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Literary Terms Glossary
(Starting with "I")

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The following is a list of literary terms; that is, those words used in discussion, classification, criticism, and analysis of poetry, novels and picture books.

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* Iambic pentameter

Iambic pentameter is a commonly used metrical line in traditional verse and verse drama. The term describes the particular rhythm that the words establish in that line. That rhythm is measured in small groups of syllables; these small groups of syllables are called "feet". The word "iambic" describes the type of foot that is used (in English, an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable). The word "pentameter" indicates that a line has five of these "feet".

These terms originally applied to the quantitative meter of classical poetry. They were adopted to describe the equivalent meters in English accentual-syllabic verse. Different languages express rhythm in different ways. In Ancient Greek and Latin, the rhythm is created through the alternation of short and long syllables. In English, the rhythm is created through the use of stress, alternating between unstressed and stressed syllables. An English unstressed syllable is equivalent to a classical short syllable, while an English stressed syllable is equivalent to a classical long syllable. When a pair of syllables is arranged as a short followed by a long, or an unstressed followed by a stressed, pattern, that foot is said to be "iambic". The English word "trapeze" is an example of an iambic pair of syllables, since the word is made up of two syllables ("tra—peze") and is pronounced with the stress on the second syllable ("tra—PEZE", rather than "TRA—peze"). Iambic pentameter is a line made up of five such pairs of short/long, or unstressed/stressed, syllables.

Iambic rhythms come relatively naturally in English. Iambic pentameter is the most common meter in English poetry; it is used in many of the major English poetic forms, including blank verse, the heroic couplet, and some of the traditional rhymed stanza forms. William Shakespeare used iambic pentameter in his plays and sonnets.

* Ideology

An ideology is a set of ideas that constitutes one's goals, expectations, and actions. An ideology can be thought of as a comprehensive vision, as a way of looking at things (compare worldview), as in common sense (see Ideology in everyday society below) and several philosophical tendencies (see Political ideologies), or a set of ideas proposed by the dominant class of a society to all members of this society (a "received consciousness" or product of socialization). The main purpose behind an ideology is to offer either change in society, or adherence to a set of ideals where conformity already exists, through a normative thought process. Ideologies are systems of abstract thought applied to public matters and thus make this concept central to politics. Implicitly every political tendency entails an ideology whether or not it is propounded as an explicit system of thought. It is how society sees things.

* Idiom

Idiom (Latin: idioma, "special property", f. Greek: ἰδίωμα — idiōma, "special feature, special phrasing", f. Greek: ἴδιος — idios, "one's own") is an expression, word, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is comprehended in regard to a common use of that expression that is separate from the literal meaning or definition of the words of which it is made. There are estimated to be at least 25,000 idiomatic expressions in the English language.

In linguistics, idioms are usually presumed to be figures of speech contradicting the principle of compositionality; yet the matter remains debated. John Saeed defines an "idiom" as words collocated that became affixed to each other until metamorphosing into a fossilised term. This collocation — words commonly used in a group — redefines each component word in the word-group and becomes an idiomatic expression. The words develop a specialized meaning as an entity, as an idiom. Moreover, an idiom is an expression, word, or phrase whose sense means something different from what the words literally imply. When a speaker uses an idiom, the listener might mistake its actual meaning, if he or she has not heard this figure of speech before. Idioms usually do not translate well; in some cases, when an idiom is translated into another language, either its meaning is changed or it is meaningless.

* Idyll

An idyll or idyl (from Greek eidyllion, little picture) is a short poem, descriptive of rustic life, written in the style of Theocritus' short pastoral poems, the Idylls. Unlike Homer, Theokrit did not engage in heroes and warfare. His idylls are limited to a small intimate world, and describe scenes from everyday life. Later imitators include the Roman poets Virgil and Catullus, Italian poet Leopardi, and the English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Goethe called his poem Hermann and Dorothea - which Schiller considered the very climax in Goethe's production - an idyll.

An idyll can also be a kind of painting, usually representing a pastor and his animals in a rural setting. They are depicted in a natural way, with the three components - man, animal and the environment - in a harmonious unity, preventing the picture from being either a landscape, or a genre, or just an image of an animal. Nature in this combination is presented in an unsophisticated, realistic fashion.

The subjects of such pictures are usually simple people living in uncivilised conditions, featuring naïvety in their thinking and yet leading a happy and cheerful life. The approach to the presentation is not humorous, but emotional, sometimes sentimental.

* Imagery (literature)

Imagery is used in literature to refer to descriptive language that evokes sensory experience.

Visual imagery is perhaps the most frequently used form.

  • The crimson liquid spilled from the neck of the white dove, staining and matting its pure, white feathers.
  • Auditory imagery represents a sound.

  • The bells chimed 2 o'clock.
  • Onomatopoeia: a word that makes a sound.
  • Kinetic imagery represents movement

  • as in Wordsworth's poem Daffodils: "tossing their heads in sprightly dance"
  • Olfactory imagery represents a smell.

  • His socks, still soaked with sweat from Tuesday's P.E. class, filled the classroom with an aroma akin to that of salty, week-old, rotting fish.
  • Gustatory imagery represents a taste.

  • The sweet marinara sauce makes up for the bland sea-shell pasta beneath.
  • Tumbling through the ocean water after being overtaken by the monstrous wave, I unintentionally took a gulp of the briny, bitter liquid, causing me to cough and gag.
  • Tactile imagery represents touch.

  • The spongy soufflé was a pleasure to squeeze.
  • The clay oozed between Jeremy's fingers as he let out a squeal of pure glee.
  • Imagery can be showcased in many forms, such as metaphors and similes.

    A simile is a literary device where the writer employs the words "like" or "as" to compare two different ideas. It can be a strong word to use as a describing word in a simile or metaphor.

  • He flew like a dove
  • A metaphor is similar to a simile, however this literary device makes a comparison without the use of "like" or "as".

  • He has a hyena's laugh.
  • * Imagism

    Imagism was a movement in early 20th-century Anglo-American poetry that favored precision of imagery and clear, sharp language. The Imagists rejected the sentiment and discursiveness typical of much Romantic and Victorian poetry. This was in contrast to their contemporaries, the Georgian poets, who were by and large content to work within that tradition. Group publication of work under the Imagist name appearing between 1914 and 1917 featured writing by many of the most significant figures in Modernist poetry in English, as well as a number of other Modernist figures prominent in fields other than poetry.

    Based in London, the Imagists were drawn from Great Britain, Ireland and the United States. Somewhat unusually for the time, the Imagists featured a number of women writers among their major figures. Imagism is also significant historically as the first organised Modernist English language literary movement or group. In the words of T. S. Eliot: "The point de repère usually and conveniently taken as the starting-point of modern poetry is the group denominated 'imagists' in London about 1910."

    At the time Imagism emerged, Longfellow and Tennyson were considered the paragons of poetry, and the public valued the sometimes moralising tone of their writings. In contrast, Imagism called for a return to what were seen as more Classical values, such as directness of presentation and economy of language, as well as a willingness to experiment with non-traditional verse forms. The focus on the "thing" as "thing" (an attempt at isolating a single image to reveal its essence) also mirrors contemporary developments in avant-garde art, especially Cubism. Although Imagism isolates objects through the use of what Ezra Pound called "luminous details", Pound's Ideogrammic Method of juxtaposing concrete instances to express an abstraction is similar to Cubism's manner of synthesizing multiple perspectives into a single image.

    * Impressionism

    Impressionism was a 19th-century art movement that began as a loose association of Paris-based artists whose independent exhibitions brought them to prominence in the 1870s and 1880s. The name of the movement is derived from the title of a Claude Monet work, Impression, Sunrise (Impression, soleil levant), which provoked the critic Louis Leroy to coin the term in a satiric review published in Le Charivari.

    Characteristics of Impressionist paintings include relatively small, thin, yet visible brush strokes, open composition, emphasis on the accurate depiction of light in its changing qualities (often accentuating the effects of the passage of time), ordinary subject matter, the inclusion of movement as a crucial element of human perception and experience, and unusual visual angles. The emergence of Impressionism in the visual arts was soon followed by analogous movements in other media which became known as Impressionist music and Impressionist literature.

    Impressionism also describes art created in this style, but outside of the late 19th century time period.

    * Indeterminacy (literature)

    Indeterminacy in literature can be when the ending of a story is not wrapped up entirely, there are still questions to be answered. It also includes when the text of a book is a result of a particular cultural and social background of the reader, or when the language is such that the author's original intention is not known when the work was originally created; in other words, it is when any element of a text requires the reader to decide on its meaning. The text of a book being indeterminate doesn't mean all readings are of equal validity; however, it does mean that all meanings we draw from it are partial and provisional, and that what we write about it is itself a text, open to further interpretation. It may also be a principle of uncertainty invoked to deny the existence of any final or determinate meaning of a text, because of their declined status classical languages demonstrate an elevated sense of indeterminacy.

    * Inference

    Inference is the act of drawing a conclusion by deductive reasoning from given facts. The conclusion drawn is also called an inference. The laws of valid inference are studied in the field of logic.

    Human inference (i.e. how humans draw conclusions) is traditionally studied within the field of cognitive psychology; artificial intelligence researchers develop automated inference systems to emulate human inference. Statistical inference allows for inference from quantitative data.

    * In medias res

    In medias res or medias in res (into the middle of things) is a Latin phrase denoting the literary and artistic narrative technique wherein the relation of a story begins either at the mid-point or at the conclusion, rather than at the beginning (cf. ab ovo, ab initio), establishing setting, character, and conflict via flashback and expository conversations relating the pertinent past.

    * Innuendo

    An innuendo is a baseless invention of thoughts or ideas. It can also be a remark or question, typically disparaging (also called insinuation), that works obliquely by allusion. In the latter sense, the intention is often to insult or accuse someone in such a way that one's words, taken literally, are innocent.

    An innuendo is, according to the Advanced Oxford Learner's Dictionary, "an indirect remark about somebody's body, usually suggesting something bad, mean or rude; the use of remarks like this: innuendoes about her private life or The song is full of sexual innuendo." The word is often used to express disapproval.

    In the context of defamation law, an innuendo is the meaning born by the form of words complained of.

    The term sexual innuendo has acquired a specific meaning, namely that of a "risque" double entendre by playing on a possibly sexual interpretation of an otherwise innocent uttering. For example: "We need to go deeper" can be seen as both a request for further inquiry on any given issue, or as a hint at desire for sexual intercourse.

    * Internal conflict

    In literature, internal conflict is the struggle occurring within a character's mind. Often more literary works are focused on internal conflict while more populist literature is more focused on external conflict.

    An example of internal conflict would be the teenage confusion within the mind of Holden Caulfield, the hero in The Catcher in the Rye.

    * Internal rhyme

    In poetry, internal rhyme, or middle rhyme, is rhyme that occurs in a single line of verse.

    Internal rhyme occurs in the middle of a line, as in these lines from Coleridge, "In mist or cloud, on mast or shroud" or "Whiles all the night through fog-smoke white" ("The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"), or in "Ah, distinctly I remember, it was in the bleak December" from "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe. Internal rhyme is also used extensively in modern hip hop music, being pioneered by Rakim in the 1980s.

    * Language interpretation

    Language interpretation is the facilitating of oral or sign-language communication, either simultaneously or consecutively, between users of different languages. The process is described by both the words interpreting and interpretation.

    In professional parlance, interpreting denotes the facilitating of communication from one language form into its equivalent, or approximate equivalent, in another language form; while interpretation denotes the actual product of this work, that is, the message thus rendered into speech, sign language, writing, non-manual signals, or other language form. This important distinction is observed in order to avoid confusion.

    An interpreter is a person who converts a thought or expression in a source language into an expression with a comparable meaning in a target language in "real time". The interpreter's function is to convey every semantic element (tone and register) and every intention and feeling of the message that the source-language speaker is directing to target-language recipients.

    * Intertextuality

    Intertextuality is the shaping of texts' meanings by other texts. It can include an author's borrowing and transformation of a prior text or to a reader's referencing of one text in reading another. The term "intertextuality" has, itself, been borrowed and transformed many times since it was coined by poststructuralist Julia Kristeva in 1966. As critic William Irwin says, the term "has come to have almost as many meanings as users, from those faithful to Kristeva's original vision to those who simply use it as a stylish way of talking about allusion and influence" (Irwin, 228).

    * Irony

    Irony (from the Ancient Greek εἰρωνεία eirōneía, meaning dissimulation or feigned ignorance) is a rhetorical device, literary technique, or situation in which there is a sharp incongruity or discordance that goes beyond the simple and evident intention of words or actions. Ironic statements (verbal irony) often convey a meaning exactly opposite from their literal meaning. In ironic situations (situational irony), actions often have an effect exactly opposite from what is intended. The discordance of verbal irony is created as a means of communication (as in art or rhetoric). Descriptions or depictions of situational and dramatic ironies, whether in fiction or in non-fiction, serve a communicative function of sharpening or highlighting certain discordant features of reality.

    Verbal and situational irony are often used for emphasis in the assertion of a truth. The ironic form of simile, used in sarcasm, and some forms of litotes emphasize one's meaning by the deliberate use of language which states the opposite of the truth — or drastically and obviously understates a factual connection.

    In dramatic irony, the author causes a character to speak or act erroneously, out of ignorance of some portion of the truth. This technique highlights the importance of truth by portraying a person who is strikingly unaware of it.

    In certain kinds of situational or historical irony, a factual truth is highlighted by some person's complete ignorance of it or his belief in the opposite of it. However, this state of affairs does not occur by human design. In some religious contexts, such situations have been seen as the deliberate work of Divine Providence to emphasize truths and to taunt humans for not being aware of them when they could easily have been enlightened (this is similar to human use of irony). Such ironies are often more evident, or more striking, when viewed retrospectively in the light of later developments which make the truth of past situations obvious to all.

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    Published - February 2011






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