Category Archives: Reference Materials

This category includes materials excerpted from a variety of reference books, as well as other material used as reference sources such as learning supports and style sheets.

Light in August

Light in August: A novel (1932) by William Faulkner (1898-1962), following the tragic career of the mixed-race central character, Joe Christmas. Faulkner’s working title had been Dark House, but when he heard his wife comment on the unique quality of the light in August in the American South he was taken with the phrase, and used it as the final title.

Excerpted from: Crofton, Ian, ed. Brewer’s Curious Titles. London: Cassell, 2002.


“Braggadocio (noun): Bumptious bragging or self-inflation; boastful language. Adj. braggadocian.

‘…the fancy lingoes of psychiatry, pedagogy, welfare, and big business—these are the twentieth century equivalents of ‘tall talk,’ sharing in the windiness of the nineteenth-century variety, but unlike it, incredibly dull and vapid. The hyperbole, grotesquery, and braggadocio survive only in American slang.’ Thomas Pyles, Words and Ways of American English

Excerpted from: Grambs, David. The Random House Dictionary for Writers and Readers. New York: Random House, 1990.

Term of Art: Voluntary Associations

“Voluntary Associations: Any public, formally constituted, and non-commercial organization of which membership is optional, within a particular society. Examples include churches, political parties, pressure groups, leisure associations or clubs, neighborhood groups, and (sometimes) trade unions and professional associations. In some theories of democracy, emphasis is placed on the important role such groups can play in fostering participation in the civil society, and thus in maintaining social order.”

Excerpted from: Marshall, Gordon, ed. Oxford Dictionary of Sociology. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Osamu Dazai

Osamu Dazai: (1909-1948) Japanese author. Although chiefly known for his fiction, Dazai also wrote personal essays and memoirs, children’s stories, and historical narratives. His work has attracted a large and dedicated readership, for whom the author’s deeply troubled life, and its brilliant retelling, have struck a responsive chord. In masterpieces such as Shayo (1947; tr The Setting Sun, 1956), and Ningen shikkaku (1948; tr No Longer Human, 1957), Dazai captured the postwar crisis of Japanese cultural identity and the travail of a lost generation of youth. The characteristic Dazai protagonist, in his addictive, womanizing, self-indulgent excess, artfully mirrors the life of the author, who, following numerous failed suicide attempts, eventually succeeded. This final act of self-dramatization is reminiscent of Akutagawa and Mishima.”

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.


“Mahabhrata: One of the two great epic poems of ancient India (the other being the Ramayana), about eight times as long as the Iliad and the Odyssey together. It is a great compendium, added to as late as AD 600, although it had very nearly acquired its present form by the 4th century. Covering an enormous range of topics, the Mahabharata, with its famous interpolation, the Bhagavadgita, has as its central theme the great war between the sons of two royal brothers, in a struggle for succession. The brothers are Dhritarashtra and Pandu, their families being referred to respectively as the Kauravas and the Pandavas. The Pandavas ultimately prevail, the eldest of them, Yudhishtira, gains the throne, and Arjuna, one of his younger brothers and in many ways the hero of the entire epic (especially through the Bhagavadgita), gains the hand of the lovely Draupadi and brings her home as the wife of all five brothers, The epic also contains the Shantiparvan, an important discourse on statecraft, and the famous Savitri episode, the tale of Nala Damayantt. In its totality, it is an encyclopedia of Hindu life, legend, and thought: ‘What is not in the Mahabharata,’ says the Mahabharata, ‘is not to be found anywhere else in the world.'”

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.

Italianate Style

“Italianate Style: An American residential architectural style seen ca. 1840-1865. Fancifully adapted from Italian Renaissance palaces, the American version is typically of two or three stories with a low-pitched hip roof, formal balance of design, wide and bracketed eves, and much interest in such façade details as window caps. Most examples have a cupola or belvedere. The innovation of cast-iron construction in the mid-19th century provided affordable, mass-produced Italianate facades such as those still found on the SoHo district of New York City.”

 Excerpted from: Diamond, David G. The Bulfinch Pocket Dictionary of Art Terms. Boston: Little Brown, 1992.

Term of Art: Taboo

“Taboo: The term taboo derives from the Tongan ‘tabu,’ meaning ‘sacred” or ‘inviolable.’ However, its contemporary use is broader, most generally meaning a social and often sacred prohibition put upon certain things, people, or acts, which render them untouchable or unmentionable. The most famous taboo is the near-universal incest taboo, prohibiting sexual or marriage relations between particular categories of kin. According  to both Sigmund Freud (Totem and Taboo, 1938) and Claude Levi-Strauss (The Elementary Structures of Kinship, 1969), society itself originated with the incest taboo. Other authors have stressed the function performed by taboos in society. Raymond Firth (in Symbols Public and Private, 1973) interpreted taboo as a mechanism of social control. In Purity and Danger (1966), Mary Douglas drew attention to the way in which taboo serves as a social marker, creating and maintaining social classifications.”

Excerpted from: Marshall, Gordon, ed. Oxford Dictionary of Sociology. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.