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Rhetorical Terms & Glossary


Refers to language that describes concepts rather than concrete images (ideas and qualities rather than observable or specific things, people, or places). The observable or "physical" is usually described in concrete language.


An extended narrative in prose or verse in which characters, events, and settings represent abstract qualities and in which the writer intends a second meaning to be read beneath the surface of the story; the underlying meaning may be moral, religious, political, social, or satiric.


A short, simple narrative of an incident; often used for humorous effect or to make a point.


Explanatory notes added to a text to explain, cite sources, or give bibliographical data.


The presentation of two contrasting images. The ideas are balanced by word, phrase, clause, or paragraphs.
Ex:) "To be or not to be" / "Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country."


A short, often witty statement of principle or a truth about life; e.g. "Early bird gets the worm."


Usually in poetry but sometimes in prose; the device of calling out to an imaginary, dead, or absent person or to a place, thing, or personified abstraction.


Writing that attempts to prove the validity of a point of view or an idea by presenting reasoned arguments; persuasive writing is a form of argumentation

Cacophony; Dissonance

Harsh, awkward, or dissonant sounds used deliberately in poetry or prose; the opposite of euphony


Descriptive writing that greatlly exaggerates a specific feature of a person's appearance or a facet of personality.


A word or phrase (including slang) used in everyday conversation and informal writing but that is often inappropriate in formal writing; e.g. y'all, ain't

Coherence; Unity

Quality of a piece of writing in which all the parts contribute to the development of the central idea, theme, or organizing principle.

Concrete Language

Language that describes specific, observable things, people, or places, rather than ideas or qualities.


Implied or suggested meaning of a word because of its association in the reader's mind.


Repetition of identical consonant sounds within two or more words in close proximity, as in boost/best; it can also be seen within several compound words, such as fulfill and ping-pong.


A riddle whose answer is or involves a pun; it may also be a paradox or difficult problem.


The process of moving from a general rule to a specific example.


The literal meaning of a word as defined.


The picturing in words of something or someone through detailed observation of color, motion, sound, taste, smell, and touch; one of the four modes of discourse.


Word choice, an element of style; It creates tone, attitude, and style, as well as meaning. Different types and arrangements of words have significant effects on meaning.


Writing whose purpose is to instruct or to teach. A type of this work is usually formal and focuses on moral or ethical concerns and may be fiction or nonfiction.


Spoken or written language, including literary works; the four traditionally classified modes of it are description, exposition, narration, and persuasion.

Pathos (Emotional Appeal)

When a writer appeals to readers' emotions to excite and involve them in the argument.


The use of a quotation at the beginning of a work that hints at its theme.

Ethos (Ethical Appeal)

When a writer tries to persuade the audience to respect and believe him or her based on a presentation of image of self through the text. Reputation is sometimes a factor but primarily it is aimed to gain the audience's confidence.


A more acceptable and usually more pleasant way of saying something that might be inappropriate or uncomfortable. They are often used to obscure the reality of a situation; e.g. "collateral damage"


A succession of harmonious sounds used in poetry or prose; the opposite of cacophony


An individual instance taken to be representative of a general pattern (factual and true).


The art of interpreting or discovering the meaning of a text. It usually involves close reading and special attention to figurative language.


The immediate revelation to the audience of the setting and other background information necessary for understanding the plot.

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