Tag Archives: glossary

Term of Art: Readability

“A measure of how easy it is to comprehend a text depending on a number of variables. These include vocabulary, sentence complexity, format, writing style, and topic, plus the reading comprehension level, interest, background information, and decoding skills of the reader.

Some methods of predicting the readability of a text are used to gauge whether an individual can successfully read and comprehend a passage. One such method is to read a section of a passage and count the number of words that are unfamiliar to the reader. If, for example, the reader encounters more than three unfamiliar words, the readability may be too difficult.

In educational settings, a text’s readability is often measured in grade level. For example, a history textbook with a readability of 9.3 means an average ninth grade, third month student should be able to read and comprehend it.”

Excerpted from: Turkington, Carol, and Joseph R. Harris, PhD. The Encyclopedia of Learning Disabilities. New York: Facts on File, 2006.

A Learning Support on the Parts of Speech

OK, here is a short glossary of the parts of speech adapted from The Elements of Style.

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Book of Answers: Cento

“What is a ‘cento?’ From the Latin for ‘patchwork,’ a cento is a poem or other literary work composed of lines or passages from other, more famous works, with the meaning altered. Centos were a favorite form in late antiquity. An example is the Cento Vergilianus by Proba Falconia (fourth century), which used bits of Vergil to recount sacred history.”

Excerpted from: Corey, Melinda, and George Ochoa. Literature: The New York Public Library Book of Answers. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993.

Cultural Literacy: Archetype

Here is a Cultural Literacy worksheet on archetype as it is generally conceptualized; it’s nice to see–however brief–the excursus on Carl Jung’s psychology in this passage.

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Allegory (n)

The term derives from Greek allegoria ‘speaking otherwise.’ As a rule, an allegory is a story in verse or prose with a double meaning: a primary or surface meaning; and a secondary or under the surface meaning. It is a story, therefore, that can be read, understood and interpreted at two levels (and in some cases three or four levels). It is thus closely related to the fable and parable (qq.v). The form may be literary or pictorial (or both, as in emblem-books, q.v.). An allegory has no determinate length.

To distinguish more clearly we can take on the old Arab fable of the frog and the scorpion, who met one day on the bank of the River Nile, which they both wanted to cross. The frog offer to ferry the scorpion over on his back provided the scorpion promised not to sting him. The scorpion agreed so long as the frog would promise not to drown him. The mutual promises exchanged, they crossed the river. On the far bank the scorpion stung the frog mortally.

‘Why did you do that?’ croaked the frog, as it lay dying.

‘Why’ replied the scorpion. ‘We’re both Arabs, aren’t we?’

If we substitute for the from a ‘Mr. Goodwill’ or a ‘Mr. Prudence,’ and for the scorpion ‘Mr. Treachery’ or ‘Mr. Two-Face’ and make the river any river and substitute for ‘We’re both Arabs…’ ‘We’re both men…’ we can turn the fable into an allegory. On the other hand, if we turn the frog into a father and the scorpion into a son (boatman and passenger) and we have the son say ‘We’re both sons of God, aren’t we?,’ then we have a parable about the wickedness of human nature and the sin of parricide.

The best known allegory in the English language (if not in the world) is Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress (1678). This is an allegory of Christian Salvation. Christian, the hero, represents Everyman. He flees the terrible City of Destruction and sets off on his pilgrimage. In the course of it he passes through the Slough of Despond, the Interpreter’s House, the House Beautiful, the Valley of Humiliation, the Valley of the Shadow of Death, Vanity Fair, Doubting Castle, the Delectable Mountains, and the country of Beulah, and finally arrives at the Celestial City. On the way he meets various characters, including Mr. Worldly Wiseman, Faithful, Hopeful, Giant Despair, the fiend Apollyon, and many others. In the second part of the book Christian’s wife and children make their pilgrimage accompanied by Mercy. They are helped and escorted by Greatheart, who destroys Giant Despair and other monsters, Eventually, they, too, arrive at the Celestial City.

The whole work is a simplified representation or similitude (q.v.) of the average man’s journey through the trials and tribulations of life on his way to heaven. The figures and places, therefore, have an arbitrary existence invented by the author; and this distinguishes them from symbols (q.v.) which have a real existence.

The origins of allegory are very ancient, and it appears to be a mode of expression (a way of feeling and thinking about things and seeing them) so natural to the human mind that it is universal. Its fundamental origins are religious. Much myth (q.v.), for example is a form of allegory and is an attempt to explain universal facts and forces. The myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, for instance, is a notable example of the allegory of redemption and salvation. In fact, most classical myth is allegorical.

Early examples of the use of allegory in literature are to be found in Plato’s Timaeus, Phaedrus, and Symposium. The myth of the Cave in Plato’s Republic is a particularly well-known example.

In the lost sixth book of De Republica by Cicero (1st century BC) there is a dream narrative (usually known as the Somnium Scioponis) in which Scipio Aemilianus makes a journey through the spheres and from this vantage point sees the shape and structure of the universe. Later (c.AD 400) Macrobius Theodosius compiled a commentary on the Somnium Scioponis which was to have considerable influence in the Middle Ages.

The journey through the underworld and the journey through the spheres are recurrent themes in European literature.

Another example in Classical literature is The Golden Ass (2nd century AD) of Apuleius. The fourth, fifth and sixth books deal with the allegory of Cupid and Psyche. A further key work for an understanding of Greco-Roman allegory is About Gods and the World (4th century AD), by Sallustius. But perhaps the most influential of all is Prudentius’s Psychomachia (4th century AD), which elaborates the idea of the battle within, the conflict between personified vices and virtues for possession of the soul. It is thus a kind of psychological allegory and establishes themes which were used again and again during the middle ages, as we can readily verify by examination of sermon literature, homilies, theological handbooks, exempla and works of moral counsel and edification. Above all, we find the themes in the Morality Plays (q.v.) which in their had a deep influence on the development of comedy (q.v.) and especially comedy of humors (q.v.).

Allegory, largely typological, pervades both the Old and the New Testaments. The events in the Old Testament are “types” or “figures” of events in the New Testament. In The Song of Solomon, for instance, Solomon is a “type” of Christ and the Queen of Sheba represents the Church: later explained Matthew (12:42). The Pashcal Lamb was a “type” of Christ.

Scriptural allegory was mostly based on a vision of the universe. There were two world: the spiritual and the physical. These corresponded because they had been made by God, The visible world was a revelation of the invisible, but the revelation could only be brought about by divine action. Thus, interpretation of this kind of allegory was theological. St Thomas Aquinas analyzed this in some detail in his Summa (13th century)  in terms of fourfold allegory; thus having four levels of (q.v.). This exegetical method can be applied, for instance, to the City of Jerusalem. On the literal level, it is the Holy City; allegorically, it stands for the Church militant; morally or as a trope, it signifies the just soul; and anagogically, it represents the Church triumphant, In his Convivio Dante elaborated this theory in terms of poetry.

Some notable instances of allegory in European literature are Bernardus Sylvestris De Mundi Universitate (12th century); Alan of Lille’s Anticlaudianus (12th century); the Roman de la Rose (13th century) by Guillaume de Lorris, and later continued by Jean de  Meung; Dante’s Divina Commedia (13th century); Langland’s Piers Plowman (14th century); Tasso’s Gerusalemme Liberata (1574); Spenser’s Faerie Queene (1589-1596); Bunyan’s The Life and Death of Mr. Badman (1680) and The Holy War (1682); Dryden’s allegorical satires Absalom and Achitophel (1681), Mac Flecknoe (1684) and The Hind and the Panther (1687); Swift’s Tale of a Tub (1704) and Gulliver’s Travels (1726);  William Blake’s prophetic books (late 18th century); Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun (1860); Samuel Butler’s Erewhon and Erewhon Revisited (1901);  C.S. Lewis’s Pilgrim’s Regress (1933); Virginia Woolf’s Between the Acts (1941); and George Orwell’s Animal Farm (1945). More recent developments of allegory in the novel have been Robert Coover’s The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. (1968), which uses baseball as a kind of metaphor to satirize religious attitudes in America; and Richard Adams’s story of a group of rabbits in Watership Down (1972).

Allegorical drama, since the demise of the Morality Plays, has been rare, Two interesting modern examples are Karel Capek’s The Insect Play (1921) and Edward Albee’s Tiny Alice (1964).”

Excerpted from: Cuddon, J.A. The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. New York: Penguin, 1992.

Maxim (n)

“Maxim (noun): A summary universal truth, fundamental principle, or rule of conduct; proverbial or sententious saying.

‘I guess I was seven when I first heard the maxim that only people with a small vocabulary use ‘dirty’ words. I am forty-seven and have just received a communication from a reader delivering this maxim as though he invented it. William F. Buckley, Jr., Execution Eve'”

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

The Participle

“In grammatical description, the term for two non-finite VERB forms, the –ing participle (known traditionally as the present participle) and the –ed participle (known traditionally as the past participle or the passive participle).

The -ing (present) participle: This verb form ends with the inflection –ing and is used in combination with a form of the auxiliary form be for the progressive continuous, as in: am driving, was playing, will be going, has been talking. It is also used as the verb in an –ing participle clause as in: Marvin and Jane liked playing with their grandchildren; Despite his protestations, Stanley was not averse to having a birthday party; John and Linda were happy to see Daniel behaving himself during the meal; After giving her lecture, Venetia had lunch with me at the College; The young man driving me to the shopping center was Jeremy.

 The –ed (past) participle: This verb form ends with the inflection spelled –ed, -d, or –t for all regular verbs and many irregular verbs, but many irregular verbs form it with an –en or –n inflection (as in stolen, known) or with a change in the middle vowel (as in sung, in which it is often identical with the simple past form, as with sat), or a combination of the two methods (as with written). The –ed participle combines with a form of the auxiliary form have for the perfect: has cared, had said, may have walked. It combines with a form of the auxiliary be for the passive: is paid, was told, are being auctioned, could not have seen. It is also used as the verb in an –ed participle clause. I had my study redecorated; Asked for his opinion, Tom was non-committal; Among the objects recovered from the ship was a chair stamped with the captain’s initials.

Attributive Uses: Both participles may be used in the attributive position like an adjective, but only if the participle indicates some sort of permanent characteristic: running water, the missing link, a broken heart, lost property. The phrase The Laughing Cavalier is possible as the name of a picture (the man is laughing all the time), but Who is that laughing man? would be odd in most contexts. The –ed participle usually has a passive meaning (listed buildings, burnt almonds, written instructions), but it may also be used actively with some intransitive verbs (an escaped prisoner). Some participles that are not permanent enough to be used attributively alone are acceptable when modified (their long-awaited visit).

Participles and Word Formation: There is a range of usage between participles that which remain fully verbal (running in swiftly running water) and those that in some contexts are completely adjectival (interesting in a very interesting idea; disappointed in a very disappointed man). There are also some participle-like formations for which there are no corresponding verbs: an unexplained discrepancy, an unconvincing narrative, for which there are no conventional verbs *to unexplain and *to unconvince; a bearded man; a forested hillside; a blue-eyed man; a one-armed bandit are common constructions which are aspects of word-formation rather than grammar.

Participial Clauses: Traditionally known as participial phrases, such clauses function in various ways: (1) they can follow noun phrases (like abbreviated relative clauses): ‘The train (which is) now standing at Platform 5 is…,’ ‘The food (that was) served on the plane was….'(2) They can function rather like finite subordinate clauses, with or without a conjunction, and with various meanings, often of time (‘While running for the train, he lost his wallet’) reason (‘Jostled by the crowd, he did not really see what happened’), or result (‘The train started suddenly, throwing an elderly passenger to the floor’). (3)  They can follow an object verb of the senses: ‘We could all hear him singing in the bath;’ ‘He didn’t see that soap lying on the floor.’ Occasionally this multiplicity of functions may lead to ambiguity: ‘I witnessed a sergeant push his way past supporters drinking openly in the aisle’ (letter to Daily Telegraph, 27 May 1988).

The Dangling Participle: When a participial clause contains its own subject it is called an ABSOLUTE CLAUSE, as in ‘Weather permitting, we’ll go sailing this weekend.’ When, as is more usual, such a clause does not contain a subject, it normally refers grammatically to the subject of the main clause: in ‘I made my way, depressed, to the ticket office,’ it is clear who was depressed, and in ‘The woman on the chair beside was tipped onto my lap, complaining all the time’ it is clear who was complaining (both from Colin Thubron, Behind the Wall, 1987). Failure to maintain such a clear relationship leads to the so-called dangling, hanging, misrelated, or unattached participle, as in: ‘Her party was the first to discover that there were no sleepers left. The entire section had been booked. Faced with a forty-four-hour journey, this was far from good news’ (Patrick Marnham, So Far from God, 1985).

With participles that attach themselves to the wrong noun, the effect may be momentarily confusing even if the writer’s meaning is clear: ‘[Sir Mortimer Wheeler’s] celebrity on television was so great that, boarding an empty bus late one rainy night when in a white tie with rows of medals, a conductress arranged with the driver to take him to the door of Wheeler’s small house off Haymarket’ (Anthony Powell, To Keep the Ball Rolling, 1982). Here, the meaning may be fairly obvious, but on first reading it is the conductress who boards the bus. In the following example, it is the lines that apparently provided the clues: ‘By taking a great many observations and analyzing them statistically, the lines gave crucial clues about the intervening space between us and the quasars, and therefore of the universe’s early history’ (in “Bonfire of the Cosmos,” Observer, 16 April, 1989). Sometimes, the pictures presented are simply absurd: ‘After traveling by road all day…, the 123-room Sahara is an air-conditioned all-mod-cons watering hole’ (Daily Telegraph, 22 September 1984); ‘There, coasting comfortably down the attractive green coastline, the town of Malacca with its prominent hill was very evident’ (Tim Severin, The Sinbad Voyage, 1982).

Participial Prepositions and Conjunctions: Apparent exceptions to the rule that participles should be properly attached are a number of participial forms that now function as prepositions, such as following in ‘There was a tremendous cleaning up to do following the storm,’ and including in ‘We all enjoyed ourselves, including the dog;’ and participle forms that are now conjunctions, such as providing (that) and provided (that) in ‘Everything will be all right providing/provided you don’t panic,’ and given in ‘Given the difficulties, I’d say it was a success.’”

Excerpted from: McArthur, Tom. The Oxford Concise Companion to the English Language. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.