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Literary Terms Glossary
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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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* Ubi sunt

Ubi sunt (literally "where are...") is a phrase taken from the Latin Ubi sunt qui ante nos fuerunt?, meaning "Where are those who were before us?". Ubi nunc...? ("Where now?") is a common variant.

Sometimes thought to indicate nostalgia, the ubi sunt motif is actually a meditation on mortality and life's transience.

Ubi sunt is a phrase that begins several Latin medieval poems and occurs, for example, in the second stanza of the song "De Brevitate Vitae" (also known as "Gaudeamus Igitur"). The theme was the common property of medieval Latin poets: Cicero may not have been available, but Boethius' line was known: Ubi nunc fidelis ossa Fabricii manent?

* Underground art

Underground art, as with underground music and underground film, is a term that seeks to describe art forms that are aloof to the mainstream art world, are illegal, taboo, unconventional, rebellious or revolutionary. Underground art usually challenges or rejects the cultural status quo in some way, and may involve extreme doses of originality and experimentation in terms of its content, form or context.

Practitioners of underground art tend to distance themselves with the standards and traditions of mainstream culture, yet mainstream institutions, the mass media and corporations frequently try to associate themselves with so-called cutting edge and underground movements as a way of appealing to young and frequently jaded audiences. Art that is said to be underground may be made mostly in secret, have other artists as its primary audience, or maintain a strong cult following. Some art forms that may be considered underground include graffiti and street art, punk related art and design, protest art, art coming out of the international squat and intentional communities movements and some forms of performance art.

The term underground art can be considered paradoxical in the sense that as soon as specific examples of such art are defined or publicized, they cease to be truly underground anymore.

* Underground press

The phrase underground press is most often used to refer to the independently published and distributed underground papers associated with the counterculture of the late 1960s and early 1970s in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and other western nations. It also refers to illegal publications under oppressive governments, for example, the samizdat and bibuĊ‚a in the Soviet Union and Poland respectively.

* Understatement

Understatement is a form of speech which contains an expression of less strength than what would be expected. This is not to be confused with euphemism, where a polite phrase is used in place of a harsher or more offensive expression.

Understatement is a staple of humor in English-speaking cultures, especially in British humor. For example, in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, a suburban dinner party is invaded by Death, who wears a long black cloak and carries a scythe. He is the Grim Reaper; the party is over; the guests must all go with him. "Well," says one party guest, "that's cast rather a gloom over the evening, hasn't it?" In another scene, an Army officer has just lost his leg. When asked how he feels, he looks down at his bloody stump and responds, "Stings a bit."

* Unities (Unity) - Classical unities

The classical unities, Aristotelian unities or three unities are rules for drama derived from a passage in Aristotle's Poetics. In their neoclassical form they are as follows:

1. The unity of action: a play should have one main action that it follows, with no or few subplots.
2. The unity of place: a play should cover a single physical space and should not attempt to compress geography, nor should the stage represent more than one place.
3. The unity of time: the action in a play should take place over no more than 24 hours.

* Universality

Universality may refer to:

  • Universality in physical science (background independence)
  • Universality (dynamical systems)
  • Universality (philosophy), meaning present in all places and all times
  • Universality (theory of computation)
  • Universality (medieval history)

* University Wits

University Wits were a group of late 16th century English playwrights who were educated at the universities (Oxford or Cambridge) and who became playwrights and popular secular writers. Prominent members of this group were Christopher Marlowe, Robert Greene, and Thomas Nashe from Cambridge, and John Lyly, Thomas Lodge, George Peele from Oxford.

They were looked upon as the literary elite of the day and often ridiculed other playwrights such as Thomas Kyd and Shakespeare who did not have a university education. Greene calls Shakespeare an "upstart crow" in his pamphlet Greene's Groats-Worth of Wit.

* Unobtainium

In engineering, fiction, and thought experiments, unobtainium (also spelled unobtanium) is any extremely rare, costly, or impossible material, or (less commonly) device needed to fulfill a given design for a given application. The properties of any particular unobtainium depend on the intended use. For example, a pulley made of unobtainium might be massless and frictionless; however, if used in a nuclear rocket unobtainium would be light, strong at high temperatures, and resistant to radiation damage. The concept of unobtainium is often applied flippantly or humorously.

The word unobtainium is derived from unobtainable + -ium (the suffix for a number of metal elements). It pre-dates the similar-sounding IUPAC systematic element names, such as Ununoctium.

* Utopia

Utopia is an ideal community or society possessing a perfect socio-politico-legal system. The word was imported from Greek, by Sir Thomas More for his 1516 book Utopia, describing a fictional island in the Atlantic Ocean. The term has been used to describe both intentional communities that attempted to create an ideal society, and fictional societies portrayed in literature. It has spawned other concepts, most prominently dystopia. The word comes from the Greek: οὐ, "not", and τόπος, "place". The English homophone Eutopia, derived from the Greek εὖ, "good" or "well", and τόπος, "place", signifies a double meaning.

* Utopian and dystopian fiction

The utopia and its offshoot, the dystopia, are genres of literature that explore social and political structures. Utopian fiction is the creation of an ideal world, or utopia, as the setting for a novel. Dystopian fiction is the opposite: creation of a nightmare world, or dystopia. Many novels combine both, often as a metaphor for the different directions humanity can take in its choices, ending up with one of two possible futures. Both utopias and dystopias are commonly found in science fiction and other speculative fiction genres, and arguably are by definition a type of speculative fiction.

More than 400 utopian works were published prior to the year 1900 in the English language alone, with more than a thousand others during the twentieth century.

* Unreliable narrator

An unreliable narrator is a narrator, whether in literature, film, or theatre, whose credibility has been seriously compromised. The term was coined in 1961 by Wayne C. Booth in The Rhetoric of Fiction. This narrative mode is one that can be developed by an author for a number of reasons, usually to deceive the reader or audience. Unreliable narrators are usually first-person narrators, but third-person narrators can also be unreliable.

The nature of the narrator is sometimes immediately clear. For instance, a story may open with the narrator making a plainly false or delusional claim or admitting to being severely mentally ill, or the story itself may have a frame in which the narrator appears as a character, with clues to his unreliability. A more dramatic use of the device delays the revelation until near the story's end. This twist ending forces the reader to reconsider their point of view and experience of the story. In some cases the narrator's unreliability is never fully revealed but only hinted at, leaving the reader to wonder how much the narrator should be trusted and how the story should be interpreted.

Historical novels, speculative fiction, and clearly delineated dream sequences are generally not considered instances of unreliable narration, even though they describe events that did not or could not happen.

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Published - February 2011

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