Glossary of Literary
and Rhetorical Terms

By Jack Lynch,
Rutgers University

Last revised 3 August 1999

Please note that this guide isn’t yet ready for public viewing — I’m still working on putting it together, and there are gaps aplenty. You’re welcome to browse what I have so far (and even to comment on it), but I know it has a long way to go.

I wrote this glossary, like my guide to grammar and style, for my students, and I’m content to serve just that audience — and while I’ll be pleased if others find it useful, I’m not trying to be all things to all people. I make no pretenses to being complete. Those who want a more thorough catalogue — who want definitions of enallage and enthymeme — will do well to start with the books by Lanham and Abrams (below). Instead, I want to provide undergraduates and nonspecialists with the beginnings of a working vocabulary.

I’ve often given only traditional definitions, although I try, when possible, to indicate that many of these terms (especially those relating to historical periods and canonicity) have come under fire. I’ve given catalogues of the major names from some literary periods, and they almost inevitably point up everything wrong with traditional canon formation — there’s nary a woman in the lot, for instance, and they perpetuate the myth that there were only six Romantic poets. I won’t defend the lists for a minute. I give the names only because they’re familiar, and may help readers of this guide hang unfamiliar terms on familiar names — and vice versa.

I confess a clear prejudice toward British examples. I’ve tried from time to time to introduce a few American examples and to define terms specific to American literature, but I’ve not tried to extend my range any further: I stop at the borders of English-language literature. Readers will also have no trouble recognizing that I’m most at home in eighteenth-century literature, and examples from that period come to me most readily.

Additional Reading

The writings on rhetoric and literary terms are vast. For starters:

  1. Richard Lanham, A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms, 2nd ed. (Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press, 1991.
  2. Paul Fussell, Poetic Meter and Poetic Form.
  3. M. H. Abrams.

Index of Authors Mentioned

Bunyan Milton Shakespeare Pope Dryden Defoe Addison Fielding Joyce Woolf

Index of Topics


Verse, Meter, Rhythm, Iamb, Trochee, Spondee, Dactyl, Anapest, Amphibrach, Monometer, Dimeter, Trimeter, Tetrameter, Hexameter, Ballad Stanza; Epic, Ode, Lyric, Dramatic Poetry, Narrative, Fabliau


Novel, Narrative, Fiction, Stream of Consciousness


Tragedy, Comedy, Farce


History of the Language, Antiquity, Classical, Medieval, Renaissance, Interregnum, Restoration, Eighteenth Century, Romanticism, Victorian, Modernism, Postmodernism, Harlem Renaissance, American Renaissance, Beat

The Book

Bibliography, Format, Folio, Quarto, Octavo, Duodecimo, Leaf, Sheet, Page, Signature, Hypertext, Serial Publication, Triple-Decker, Volume


Fabliau, Bildungsroman
Note: This guide is still in the early stages of development.
Three question marks mean I have to write more on the subject. Bear with me.