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A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Abstract and concrete are names of two kinds of language.  Abstract words refer to ideas, conditions, and  qualities we cannot directly perceive: truth, love, courage, evil, wealth, poverty, reactionary.   Concrete words indicate things we can know with our senses:  tree, chair, bird, pen, motorcycle, perfume, thunderclap, cheeseburger.  The use of concrete words lends vigor and clarity to writing, for such words help a reader to picture things.  See IMAGE

Allegory is a story or fable that has a clear secondary meaning, beneath its literal sense.  Orwell's Animal Farm, for example, is assumed to have an allegorical sense.

Allusion  refers a reader to any person, place, thing in fact, fiction, or legend that the writer believes is common knowledge.  An allusion (a single reference) may point to a famous event, a familiar saying, a noted personality, a well-known story or song. “The game was Coach Johnson’s Waterloo” informs the reader that, like Napoleon meeting defeat in a celebrated battle, the coach led a confrontation resulting in his downfall and that of his team.  If the writer is also showing Johnson’s character, the allusion might further tell us that the coach is a man of Napoleonic ambition and pride.  To observe “He is our town’s J.R. Ewing” concisely says that a prominent citizen is like the lead character in Dallas: unscrupulous, deceptive, merciless, rich, eager to become rich—and perhaps superficially charming and promiscuous as well.  To make an effective allusion, you have to be aware of your audience.  If your readers do not recognize the allusion, it will only confuse.  Not everyone, for example, would understand you if you alluded to a neighbor, to a seventeenth-century Russian harpsichordist, or to a little known stock car driver.

Ambiguity refers to a word or an expression having two ormore possible meanings. Ambiguity is a characteristic of some of the best poetry, but it is not desired trait of expository writing, which should clearly state what the writer means.

Analogy is a form of exposition that uses an extended comparison based on the like features of two unlike things: one familiar or easily understood, the other unfamiliar, abstract, or complicated.  Analogy (from the Greek analogos, meaning “proportionate,” “resembling”) normally compares substantially different kinds of things and reports several points of resemblance.   A comparison of one city with another (“New York City is like Chicago in several ways”) does not involve an analogy because the two things are not substantially different.  And a comparison giving only one resemblance is usually not considered an analogy (“Some people, like olives, are an acquired taste”).  But if we claim that a state is like a human body, and we find in the state equivalents of the brain, heart, limbs, we are offering an analogy. Similarly, one might construct an analogy between feeding the body with food and supplying the mind with ideas:  the diet must be balanced, taken at approximately regular intervals, in proper amounts, and digested.  An analogy may be useful in explaining the unfamiliar by comparing it to the familiar (The heart is like a pump . . .”), but of course the things compared are different, and the points of resemblance can go only so far.  For this reason, analogies cannot prove anything, though they are sometimes offered as proof. 

Analysis is a form of expository writing in which the writer separates a subject into its elements or parts and examines the relation of the parts to the whole.

Anecdote is the name of a brief narrative, or retelling of a story or event.  Anecdotes have many uses:  as essay openers or closers, as examples, as sheer entertainment.

Appeals are recourses writers draw on to connect with and persuade readers.

A rational appeal asks readers to use their intellects and their  powers of reasoning.  It relies on established conventions of  logic and evidence.

An emotional appeal asks readers to respond out of their beliefs, values, or feelings.  It inspires, affirms, frightens, angers.

An ethical appeal asks readers to look favorably on the             writer.  It stresses the writer’s intelligence, competence, fairness, morality, and other qualities desirable in a trustworthy debater or teacher.

Argument is a principle mode of discourse in which some statements are offered as reasons for other statements.  Argument, then, like emotional appeal and wit, is a form of persuasion, but argument seeks to persuade by appealing to reason.

Audience, for a writer, means readers.  Having in mind a particular audience helps the writer in choosing strategies. Imagine, for instance, that you are writing two reviews of the French movie Jean de Florette: one for the students who read the campus newspaper, the other for amateur and professional filmmakers who read  Millimeter.  For the first audience, you might write about the actors, the plot, and especially dramatic scenes. You might judge the picture and urge your readers to see it—or avoid it.  Writing for Millimeter, you might discuss special effects, shooting techniques, problems in editing and in mixing picture and sound. In this review, you might use more specialized and technical terms.  Obviously, an awareness of the interests and knowledge of your readers, in each case, would help you decide how to write.  If you told readers of the campus paper too much about filming techniques, you would lose most of them.  If you told Millimeter’s readers the plot of the film in detail and how you liked its opening scene, probably you would put them to sleep.

You can increase your awareness of your audience by asking yourself a few questions before you begin to write.  Who are to be your readers?  What is their age level?  Background?   Education?  Where do they live?  What are their beliefs and attitudes?  What interests them?  What, if anything, sets them apart from most people?  How familiar are they with your subject?  Knowing your audience can help you write so that your readers will not only understand you better, but more deeply care about what you say.

Balance in a sentence is a characteristic symmetry between phrases, clauses, and other grammatical parts.  For example, the sentence “I love Jamaica for its weather, its lovely scenery, and its people” is balanced.  This sentence—“I love Jamaica for its weather, its lovely scenery, and because its people are friendly”—is not.  See PARALLELISM.

Causal analysis is a form of exposition in which a writer analyzes reasons for an action, event, or decision, or analyzes its consequences.  The writer’s chief aim is to analyze cause or predict effect.

Cliché (French) is a name for any worn out, trite expression that a writer employs thoughtlessly.  Although at one time the expression may have been colorful, from heavy use it has lost its luster.  It is now “old as the hills.”  In conversation, most of us sometimes use clichés, but in writing they “stick out like sore thumbs.”  Alert writers, when they revise, replace a cliché with a fresh, concrete expression.  Writers who have trouble recognizing clichés generally need to read more widely.  Their problem is that, so many expressions being new to them, they do not know which ones are full of moths.

Coherence is the clear connection of the parts in a piece of effective writing.  A coherent essay is one whose parts—sentences, paragraphs, pages—are logically fused into a single whole.  This quality exists when the reader can easily follow the flow of ideas between sentences, paragraphs, and larger divisions, and can see how they relate successively to one another. In making your essay coherent, you may find certain devices useful.  TRANSITIONS, for instance, can bridge ideas.  Reminders of points you have stated earlier are helpful to a reader who may have forgotten them—as readers do sometimes, particularly if your essay is long.  However, a coherent essay is not one merely pasted together with transitions and reminders.  It derives its coherence from the clear relationship between its thesis (or central idea) and all its parts.

Colloquial expressions are those which occur primarily in speech and informal writing that seeks a  relaxed  conversational tone. “My favorite chow is a burger and a shake” or “This math exam has me wired” may be acceptable in talking to a roommate, in corresponding with a friend, or in writing a humorous essay for general readers.  Such choices of words, however, would be out of place in formal writing—in, say, a laboratory report or a letter to your senator.  Contractions (let’s, don’t, we’ll) and abbreviated words (photo, sales, rep, TV) are the shorthand of spoken language.  Good writers use such expressions with an awareness that they produce an effect of casualness

Comparison and contrast, two writing strategies, are usually found together. Strictly speaking, to compare is to examine in order to show similarities.  (It comes from the Latin comparare, “to pair,” “to match.”)  To contrast is to set into opposition in order to show differences.  (It comes from the Latin contra, “against,” and stare, “to stand.”)  But in ordinary usage a comparison may include not only similarities but also differences. (For a particular kind of comparison, emphasizing similarities, see ANALOGY.)  In comparing and contrasting, a writer usually means not simply to list similarities or differences but to reveal something clearly, by calling attention either to its resemblances to something we might not think it resembles, or to its differences from something we might think it does resemble.

Conclusions are those sentences or paragraphs that bring an essay to a satisfying and logical end.  They are purposefully crafted to give a sense of unity and completeness to the whole essay.  The best conclusions evolve naturally out of what has gone before and convince the reader that the essay is indeed at an end, not that the writer has run out of steam.

Conclusions vary in type and length depending on the nature and scope of the essay.  A long research paper may require several paragraphs of summary to review and emphasize the main points.  A short essay, however, may benefit from a few brief closing sentences.

In concluding an essay, beware of diminishing the impact of your writing by finishing on a weak note.  Don’t apologize for what you have written, or cram in a final detail that would have been better placed elsewhere.

Although there are no set formulas for closing, the following list presents several options:

1.      Restate the thesis of your essay, and perhaps your main points.

2.      Mention the broader implications or significance of our topic.

3.      Give a final example that pulls all the parts of your discussion together.

4.      Offer a prediction.

5.      End with the most important point as the culmination of your essay’s development.

6.      Suggest how the reader can apply the information you have just imparted.

7.      End with a bit of drama or flourish.  Tell an ANECDOTE, offer an appropriate quotation, ask a question, make a final insightful remark.  Keep in mind, however, that an ending shouldn’t sound false and gimmicky. It truly has to conclude.

Connotations and denotation are names for the two types of meanings most words have.  Denotation is the explicit, literal, dictionary definition of a word.  Connotation refers to the implied meaning, resonant with associations, of a word.   The denotation of blood is “the fluid that circulates in the vascular system.”  The word’s connotations range from life force to gore to family bond.  A doctor might use the word blood for its denotation, and a mystery writer might rely on the rich connotations of the word to heighten a scene.

Because people have different experiences, they bring to the same word different associations.  A conservative Republican’s emotional response to the word welfare is not likely to be the same as a liberal Democrat’s.  And referring to your senator as a diplomat evokes a different response, from the senator and from others, than would baby-kisser, or even politician.  The effective use of words involves knowing both what they mean literally and what they are likely to suggest.

Convention is an agreed-on usage.  Beginning each sentence with a capital letter is a convention.

Critical thinking, one of the most important skills for college work and beyond, seeks the meaning beneath the surface of a statement, poem, editorial, picture, advertisement, or other “text.”  Using analysis, the critical thinker separates this text into its elements in order to see meanings, relations, and assumptions that might otherwise remain buried. 

Deduction is the process of reasoning from premises to a logical conclusion.  Here is the classic example: “All men are mortal” (the major premise); “Socrates is a man” (the minor premise); “therefore Socrates is mortal ( the conclusion).  Such an argument, which takes two truths and joins them to produce a third truth, is called a syllogism (from Greek for “a joining together”).  Deduction (from the Latin for “lead down from”) moves from a general statement to a specific application; it is, therefore, the opposite of induction, which moves from specific instances to a general conclusion.

Notice that if a premise of a syllogism is not true, one can reason logically and still come to a false conclusion.  Example:  “All teachers are members of a union”; “Jones is a teacher”; therefore Jones is a member of a union.”  Although the process of reasoning is correct here, the major premise is false—all teachers are not members of a union—and so the conclusion is worthless.  Jones may or may not be a member of the union.

Definition may refer to a statement of the literal and specific meanings of a word (short definition), or to a form of expository writing (extended definition).  In the latter, the writer usually explains the nature of a word, a thing, a concept, or a phenomenon; in doing so the writer may employ narration, description, or any of the expository methods.

Denotation is the specific and literal meaning of a word, as found in the dictionary.  The opposite of connotation.

Description is a mode of writing that conveys the evidence of the senses:  sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell.  A descriptive essay or passage in an essay, uses concrete words (words that denote observable qualities such as hair and stickiness) and it uses specific language ( words such as basketball rather than game, and steak, potatoes, and salad rather than hearty meal).

Diction is a choice of words.  Every written or spoken statement contains diction of some kind. Diction depends on topic, purpose, and occasion. To describe certain aspects of diction, the following terms may be useful:

Standard English:  words and grammatical forms that native speakers of the language use in formal writing.

Nonstandard English:  words and grammatical forms such as theirselves and ain’t that occur mainly in the speech of people from a particular area or social background.

Slang:  certain words in highly informal speech or writing, or in the speech of a particular group.  For example, blow off, dis, dweeb.

Colloquial expressions:  words and phrases from conversation. 

Regional terms:  words heard in a certain locality, such as spritzing for “raining” in Pennsylvania Dutch country.

Dialect:  a variety of English based on differences in geography, education, or social background.  Dialect is usually spoken, but may be written. 

Technical terms:  words and phrases that form the vocabulary of a particular discipline (monocotyledon from botany), occupation (drawplate from die making), or avocation (interval training from running.  See also JARGON.

Archaisms:  old-fashioned expressions, once common but now used to suggest an earlier style, such as ere, yon, and forsooth. (Actually, yon is still current in the expression hither and yon; but if you say “Behold yon glass of beer!” it is an archaism).

Obsolete diction:  words that have passed out of use (such as the verb werien, “to protect or defend,” and the noun isetnesses, “agreements”).  Obsolete may also refer to certain meanings of words no longer current ( fond for foolish, clipping for hugging or embracing).

Pretentious diction:  use of words more numerous and elaborate than necessary, such as institution of higher learning for college, and partake of solid nourishment for eat.

Division and classification is a rhetorical mode for developing an essay whose chief aim is to identify the parts of a whole.  A division and classification essay is often an exercise in logical thinking.  See ANALYSIS.

Dominant impression is the central theme around which a descriptive passage is organized.  For example, a description of an airport lobby would most likely use the dominant impression of rush and bustle, which it would support with specific detail, even though the lobby may contain pockets of peace and tranquility.  Likewise, a description of Cyrano de Bergerac—the famous dramatic lover whose nose was horrendously long—would focus on his nose rather than on an inconspicuous part of his face.

Emphasis is stress or special importance given to a certain point or element to make it stand out.  A skillful writer draws attention to what is most important in a sentence, paragraph, or essay by controlling emphasis in any of the following ways:

Proportion:  Important ideas are given greater coverage than minor points.

Position:  The beginnings and ends of sentences, paragraphs, and larger divisions are the strongest positions.  Placing key ideas in these spots helps draw attention to their importance.  The end is the stronger position, for what stands last stands out.  A sentence in which less important details precede the main point is called a periodic sentence:  “Having disguised himself as a guard and walked through the courtyard to the side gate, the prisoner made his escape.”  A sentence in which the main point precedes less important details is a loose sentence:  “Autumn is orange: gourds in baskets at roadside stands, the harvest moon hanging like a pumpkin, and oak and beech leaves flashing like goldfish.

Repetition:  Careful repetition of key words or phrases can give them greater importance.  (Careless repetition, however, can cause boredom.)

Mechanical devices:  Italics (underlining), capital letters, and exclamation points can make words or sentences stand out.  Writers sometimes fall back on these devices, however, after failing to show significance by other means.  Italics and exclamation points can be useful in reporting speech, but excessive use sounds exaggerated or bombastic.

Essay refers to a short nonfiction composition on one central theme or subject in which the writer may offer personal views.  Essays are sometimes classified as either formal or informal.  In  general, a formal essay is one whose diction is that of the written language (not colloquial speech), serious in tone, and usually focused on a subject the writer believes is important.  An informal essay, in contrast, is more likely to admit colloquial expressions; the writer’s tone tends to be lighter, perhaps humorous, and the subject is likely to be personal, sometimes even trivial.

Euphemism is the use of inoffensive language in place of language that readers or listeners may find hurtful, distasteful, frightening, or otherwise objectionable.  Writers sometimes use euphemism out of consideration for reader’s feelings, but just as often they use it to deceive readers or shirk responsibility.

Evaluation is judging merits.  In evaluating a work of writing, you suspend personal preference and judge its success in fulfilling the writer’s apparent purpose.  For instance, if an essay tells how to tune up a car and you have no interest in engines, you nevertheless decide how clearly and effectively the writer explains the process to you.

Evidence is the factual basis for an argument or an explanation.  In a courtroom, an attorney’s case is only as good as the evidence marshaled to support it.  In an essay, a writer’s opinions and generalizations also must rest upon evidence.  The common forms of evidence are facts, verifiable statements; statistics, facts stated numerically; examples, specific instances of a generalization; reported experience, usually eyewitness accounts; and expert testimony, the opinions of people considered very skilled or knowledgeable in the field.  In critical writing, especially writing about literature, the evidence usually consists of quotations from the work being discussed.

Example, also called exemplification or illustration, is a form of exposition in which the writer provides instances of a general idea.

Explication is an attempt to reveal the meaning by calling attention to implications, such as the connotations of words and the tone conveyed by the brevity or length of a sentence.  Unlike a paraphrase, which is a rewording or rephrasing in order to set forth the gist of the meaning, an explication is a commentary that makes explicit what is implicit.  If we paraphrased the beginning of the Gettysburg Address, we might turn “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth” into “Eighty-seven years ago our ancestors established,” or some such statement.  In an explication, however, we would mention that four score evokes the language of the Bible, and that the biblical echo helps to establish the solemnity and holiness of the occasion.  In an explication we would mention that fathers initiates a chain of images of birth, continued in conceived in liberty, any nation conceived, and a new birth.

Exposition is the mode of prose writing that explains a subject.  Its function is to inform, to instruct, or to set forth  ideas.  Exposition may call various methods to its service: example, comparison and contrast, process analysis, and so on.  Expository writing exposes information:  the major trade routes in the Middle East, how to make a dulcimer, why the United States consumes more energy than it needs.  Most college writing is exposition.

Fallacies or Logical Fallacies in arguments are errors in reasoning that lead to wrong conclusion.  From the time when you start thinking about your proposition or claim and planning your paper, you’ll need to watch out for them.  Recognize the most common logical fallacies and guard against them when you write:

Ad hominem argument is an argument that attacks the integrity or character of an opponent rather that the merits of the issue.  (Ad hominem is Latin for “to the man”) It is also informally known as “mudslinging.”

Ad populem argument is a fallacious argument that appeals to the passions and prejudices of a group rather than to its reason.  An appeal, for instance, to support an issue because it’s “the American Way,” is an ad populem argument.

Begging the question is taking for granted from the start what you set out to demonstrate.  When you reason in a logical way, you state that because something is true, then, as a result, some other truth follows. When you beg the question, however, you repeat that what is true is true.  If you argue, for instance, that dogs are a menace to people because they are dangerous, you don’t prove a thing., since the idea that dogs are dangerous is already assumed in the statement that they are a menace.  Beggars of questions often just repeat what they already believe, only in different words.  This fallacy sometimes takes the form of arguing in a circle, or demonstrating a premise by a conclusion and a conclusion by a premise:  “I am in college because that is the right thing to do.  Going to college is the right thing to do because it is expected of me.”

Either or reasoning assumes that a reality may be divided into only two parts or extremes; either/or reasoning assumes that a given problem has only one of two possible solutions.  “What do we do about the sheiks who keep jacking up oil prices?  Either we kowtow to ‘em, or we bomb ‘em off the face of the earth, right?” Obviously either/or reasoning is a kind of extreme oversimplification.

False analogy is the claim of persuasive likeness when no significant likeness exists.  Analogies cannot serve as evidence in a rational argument because the differences always outweigh the similarities; but analogies can reinforce such arguments if the subjects are indeed similar in some ways.

Non sequitur (from the Latin, “it does not follow) is stating a conclusion that doesn’t follow from the first premise or premises.  “I’ve lived in this town a long time—why, my grandfather was the first mayor—so I’m against putting fluoride in the drinking water.”

Oversimplification refers to supplying neat and easy explanations for large and complicated phenomena.  “No wonder drug abuse is out of control.  Look at how the courts have hobbled police officers.”  Oversimplified solutions are also popular:  “All these teenage kids that get in trouble with the law—why, they ought to ship ‘em over to China.  That would straighten ‘em out!”

Post hoc, ergo propter hoc (from the Latin, “after this, therefore because of this”) assumes that because A follows B, A was caused by B.  “Ever since the city suspended height restrictions on skyscrapers, the city budget has been balanced.”

Red herring is a side issue introduced into an argument in order to distract from the main argument.

Straw man is an opposing point of view set up so that it can easily be defeated.  This is a common strategy in debate.

Figures of speech occur whenever a writer, for the sake of emphasis or vividness, departs from the literal meanings (or denotations) of words.  To say “She’s a jewel” doesn’t mean that the subject of praise is literally a kind of shining stone; the statement makes sense because its connotations come to mind: rare, priceless, worth cherishing.  Some figures of speech involve comparisons of two objects apparently unlike.  A simile (from the Latin, “likeness”) states the comparison directly, usually connecting the two things using like, as, or than; “The moon is like a snowball,” “He’s lazy as a cat full of cream,” “My feet are flatter than flyswatters.”  A metaphor (from the Greek, “transfer”) declares one thing to be another:  “A mighty fortress is our God,” “The sheep were bolls of cotton on a hill.”  (A dead metaphor is a word or phrase that, originally a figure of speech, has come to be literal through common usage: “the hands of a clock.”)  Personification is a simile or metaphor that assigns human traits to inanimate objects or abstractions:  “A stoop shouldered refrigerator hummed quietly to itself,” “All of a sudden the solution to the math problem sat there winking at me.”

Other figures of speech consist of deliberate misrepresentation.  Hyperbole (from the Greek, “throwing beyond”) is a conscious exaggeration: “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse and saddle,” “I’d wait for you a thousand years.”  Its opposite, understatement, creates an ironic or humorous effect:  “I accepted the ride.  At the moment, I didn’t feel like walking across the Mojave Desert.”  A paradox is a seemingly self-contradictory statement that,  on reflection, makes sense:  “Children are the poor man’s wealth” (wealth can be monetary, or it can be spiritual).  Paradox may also refer to a situation that is inexplicable or contradictory, such as the restriction of one group’s rights in order to secure the rights of another group.

Flashback, a technique of narrative, involves interrupting the sequence of events to recall an earlier event.

Focus is the narrowing of a subject to make it manageable.  Beginning with a general subject, you concentrate on a certain aspect of it.  For instance, you may select crafts as a general subject, then decide your main interest lies in weaving.  You could focus your essay still further by narrowing it to operating a handloom.  You can also focus your writing according to who will read it (AUDIENCE) or what you want to achieve (PURPOSE).

General and specific refer to words and describe their relative degrees of abstractness.  General words name a group or class (flowers); specific words limit the class by naming its individual members (rose, violet, dahlia, marigold).  Words may be arranged in a series from more general to more specific:  clothes, pants, jeans, Levis.  The word cat is more specific than animal, but less specific than tiger cat, or Garfield.  See also ABSTACT and CONCRETE.

Generalization refers to a statement about a class based on an examination of some of its members:  “Lions are fierce.”  The more members examined and the more representative they are of the class, the sturdier the generalization.  Insufficient or nonrepresentative evidence often leads to a hasty generalization. The statement “Solar heat saves homeowners money” would be challenged by homeowners who have yet to recover their installation costs.  “Solar heat can save homeowners money in the long run” would be a sounder generalization.  Words such as all, every, only, and always have to be used with care.  “Some artists are alcoholics” is more credible than “Artists are always alcoholics.”  Making a trustworthy generalization involves the use of INDUCTIVE REASONING.

Image refers to a word or word sequence that evokes a sensory experience.  Whether literal (“We picked two red  apples”) or figurative (“His cheeks looked like two red apples, buffed and shining”), an image appeals to the reader’s memory of seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, or tasting.  Images add concreteness to fiction — “The farm looked as tiny and still as a seashell, with the little knob of a house surrounded by its curved furrows of tomato plants” (Eudora Welty in a short story, “The Whistle”) — and are an important element in poetry.  But writers of essays too, find images valuable to bring ideas down to earth.  See also FIGURES OF SPEECH.

Inductive reasoning, or induction, is the process of reasoning to a conclusion about an entire class by examining some of its members.  Every elephant I have seen is grayish, so by induction (from Latin, “lead into,” “lead up to”) I conclude that all elephants are grayish.  Another example:  I have met ten graduates of Vassar College and all are females, so I conclude that all Vassar graduates are females.  This conclusion, however, happens to be incorrect; a few years ago Vassar began to admit males, and so although male graduates are relatively few, they do exist.  Induction is valid only if the sample is representative.

Introductions are openings of written works.  Often they state the writer’s subject, narrow it, and communicate an attitude toward it (TONE).  Introductions vary in length, depending on their purposes.  A research paper may need several paragraphs to set forth its central idea and its plan of organization; on the other hand, a brief, informal essay may need only a sentence or two for an introduction.  Whether long or short, good introductions tell us no more that we need to know when we begin reading.  Here are a few possible ways to open an essay effectively:

1.      State your central idea, perhaps showing why you care about it.

2.      Present startling facts about your subject.

3.      Tell an illustrative ANECDOTE.

4.      Give background information that will help your reader understand your subject, or see why it is important.

5.      Begin with an arresting quotation.

6.      Ask a challenging question. (In your essay, you’ll go on to answer it.)

Irony is a manner of speaking or writing that does not directly state a discrepancy, but implies one.  In verbal irony, the meaning of the words intentionally contradicts the literal meaning, as in “that’s not a very good idea,” where the intended meaning is “that’s a terrible idea.”   One famous example (in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar) is Antony’s description of Brutus as “an honorable man.”  Since Brutus was one of Caesar’s assassins, Antony meant just the opposite.  If irony is delivered contemptuously with an intent to hurt, we call it sarcasm;  “Oh, you’re a real friend!” (said to someone who refuses to lend the speaker a quarter to make a phone call).  If the speaker’s words have an unintentional double meaning, the irony may be called dramatic irony: a character, about to go to bed, says, “I think I’ll have a sound sleep,” and dies in her sleep.  Similarly, an action can turn dramatically ironic: a character seeks to help a friend and unintentionally harms her.  Finally, a situation can be ironic: thirsty sailors are surrounded by water that cannot be drunk. With situational irony, the circumstances themselves are incongruous, run contrary to expectations, or twist fate:  Juliet regains consciousness only to find that Romeo, believing her dead, has stabbed himself.

Jargon, strictly speaking, is the special vocabulary of a trade or profession; but the term has also come to mean inflated, vague, meaningless language of any kind.  It is characterized by wordiness, abstractions galore, pretentious diction, and needlessly complicated word order.  Whenever   you meet a sentence that obviously could express its idea in fewer words and shorter ones, chances are that it is jargon.  For instance:  “The motivating force compelling her to opt continually for the most labor-intensive mode of operation in performing her functions was consistently observed to be the single constant and regular factor in her behavior patterns.”  Translation:   “She did everything the hard way.”

Literal and figurative are two opposing characteristics of language.  The literal meaning is a statement about something rendered in common factual terms.  “A good writer must be aggressive and daring.” The figurative meaning is couched in an image:  “A good writer must stick out his neck.” 

Narration  is the mode of writing that tells a story. An anecdote is a narrative, and so is a history of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire.  Narration may, of course, include substantial exposition (“four possible motives must be considered”) and description (“the horse was an old gray mare”), but the emphasis is on a sequence of happenings (“and then she says to me, . . .”).

Objective and subjective are names for kinds of writing that differ in emphasis.  In objective writing, the emphasis falls on the topic; in subjective writing, it falls on the writer’s view of the topic.  Objective writing occurs in factual reporting, certain process analyses (such as recipes, directions, and instructions), and logical arguments in which the writer attempts to downplay personal feelings and opinions.  Subjective writing sets forth the writer’s feelings, opinions, and interpretations.  It occurs in friendly letters, journals, editorials, bylined feature stories and columns in newspapers, personal essays, and arguments that appeal to emotion.  Very few essays, however, contain one kind of writing exclusive of the other.

Parable refers to a short narrative from which a moral or a lesson can be drawn.  A parable may, but need not, be and allegory wherein, say, each character stands for an abstraction that otherwise would be hard to grasp.  Usually the parable lacks the detailed correspondence of an allegory.

Parallelism, or parallel structure, is a name for a habit of good writers:  keeping ideas of equal importance in similar grammatical form.  A writer may place nouns side by side (“Time and tide wait for no man”) or in a series (“Give me wind, sea, and stars”).  Phrases, too, may be arranged in parallel structure (“Out of my bed, into my shoes, up to my classroom—that’s my life”); or clauses (“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country”).

Parallelism may be found not only in single sentences, but also in larger units as well.  A paragraph might read:  “Rhythm is everywhere.  It throbs in the rain forests of Brazil.  It vibrates ballroom floors in Vienna.  It snaps its fingers on street corners in Chicago.”  In a whole essay, parallelism may be the principle used to arrange ideas in a balanced or harmonious structure.  Read the famous speech given by Martin Luther King, in which each paragraph begins with the words “I have a dream” and goes on to describe an imagined future.  Not only does such a parallel structure organize ideas, but it also lends them force.

Paraphrase is putting another writer’s thoughts into your own words.  In writing a research paper or and an essay containing evidence gathered from your reading, you will find it necessary to paraphrase—unless you are using another writer’s very words with quotation marks around them.  In paraphrasing, you rethink what the other writer has said, decide what is essential and determine how you would say it otherwise.  (Of course, you still acknowledge your source.)  The purpose of paraphrasing is not merely to avoid copying word for word, but to adapt material to the needs of your own paper.

Although a paraphrase sometimes makes material briefer, it does not always do so; in principle, it rewrites and restates, sometimes in the same number of words, if not more.  A condensation of longer material that renders it more concise is called a summary: for instance, a statement of the plot of a whole novel in a few sentences.

Parody seeks to amuse by imitating the style—the diction, the sentence structure—of another work, but normally the parody substitutes a very different subject.  Thus, it might use tough-guy Hemingway talk to describe not a bullfighter but a butterfly catcher.  Often a parody of a writer’s style is a good-natured criticism.

Person is a grammatical distinction between the speaker, the one spoken to, and the one spoken about.  In the first person (I, we), the subject is speaking.  In the second person (you), the subject is being spoken to.  In the third person (he, she, it), the subject is being spoken about.  The point of view of an essay or work of fiction is often specified according to person:  “This story is told form a first-person point of view.”  See POINT OF VIEW.

Persona is the writer or speaker in a role adopted for a specific audience.  When Abraham Lincoln wrote or spoke, he sometimes did so in the persona of commander in chief of the Union army, but at other times he did so in the persona of the simple man from Springfield, Illinois.  The persona is a mask put on for a performance (persona is the Latin word for mask).  If mask suggests insincerity, we should remember that whenever we speak or write we do so in a specific role—as friend, or parent, or teacher, or applicant for a job, or whatever.  Although Lincoln was a husband, a father, a politician, a president, and many other things, when he wrote a letter or speech he might write as one of these; in a letter to his son, the persona (or, we might say, personality) is that of father, not that of commander in chief.  The distinction between the writer (who necessarily fills many roles) and the persona who writes or speaks a work is especially useful in talking about satires.

Persuasion is discourse which seeks to change the reader’s mind.  Persuasion usually assumes that the writer and the reader do not agree, or do not fully agree, at the outset.  Persuasion may use logical argument (appeal to reason), but it may also try to win the reader over by other means—by appeal to the emotions, by wit, by geniality. 

Point of view, in an essay, is the physical position or the mental angle from which a writer beholds a subject. Assuming the subject is starlings, the following three writers have different points of view.  An ornithologist might write objectively about the introduction of these birds into North America.  A farmer might advise other farmers how to prevent the birds from eating seed.  A bird-watcher might subjectively describe a first glad sighting of an unusual species.  Furthermore, the person of each essay would probably differ:  The scientist might present a scholarly paper in the third person; the farmer might offer advice in the second; the bird-watcher might recount the experience in the first.  See PERSON.

Premise is an assertion or statement that is the basis for an argument.  See  SYLLOGISM

Prewriting generally refers to the stage or stages in the process of composition before the first draft.  It is the activity of the mind before setting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), and may include evoking ideas, deciding on a topic, narrowing the topic, doing factual reading and research, defining your audience, planning and arranging material.  An important stage of prewriting usually comes first: invention, the creation or discovery of ideas. Invention may follow from daydreaming or meditation, reading, keeping a journal, or perhaps carefully ransacking your memory.

In practice, prewriting usually involves considerable writing.  And the prewriting stage often continues well into drafting: Reading, taking into account your audience, and further discovery take place even while you write.

Process analysis is a form of exposition that most often explains step by step how something is done or how to do something.

Purpose is a writer’s reason for writing; it is whatever the writer of any work tries to achieve.  To achieve unity and coherence, a writer often identifies a purpose before beginning to write.  The more clearly defined the purpose, the better the writer can concentrate on achieving it.

In trying to define the purpose of an essay you read, ask yourself, Why did the writer write this?  What was this writer trying to achieve?  Even though you cannot know the writer’s intentions with absolute certainty, an effective essay generally makes some purpose clear.

Rhetoric is the study (and the art) of using language effectively.  Often the modes of prose discourse (narration, description, exposition, and argument) and the various methods of exposition (exemplification, comparison and contrast, and the others) are called rhetorical forms.

Rhetoric also has a negative connotation of empty or pretentious language meant to waffle, stall, or even deceive.  This is the meaning in “The President had nothing substantial to say about taxes.  Just the usual rhetoric.”

Rhetorical question indicates a question posed for effect, one that requires no answer.  Instead, it often provokes thought, lends emphasis to a point, asserts or denies something without making a direct statement, launches further discussion, introduces an opinion, or leads the reader where the writer intends.  Sometimes a writer throws one in to introduce variety in a paragraph full of declarative sentences.  The following questions are rhetorical:  “When will the United States learn that sending people to the moon does not feed them on earth?”  “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” “What shall it profit a man to gain the whole world if he lose his immortal soul?” Both reader and writer know what the answers are supposed to be. (1) Someday, if the United States ever wises up.  (2) Yes.  (3) Nothing.

Satire is a form of writing that employs wit to attack folly.  Unlike most comedy, the purpose of satire is not merely to entertain, but to bring about enlightenment—even reform.  Usually, satire employs irony—as in Jonathans Swift’s “A Modest Proposal.”  In literature two types of satire have been recognized:  Horatian satire, which is gentle and smiling;  Juvenalian satire, which is sharp and biting.

Sentimentality is a quality sometimes found in writing that fails to communicate.  Such writing calls for an extreme emotional response on the part of an audience, although its writer fails to supply adequate reason for any such reaction.  A sentimental writer delights in waxing teary over certain objects:  great-grandmother’s portrait, the first stick of chewing gum baby chewed (now a shapeless wad), an empty popcorn box saved from the World Series of 1952.  Sentimental writing usually results when writers shut their eyes to the actual world, preferring to snuffle the sweet scents of remembrance.

Strategy refers to whatever means a writer employs to write effectively.  The methods of discourse are strategies; but so are narrowing a subject, writing with awareness of your reader, and other effective writing practices.

Style is the distinctive manner in which a writer writes; it may be seen especially in the writer’s choice of words and sentence structure. Two writers may write on the same subject, even express similar ideas, but it is style that gives each writer’s work a personality.

Subordination refers to expressing in a dependent clause, phrase, or single word any idea that is not significant enough to be expressed in a main clause or an independent sentence: lacking subordination:  John wrote his research paper on Thomas Jefferson; he was interested in this great statesman. with subordination:  Because John was interested in Thomas Jefferson, he wrote his research paper on this great statesman.

Summary is a condensation or abridgement.  These are some characteristics:  1) it is rarely more than one-fourth as long as the original; 2) its brevity is usually achieved by leaving out most of the concrete details of the original; 3) it is accurate; 4) it may rearrange the organization of the original, especially if a rearrangement will make things clearer; 5) it normally is in the present tense; 6) quoted words need not be in quotation marks.

Suspense is often an element in narration:  the pleasurable expectation or anxiety we feel that keeps us reading a story.  In an exciting mystery story, suspense is constant:  How will it all turn out?  Will the detective get to the scene in time to prevent another murder?  But there can be suspense in less melodramatic accounts as well.

Syllogism is a name for a three-step form of reasoning that employs deduction.

All men are mortal (major premise)

John is a man (minor premise)

Therefore John is mortal (conclusion)

Symbol is a name for a visible object or action that suggests some further meaning.  The flag suggests country, the crown suggest royalty—these are conventional symbols familiar to us.  Life abounds in such relatively clear-cut symbols.  Football teams use dolphins and rams for easy identification; married couples symbolize their union with a ring. 

In writing, symbols usually do not have such a one-to-one correspondence, but evoke a whole constellation of associations.  In Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, the whale suggests more than the large mammal it is.  It hints at evil, obsession, and the untamable forces of nature.  Such a symbol carries meanings too complex or elusive to be neatly defined.

Although more common in fiction and poetry, symbols can be used to good purpose in exposition because they communicate an idea in a compact and concrete way.

Synecdoche is a rhetorical figure whereby a part is substituted for a whole.  For example "a suit entered the room."

Syntax refers to the order of words in a sentence and their relationship to each other.  Good syntax requires correct grammar as well as effective sentence patterns, including unity, coherence, and emphasis..

Thesis is the central idea in a work of writing, to which everything else in the work refers.  In some way, each sentence and paragraph in an effective essay serves to support the thesis and to make it clear and explicit to an audience.  Good writers, before they begin to write, often set down a thesis sentence or thesis statement to help them define their purpose.  They may also write this statement into their essay as a promise and a guide to readers.

Tone refers to the way a writer expresses his or her regard for subject, audience, or self.  Through word choice (diction), sentence structures (syntax), and what is actually said, the writer conveys an attitude and sets a prevailing spirit.  Tone in writing varies as greatly as tone of voice varies in conversation.  It can be serious, flippant, angry, enthusiastic, sincere, sympathetic.  Whatever tone a writer chooses, usually it informs an entire essay and helps a reader decide how to respond.

Topic sentence is a name for the statement of the central idea in a paragraph.  Often it will appear at (or near) the beginning of the paragraph, announcing the idea and beginning its development.  Because all other sentences in the paragraph explain and support this central idea, the topic sentence is a way to create UNITY.

Transitions are words, phrases, and sentences, or even paragraphs that relate ideas.  In moving from one topic to the next, a writer has to bring the reader along by showing how the ideas are developing, what bearing a new thought or detail has on an earlier discussion, or why a new topic is being introduced.  A clear purpose, strong ideas, and logical development certainly aid COHERENCE, but to ensure that the reader is following along, good writers provide signals, or transitions.

To build paragraphs and to point out relationships within them, you can use some of the following devices of transitions: 

1.      Repeat words or phrases to produce an echo in the reader’s mind.

2.      Use PARALLEL STRUCTURE to produce a rhythm that moves the reader forward.

3.      Use pronouns to refer back to nouns in earlier passages.

4.      Use transitional words and phrases.  These may indicate a relationship of time (right away, later, soon, meanwhile, in a few minutes, that night), proximity (beside, close to, distant from, nearby, facing), effect (therefore, for this reason, as a result, consequently), comparison (similarly, in the same way, likewise), or contrast (yet, but, nevertheless, however, despite).  Some words and phrases of transition simply add on:  besides, too, also, moreover, in addition to, second, last, in the end.

Unity is the quality of good writing in which all parts relate to the THESIS. In a unified essay, all words, sentences, and paragraphs support the single central idea. Your first step in achieving unity is to state your thesis; your next step is to organize    your thoughts so that they make your thesis clear.

Voice, in writing, is the sense of the author’s character, personality, and attitude that comes through the words. See TONE.