersed with brief comedies. (The word tragedy itself may originate in the Greek tragos--a goat song, or possibly in a pun on "billygoat singers.") See tragedy, Lenaia.

    DIPODY: In classical prosody, dipody describes the combination of two feet into another single metrical unit. Often used interchangeably with the more general term syzygy, this dipody involves the substitution of two normal feet, usually iambs or trochees, under a more powerful beat, so that a "galloping" or "rolling" rhythm results. See iamb, meter, rhythm, and trochee. Dipody is common in children's rhymes, nursery rhymes, and ballads. J. A. Cuddon lists two examples in his Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory that are too lengthy to reproduce here, but serve to illustrate the effect well.

    DIPHTHONG (from Greek dipthongus): A complex speech sound in which a speaker begins to articulate one vowel and moves to another vowel or semi-vowel sound by switching the position of tongue and lips. For example, in the common name Roy, the oy makes a diphthong in that the vowel positions shift from one noise to another. The term diphthong should not be confused with digraph (see above). Diphthongs are phonetic (dealing with the sounds of spoken words), and digraphs are graphemic (dealing with the act of recording words on the page as symbols or letters).

    DIPTHONGIZATION: The change of a normal vowel into a diphthong.

    DIRGE: See discussion of elegy, below.

    DISCOVERY SPACE: According to Stephen Greenblatt, this is "A central opening or alcove concealed behind a curtain in the center of the frons scenae. The curtain could be drawn aside to "discover" tableaux such as Portia's caskets, the body of Polonius, or the statue of Hermione. Shakespeare appears to have used this stage device only sparingly" (1139).

    DISPLACEMENT: This term in linguistics refers to the ability of language to indicate or signify things not physically present.

    DISSIMILATION: A linguistic development in which two sounds become less alike. Algeo (317) offers the example of diphtheria, in which the initial /f/ sound in has through dissimilation become .

    DISTYCH: The technical term for a two-line group in which a pair of metrical lines of different lengths together compose or express a complete idea (Wheeler 38). In Greek elegies, these distichs are usually rhymed and composed with one line in dactylic hexameter followed by a line in dactylic pentameter. In Hebrew poetry such as the Psalms or Proverbs, the lines are typically unrhymed but contain elements of parallelism such as synonymou repetitions, antithesis, anaphora, or epistrophe (Wheeler 37-38).

    DITHYRAMB: An ancient Athenian poetic form sung during the Dionysia (see above). The first tragedies may have originated from the dithyrambs. See tragedy.

    DOG LATIN: Unidiomatic or crude pidgin Latin intermixed with local tongues. An example of dog latin appears in scene eight of Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, when Robin the servant tries to invoke spirits: "Sanctobulorum Periphrasticon--nay, I'll tickle you, vinter--look to the goblet, Rafe--Polypragmos Belseborams framanto pacostiphos tostis Mephastophilis" (23-26). Cf. macaronic text.

    DOLCE STIL NUOVO (Italian, "sweet new style"): Dante uses this term to describe the style of lyric poetry he sought to create in the Purgatorio. He and other Italian poets like Guinicelli and Cavalcanti using this style are called stilnuovisti poets. The most important feature of this style is an attitude toward women and earthly love derived from troubadour poetry. This attitude depicts women as the ultimate form of God's beauty, and women are held to inspire a spiritual love in their male admirers that will ultimately lead them to Divine Love. This attempt to reconcile or combine sacred and sexual love contrasts starkly with monastic literature treating women as an evil temptation to good men.

    DONATISM: The term donatism is an eponym taken from a bishop in North Africa named Donatus. During the patristic period, Donatus was upset by the readiness of the mainstream church to welcome back into its fold clergy who had temporarily renounced their faith in fear of Roman persecution. Donatus believed that such individuals were not fit to be priests, and that church rituals led by such individuals were worthless. This developed into the heresy of "donatism" in the medieval period. Donatists argued that baptisms, marriages, confessions, funerals, communion services, and other church rituals were invalid if the priest performing the ceremony was in a state of sin. Thus, the entire ministry of these lapsed clergy was considered invalid by these donatists. Accordingly, donatists declared that anyone "married" by a sinning priest was actually fornicating, and anyone who confessed and received absolution from evil clergy never actually received forgiveness of sins. Such people would need to have the rituals performed again by a priest in a state of grace.

    In contrast, the orthodox Catholic belief (as set down by Saint Augustine) declared that priests were necessary instruments of the Holy Spirit, but it was the Holy Spirit itself that supplied a binding spiritual efficacy to church rituals. Accordingly, any rituals such as confession, marriage, or baptism received by a devout worshipper in an ordained church were still valid regardless of whether the priest performing the rites was himself in a state of grace. In Chaucer's "Pardoner's Tale," one of the issues raised by the Pardoner is the question of whether or not the Pardoner's indulgences have any spiritual efficacy, even though the Pardoner is a self-confessed cheat and trickster. Ironically, the Pardoner takes an orthodox position, declaring a "ful vicious man" can still tell a moral tale, and he argues that those who buy his fake relics still benefit spiritually even if the relics are fakes.

    DONNÉE (French, "given"): The assumptions upon which a writer constructs a work of literature. Some common examples include the assumption that young love is fickle, that society is bleak or dangerous for survivors of warfare, that guilt is inescapable, that following one's heart (or head) leads to happiness (or heartbreak), and so on. Contrast with cliché and theme.

    DOSBARTH GWYNEDD: Also known as the Venodotian Code or the "four and twenty measures," the Dosbarth Gwynedd are an ancient and complex set of metrical rules for Welsh poetry associated with the Gwynedd region (north Wales) in contrast with the newer Dosbarth Morgannwg, a newer tradition (15th century) associated with the region of Glamorganshire. In general, the Dosbarth Gwynedd are considered the standard or "authentic" verse tradition, even though most modern Welsh poets tend to ignore this incredibly complex tradition and concentrate on smaller, simpler forms like the cywydd and the englyn.

    DOSBARTH MORGANNWG: See discussion under Dosbarth Gwynedd.

    DOUBLE DACTYL: A comic verse written with two quatrains, with each line written in dactylic dimeter. The second line may be a name, and the sixth or seventh line may be a single word. J. A. Cuddon's poem, "Nicholas Williamson," illustrates the technique:

    Nicholas Williamson
    Sat in the bathtub and
    Scratched at his nose.
    Seldom was schoolboy so
    Gifted with flexible
    Bendable toes.

    DOUBLE ENTENDRE (French, "double meaning"): The deliberate use of ambiguity in a phrase or image--especially involving sexual or humorous meanings.

    DOUBLE NEGATIVE: Two (or more) negatives used for emphasis, e.g., "I don't want no candy" as opposed to "I don't want any candy." Prescriptivist grammarians recommend avoiding double negatives in formal writing, but historians note this rule is of fairly recent manufacture in English history. Double negatives were perfectly acceptable in English up until the Enlightenment. For instance, the medieval author Chaucer routinely uses two to four double negatives in his descriptions--such as the Knight in The Canterbury Tales: "He nevere yet no vileynye ne sayde / In al his lyf unto no maner wight" (GP 70-71).

    DOUBLE PLOT: When an author uses two related plots within a single narrative. See futher discussion under subplot and plot.

    DOUBLE RHYME: A rhyme that involves two syllables rather than one. For instance, rhyming lend/send is a single rhyme, in which each word consists of a single syllable. However, the words lending/sending constitute a double rhyme because two rhyming syllables are used. In English, most double rhymes create a feminine ending. Contrast with triple rhyme and feminine ending (under meter).

    DOUBLE SUPERLATIVE: Double use of the superlative degree--such as the word foremost, which uses both the superlative sufix -m and -est (Algeo 317).

    DOUBLET: In linguistics, a pair of words that derive from the same etymon, but since they were adapted at different times or by different routes, take on two different meanings. For instance, the Modern English words chief and chef both come from the same French word, originally meaning roughly "guy in charge." Chief was adopted, however, in a time when Norman French was associated with military power, and thus the word had contexts of "leader of a war band." The same word was adopted centuries later, however, in a time when Parisian French was associated with culture and culinary arts. Now, chef came to mean in English, "leader of a kitchen." Thus, the same word adopted twice can come to gain two different meanings.

    DOUBLING: Greenblatt describes this process as, "The common [Renaissance] practice of having one actor play multiple roles, so that a play with a large cast of characters might be performed by a relatively small company" (1139).

    DRACULA'S LAW: A helpful mnemonic phrase, "blood is good food" useful for remembering sound shifts in the vowel o from Middle English to Modern English. Originally, between 1200-1400, the letter often indicated a long Middle English /o:/ but it rapidly developed into /u/, as in food, roof, and room, and root. However, in the 1400s, in some words, the vowel shortened and unrounded to the sound in blood and flood. In still other words, the letter retained the long vowel /o:/ until about 1700, but the vowel was then shortened without being unrounded, giving us the sound found in good, foot, and book. Thus, the standard pronunciation is as follows:

    • blood (c.1400-1500)

    • good (c. 1700 et passim)

    • food (c. 1200-1400)

    DRAMA: A composition in prose or verse presenting, in pantomime and dialogue, a narrative involving conflict between a character or characters and some external or internal force (see conflict). Playwrights usually design dramas for presentation on a stage in front of an audience. Aristotle called drama "imitated human action." Drama may have originated in religious ceremonies. Thespis of Attica (sixth century BCE) was the first recorded composer of a tragedy. Tragedies in their earliest stage were performed by a single actor who interacted with the chorus. The playwright Aeschylus added a second actor on the stage (deuteragonist) to allow additional conflict and dialogue. Sophocles and Euripides added a third (tritagonist). Medieval drama may have evolved independently from rites commemorating the birth and death of Christ. During the late medieval period and the early Renaissance, drama gradually altered to the form we know today. The mid-sixteenth century in England in particular was one of the greatest periods of world drama. In traditional Greek drama, as defined by Aristotle, a play was to consist of five acts and follow the three dramatic unities. In more recent drama (i.e., during the last two centuries), plays have frequently consisted of three acts, and playwrights have felt more comfortable disregarding the confines of Aristotelian rules involving verisimilitude. See also unities, comedy, tragedy, revenge play, miracle play, morality play, and mystery play. An individual work of drama is called a play.

    DRAMATIC CONVENTION: See convention.

    DRAMATIC IRONY: See irony.

    DRAMATIC MONOLOGUE: A poem in which a poetic speaker addresses either the reader or an internal listener at length. It is similar to the soliloquy in theater, in that both a dramatic monologue and a soliloquy often involve the revelation of the innermost thoughts and feelings of the speaker. Two famous examples are Browning's "My Last Duchess" and "Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister." Cf. interior monologue and monologue.

    DRAMATIC POINT OF VIEW: See point of view.

    DRAMATIC UNITIES: See Unities, three.

    DRAMATIS PERSONAE (Latin: "people of the play"): A list of the complete cast, i.e., the various characters that will appear in the play. This list usually appears before the text of the main play begins in printed copies of the text. In late periods of drama, the dramatis personae often included a brief description of the character's personality or appearance. In the First Folio, such lists appeared at the end of some Shakespearean plays, but not at the end of all of them.

    DRAVIDIAN: Once, the aboriginal tongue of all India, but now spoken primarily in only the southern regions of that subcontinent.

    DREAM VISION (Visio): A genre of poetry popular in the Middle Ages. By convention, a fictionalized version of the writer goes to sleep in a pleasant, natural springtime setting (May mornings being particularly popular). He has a dream that he relates to the reader. During the dream, he often encounters a mentor or spirit guide who takes him on a journey in which he encounters various historical or fictional figures engaged in allegorical activities. Through his interactions, the dreamer learns valuable spiritual, political, or intellectual truths and is transformed by the experience. One of the earliest literary works to influence the genre is Macrobius's (c. 400 CE) commentary on the Somnium Scipionis. Medieval examples from the continent include the Roman de la Rose (13th century), and Dante's Divine Comedy. Medieval examples from the British Isles include the Welsh Dream of Rhonabwy and English works such as Piers Plowman, Pearl, and Chaucer's The Book of the Duchess, The House of Fame, and the Prologue to the Legend of Good Women. More recent versions include Bunyan's prose narrative called The Pilgrim's Progress, Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake, and L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz.

    DUAL: In contrast to the singular and plural forms of nouns and pronouns in Modern English, Old English had a third category, the dual inflection for pronouns. This inflection referred to exactly two people or things. A dual form might refer to to the speaker and one other listener in the audience, for example. The Old English dual personal pronouns included these forms:

    • wit ("we two ")

    • unc ("us two ")

    • uncer or ("the two of ours, ours both")

    • git ("the two of you" i.e., "ye two")

    • inc ("you both")

    • incer ("yours both")

    A number of these pronouns appear in The Wife's Lament. In Modern English, the old dual forms survive in only a few other linguistic fossils--such as the impersonal pronouns both, either, and neither. Several other Indo-European languages have or have had a distinction between the dual and the plural--including Egyptian, Arabic, Sanskrit, Greek, and Old Gothic, as Vincent Hopper notes (4). Other non-Indo-European languages like Hebrew also make this distinction.
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