When you first enter the word of literature and literary academia, the vocabulary can be unnerving. These are words you’ve probably never seen before; you hardly feel comfortable reading them to yourself, much less out-loud. Everyone has met with challenges like these at least once, so try not to let your intimidation keep you from meeting these challenges head-on. Here are 13 words every writer should know.
(si-ZHUR-ah) n. a strong pause in a line of verse
Poetry buffs will be the most likely to recognize “caesura.” The word comes from Greek and Latin poetry, where it describes a break between words in a metrical foot. But it’s also present in Germanic language verses, such as in the opening lines of Beowulf:
Hwæt! We Gardena || in gear-dagum,
þeodcyninga, || þrym gefrunon,
hu ða æþelingas || ellen fremedon.
Caesurae aren’t always marked with the two vertical lines shown above. Depending on your translation of Beowulf, you may see these lines written with a visible space, as:
Listen! We — of the Spear-Danes in the days of yore,
of those clan-kings — heard of their glory,
how those nobles performed courageous deeds.
Other translations omit visible representations of the caesurae altogether.
(kun-SEN-nit-tee) n. harmony in literary style, particularly in reference to the relationships between individual parts and the whole work
I know languages and literature are humanities courses, but honestly, this term is pretty subjective. I’d like to think that all great books and poems are concinnities, so maybe it’s no small wonder this word is pretty rare nowadays. It does seem to be becoming more popular in the design and music worlds, however.
(day-NOO-mah) n. the final part of a narrative, in which all conflicts are resolved
This may be the only word on this list that you can actually use easily in your day-to-day life. Try it out at your next movie night or book club meeting.
(ek-seh-JEE-sis) n. a critical explanation of a text’s significance or meaning, particularly with regard to scripture
Enjoy this one, but be careful. You can probably get away with using it to describe an exposition of Chaucer or Marlowe, but talking about “the exegesis of Gone Girl” is likely to get you laughed out of the building.
(ek-seh-JEET) n. one who provides or performs exegesis, or v. the creation or performance of exegesis
Pretty self-explanatory, but the dual function can lead to some amusing sentence structures: “The exegete exegeted the passage.” As with exegesis, be careful.
(ek-SPAY-shee-ayt) v. to speak or write at length or in detail
For those scholars concerned with the lack of words to describe what other writers have “said,” “discussed,” “explored,” and “investigated,” I give you expatiate. Use it to describe verbose digressions.
(high-PER-buh-lee) n. exaggerated statements or claims meant to be taken as such
Oh. My. God. This word is the absolute, ultimate, most important word ever for anyone to know. That’s right: not just writers. Everyone who’s anyone knows this word.
(EYE-dill) n. a utopic scene
The fact that its adjective cousin, idyllic, is more widely known doesn’t mean idyll isn’t one of the (many) words every writer should know. Save it for special occasions; it’s a 50-cent word.
(long-GYUHR) n. a tedious passage
This one is perfect for aspiring critics. Use it to describe those long-winded, boring, and pointless expatiations in a text.
(pah-REG-men-ahn) n. the juxtaposition of words with a common derivation
It’s doubtful you’ll ever use paregmenon or the next two entries on this list in your daily life, but it pays to know how to recognize these rhetorical devices. Here are some examples of paregmenon:
- Sense & Sensibility
- the just and the justified
- the wisdom of the wise
- the hunter and the hunted
(sin-EK-deh-kee) n. a rhetorical device in which a part is named to represent the whole, or vice versa
I had to give a presentation on this one for my undergrad. It wasn’t as fun as it sounds. Here are some examples of synecdoche:
- We’re putting boots on the ground.
- All hands on deck!
- Did you drink that bottle?
- Miami’s in the playoffs.
(MEE-sis) n. in linguistics, a phenomenon in which a word or phrase is split apart by other words or phrases
Every time I read this word, I think of Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory saying “mimesis.” To my knowledge, the two words aren’t connected. Here are some examples of tmesis:
- What did he ever do to you?
- Turn that thing off.
- Put your pants on.
(TYPE-oh-cratt) n. one who rules by controlling the press
This neologism is pretty difficult to find by googling. Its cousin, typocracy, could be applied to any number of existing governments with state-run media.
What are some more words every writer should know?