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Appendix: Glossary of terms commonly used in writing and English studies

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    • Alexandra Glynn, Kelli Hallsten-Erickson & Amy Jo Swing
    • North Hennepin Community College & Lake Superior College

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    Adjective. A word that modifies a noun. A word (or a phrase, which is called an adjectival phrase) that gives more information about a noun. In the following sentence, “unkindest” is the adjective modifying the noun “cut”: “This was the most unkindest cut of all” (Julius Caesar). The adjective tells us what kind of cut it was, the "unkindest."

    Active voice. The type of sentence in which the subject of the verb is distinctly stated and is prominent, rather than de-emphasized; most sentences are written in active voice. The opposite of active voice is passive voice, which see.

    Adverb. A word that modifies a verb. A word (or a phrase, which is called an adverbial phrase) that gives more information about a verb. In the following sentence, “often” modifies the verb “fear”: “In time we hate that which we often fear” (Antony and Cleopatra). The adverb tells more information about "fear," telling us when.

    Allusion. The interspersing of a phrase or group of words from one text into another text. The words and phrases of the text that is interspersed are immediately recognizable to an audience. Allusions are used to strike an audience with some feeling or idea that is contained in the text alluded to. For example, in Antony and Cleopatra, Shakespeare wrote, “Give me my robe, put on my crown; I have immortal longings in me.” The following sentence could be written to contain an allusion to this Shakespearean phrase: “Give me my bat, put on my hat, I have immortal longings in me for the game.” The idea would be to put in the allusion (interspersing some of his words and phrasing forms) to Shakespeare in order to move the feeling of the Shakespeare's tragedy's commentary on the meaning of life's briefness into one's own text.

    Analogy. A comparison of two things that are unlike, or, a likeness between two otherwise unlike things. One can also think of an analogy as a parallel. An example: “The children gathered around the table like bees to honey, with mom as the queen bee." By analogy, once you compare "children" to "bees"--which they are not obviously like until you write them so, this makes mom the queen bee. And, to draw out the parallel further, this makes the kitchen a hive. Often in an analogy, one of the things compared is more familiar to the audience; the idea is to shed light on the unfamiliar by using the familiar, or to shed light on the abstract idea (the un-see-able) by using a something visible (the see-able).

    Annotated bibliography. A writing assignment often assigned in university courses in which the student is told to read texts, cite them using a selected academic citation rule, and write a paragraph or so about them. In an annotated bibliography, the student is usually asked to summarize each of the texts they read or give the main ideas of the texts.

    Assumption. That which must be taken as true in order to go along with someone’s central argument, or claim, or thesis. In other words, if you state, or claim, that “Children like candy,” you assume many things. For example, you assume your audience has the same understanding of what “children” and “candy” are that you do. In Measure for Measure we read: “The baby beats the nurse, and quite athwart / Goes all decorum.” This sentence assumes that the audience knows that a nurse is the one in charge of the baby, not the other way around. Otherwise it makes no sense. Often, as in the example from Measure for Measure, the assumption is so obvious that the audience would never see it as something one might reasonably argue about.

    Argument. In writing studies, an argument is simply a claim, or a statement (often called a thesis statement) that one is going to back up with evidence. An academic argument contains no animosity. An example of the use of this word in writing studies: “My argument is that science textbooks are too expensive in the field of anthropology, and the evidence I give is data I got from six local bookstores.”

    Audience. Those who read or come into contact with a writer’s text.

    Beat, or stress. Where the emphasis falls on a word, or in a phrase. In the word ca-tas-tro-phe, the second syllable takes the beat, or gets the most stress. In the word ca-tas-tro-phic, the third syllable takes the most stress. In the sentence “I am not in the giving vein today” (Richard III), one could say that the word that takes the most stress, or gets the main beat, is the word “giving.” If we read the sentence as iambic (broken up into sets of two beats, the second of which gets more stress than the first), then the syllables that are stressed, or take the beat, are "am" "in "giv-" "vein" and "-day." One could put “in the” as one beat (two short, unimportant words, thought of as one-syllable because they’re said together so quickly) and think of this sentence as I am not in the giv-ing vein today.” Or, thinking of “in” and “the” as their own separate beats: I am not in the giv-ing vein today. But either way, as is the way of English, the beat, or stress, is every-other-syllable. Beat, or stress, is related to rhythm.

    Cause and effect. A writing assignment often assigned in university courses in which the writer is asked to talk about the effects (consequences, reasons why) of a certain thing that exists among us, or did exist. The idea is to promote critical thinking in writing.

    Claim. An argument, or thesis. Something that one posits (hypothesizes, conjectures, assumes) is true or ought to be done, which they will then prove is true or ought to be done by facts, or other means of proof. A claim rests on assumptions about how things are, which are usually unstated.

    Cliché. An overused word or phrase. In describing someone’s age, you say they are “as old as the hills.” This is the same as saying “old” alone, because “as the hills,” a picture, is so often used in this phrase that it has lost its power to be an image that evokes anything in an audience's mind. Similarly: “every cloud has a silver lining” and “I am scared to death” and “the writing is on the wall” and “that dog don’t hunt” and every phrase that is common and does not arrest with its freshness.

    Connotation. The idea or emotion that a word gives the audience which is in addition to its literal or main meaning. In the sentence “This structure has two helical chains each coiled round the same axis” (Watson and Crick 737), the literal, or main meaning of the word "chain" is "a connected linking series of rings or items." But some connotations of the word “chain” are the ideas of strength, and continuity, and stability.

    Coordinating conjunction. The words "and," "but," "for," "nor," "or," "so," and "yet" are the coordinating conjunctions in English. They express a relationship between two simple sentences (or between complete ideas, or clauses, or words) in such a way that both of the two remain almost completely equal in status. For example: "I skip and run." Here the pronoun "I" governs two verbs that are equal in status: "skip" and "run." The coordinating conjunction "and" connects the two verbs, keeping them on the same level, so that the one action does not depend on the other, which is the case with subordinating conjunctions, which see.

    Cover letter. A letter that comes before a résumé, which introduces the candidate for a job to the prospective employer.

    Definition. The meaning of a word; the intent for understanding; a way of using a series of words to elaborate on the exact sense in which one is using one specific word.

    Denotation. The specific, main, literal meaning of a word, as opposed to any associated emotions or ideas the word brings with it; see connotation for tied-in idea.

    Dialogue. Words in quotation marks, said by characters in a story or text.

    Diction. Word choice. Diction can also include choice of phrases, as well as making sentence choices and word-image choices (figurative language).

    Edit. To review, revise, and correct a text. Content editing is when you edit the ideas in a text. Copy editing is when you edit the small grammar and punctuation of a text.

    Essay. A text on a certain topic, commenting on it, enlightening about it, or making a general case for something around that topic. Essays are often assigned in beginning college courses. They often also appear in magazines. They are not long papers, or texts, in general. Essays are about subjects of interest, and are not fiction. An essay is sometimes called a composition.

    Ethos. One’s character; the reputation one has, especially ethically; moral worth or virtue; also, more modernly, ethos includes the idea of credentials. One's reputation, or ethos, or moral authority, can be one's means of proof.

    Example. Illustrating a concept that is broad, by giving a specific. A way of making sure an audience understands, by giving them both a category (group), along with an example of something in the category (or group), to make a large concept more seeable. An example can even be a brief story or anecdote.

    Exposition (Expository writing). Writing that gives a main idea and then gives details about it, and then concludes. Expository writing is writing that sets forth reasons for something, or provides information about something, or describes something. It is not fiction writing, it is fact writing.

    Fallacy. A term sometimes used in writing studies, this is a word that properly belongs more to the discipline of logic. A fallacy is a logical error, such as a false generalization, giving only two choices when there are certainly more options than two. Another example is assigning a cause to a thing only because the thing came after another thing in time, with no proven scientific data that the one caused the other. There are other types of fallacies, too. Fallacy is also related to scientific truth, or reason. In writing studies, it is discussed because of the emphasis on proving things, or supporting things with reasons, in academic argument papers.

    Figurative language. Language that makes the abstract concrete; language that evokes physical image ideas in the minds of the audiences to bring them to an understanding of something non-physical, or invisible, such as a large idea or abstract concept. Instead of stating that "people deceive others," which is a large idea, "deception," Shakespeare used figurative language, with things concrete that people can see, such as a smile or a dagger, saying “There’s daggers in men’s smiles” (Macbeth). Metaphors, similes, and analogies (sometimes) are examples of figurative language.

    Fragment. A set of words lacking the completeness of a sentence, such that the reader has no way to reasonably connect the ideas contained in the words to their intended association, thus leaving the reader in an unsolved question of logic and meaning. For example "gods themselves throw" is probably a fragment. We know, for example, that something is missing because the verb "throw" takes an object. Unless the writer meant that the gods throw themselves, and this is logically unlikely. The complete sentence, from King Lear is actually "Upon such sacrifices, my Cordelia, / The gods themselves throw incense."

    Freewriting. Writing without thinking about how or what you are writing; writing that involves digging into one’s thoughts and writing them as they come, unorganized and unedited, in preparation for more polished work.

    Helping verb. A helping verb is a verb usually near the main (governing) verb that gives more information about the aspect of the main (governing) verb. It indicates aspect of time, or completion of an action, or wish. For example, the sentence “I gulp” does not have a helping verb. But if I add in a helping verb “would,” so the sentence is “I would gulp,” I am giving a different aspect of the main (governing) verb of the sentence, which is “to gulp.” In the sentence “I will gulp,” the helping verb “will” is indicating future tense, which is an aspect of time.

    Introduction. Along with the body and the conclusion, one of the three easily identifiable parts of almost any text of writing. It is what comes first, the first paragraph or first section of a written text, and the introduction is often the only thing most of the audience reads.

    Irony. In writing, irony is a sort of mocking of something. The writer means one thing, but writes the text in such a way that it seems less than straightforward, because what is written intends to mean the opposite of what it first seems to be, if one is only looking at it childlikely and literally. One old Greek writing (oratory) handbook defined it as “to say something and pretend that you are not saying it” (“Rhetorica ad Alexandrum” 1434a).

    Journaling. Writing about yourself and your life and your opinions for yourself alone in a text nobody will ever read. The audience of one who does journaling is the one doing the journaling; often a writer journals to exercise their brain in order to write better for audiences.

    Linking verb. A linking verb is the main (governing) verb of a sentence when it just indicates existence of a connection, or relationship. There are only a few linking verbs in English, and the most common, by far, is the verb “to be.” For example, “The fly is snarky.” In this sentence “is” links two things “fly” and “snarky” and says that one exists a certain way. It tells state-of-being, or description of the fly. Other linking verbs are: “to seem,” “to feel,” “to appear,” and “to become.”

    Literary analysis. A text analyzing a literary text. Often assigned in university writing courses, a literary analysis makes a claim (thesis, central argument) about a literary text and supports it, mainly with reasons and evidence, including quotations, from the literary text under analysis.

    Literary devices. Things like analogy, metaphor, rhyming, allusion, and alliteration that writers use to affect audiences with their texts.

    Logos. Reason, or logic, or data; that which appeals to the human capacity for common sense, rules of logic, and scientifically provable truths or assertions. Usually thought to be the best means of proof.

    Main verb. The main verb (governing verb), of a sentence is the verb that gives the main action or state-of-being of the sentence. A sentence must have a main (governing) verb, to be a sentence. For example, the sentence “Stop!” is a complete sentence, because it has a main (governing) verb “to stop” and a subject (implied “you”). There can be more than one main verb, such as in “Stop, drop, and roll.” There are three here. Often a main (governing) verb in a sentence will appear with a helping verb which is giving information about aspect or wish, or time-conditions of the main (governing) verb. The main (governing) verb of a sentence can be a linking verb.

    Metaphor. A phrase that is putting two unlike things together, without using “like” or “as”; an example is “Happiness is a warm puppy” (Charles Schulz). Usually one of the things in the comparison is concrete and visible, something we can see, (the “warm puppy”), and the other is abstract and invisible (“happiness”), which we cannot see. The goal of a metaphor is to transport some element of meaning from the one thing to the other, or to imply play with the interchange of the transport.

    Modifier. A word or phrase, such as an adjective or adverb or prepositional phrase, that gives information about another word or phrase. In the title The Cat in the Hat, the words “in the hat” modify, or give information about, the cat.

    Myth. In writing studies, a kind of writing which is a story told to explain why something is what it is. Myths involve high, spiritual topics of universal concern such as creation and love. 

    Narration (Narrative writing). A story or essay or recollection of an event that gives enlightenment to the audience and interests them by setting forth that which interests humans. Narrations can be fiction or non-fiction. Narrations can also be included in argument research essays. For example, when someone starts out an essay arguing about educational policy by narrating a story or anecdote to orient the reader to their attitude and subject matter, that little story is a bit of narration in a paper that is really a research paper.

    Noun. A person, place, or thing (or idea); a word that names an object or thing.

    Paraphrase. Saying the words from someone else’s text in your own words, making sure you’re including the main idea of the text you are paraphrasing. Lady Macbeth said, “Here’s the smell of the blood still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.” To paraphrase: Lady Macbeth feels guilty because of the blood she smells on her hand. A paraphrase is not a quotation, in which a text is simply repeated exactly, word for word, and quote marks are placed around it. Instead, a paraphrase is relaying the substance of a sentence or phrase in the words you choose yourself.

    Paragraph. Sentences set together, usually shown to be a set by spacing or by indenting, which are reasonably all connected to the same idea, which idea is made clear by the first sentence of the paragraph, in general. Paragraphs can be only a couple sentences, or they can be very long. In modern writing, they are usually short.

    Passive voice. The state of a sentence in which the real subject of the verb is unstated, usually to de-emphasize it, even though grammatically, there is a plain “other” (misleading) subject. Politicians, for example, say "Mistakes were made." This is passive voice. The subject in this sentence, grammatically, is actually "mistakes" and the verb is "to make." But who made them? Therefore, “mistakes,” the grammatical subject, is a misleading subject. By stating something in passive voice, one can move the attention away from the actual actor or responsible party, and put the attention on the object of the action. If John made the mistake, and we rewrote the sentence into active voice, we would write "John made mistakes." A middle way is to put the person doing the action into a prepositional phrase: "Mistakes were made by John." This is still passive voice, but we do know who the actor, or subject of the verb, is, now, who is John (the subject doing the verb).

    Pathos. Emotion or feelings such as sadness, pity, fear, or anger. Sensations, empathy, sympathy, and heightened awareness are involved in pathos. Pathos is a mode of persuasion that is not thought of as connected to reason or facts, nor is it related to the reputation of the speaker, but it is the stirring up of feeling in the hearts of the audience. It is carrying the audience away by evoking a higher viscerality or sentiment or sensation in them, rather than by reason or authority. Pathos is a non-logical means of proof.

    Persuasion. The art or ability, to change or influence the will, or soul

    Plagiarism. In general, plagiarism is the use of someone else’s words in your own text, which words are not set off by quotes to indicate that the words are not of your own invention. Allusion, however, is not plagiarism, and neither is it plagiarism to use someone else’s words in your own text without putting them in quotes and attributing them to the author if the author doesn’t mind.

    Preposition. A word expressing a relationship of one word or set of words to another set of words, such as "for" "on" or "after." There are many others. A preposition is part of a structure in a sentence that gives more information about, or “steers,” other words, telling things about them such as "where" or "why" or "how" or "when" they are. In general, a preposition steers a noun (“in the boat,” “after the play”), and appears in a prepositional phrase, which see.

    Prepositional phrase. Short set of words in sentences that belong as a group, which begin with a preposition, and modify (give more information about) another word in the sentence, such as location, time, direction, or reason. In Troilus and Cressida we read "Time hath, my lord, a wallet at his back, / Wherein he puts alms for oblivion." The phrase "at his back" belongs in a logical relationship to the word "wallet." It modifies the word, or gives more information about the word. It tells "where" (location).

    Proof. The evidence given to display to and convince an audience why a person's claim (or argument, or thesis) is true, or should be accepted. Usually we say that the best proof is rational, or logical proof—being persuaded by facts that exist in our world. Other ways of proving, or giving proof, which are less rational, are: appeals to passion (emotion, feeling; this is pathos), appeals to authority (ethos), and force.

    Quotation. A selection of text set off by marks “ ” to indicate the words within the marks are from a certain other place, or said by another person, exactly in that form. Revising. Making changes to improve a text.

    Rhetoric. A discipline that concerns itself with persuasion and the study of texts that persuade.

    Rhetorical analysis. A type of writing often assigned in universities in which the writer examines a text and writes about why and how the text is persuasive for a given audience.

    Rough draft. A basic, only somewhat organized version of a text, which is later revised and polished, to make it finalized and available for audience use.

    Run-on sentence. A sentence that has two parts, or two “sentences” that are independent and could stand alone, that are not connected right, such that a reasonable reader is likely to be confused. An example from King Lear is: "I cannot heave my heart into my mouth I love your majesty according to my bond no more no less." A run-on sentence disrupts the reader's mind by offering them unsolved choices of how to connect words and ideas. For example, in the sentence just quoted, does "into my mouth" go with "I love" or with "heave my heart"? It is not clear. To fix this sentence, one could turn this into two independent sentences, each of which could stand alone: "I cannot heave my heart into my mouth. I love your majesty according to my bond; no more, no less."

    Sentence. A rule-bound set of words that contain logical relationships among them to convey meaning; the two main word categories that one must have in order to have a sentence are subject (a noun) and verb (action or state of being).

    Signal phrase, or signal tag. A few introductory words put before a quote to introduce it, that is, to signal that a quote is coming, such as “In the author’s words” or “As the author explains it” or “As the text itself phrases it” or “As it says in the article.” For example, in quoting a certain author’s words “Boo-hoo to that,” you introduce this quote by a signal phrase: In the author’s words, “Boo-hoo to that” (2). Or, As the author explains it, “Boohoo to that” (2). There are many others.

    Simple sentence. A short sentence with just one main subject idea and verb idea. In Troilus and Cressida we read "Her bed is India." If this were the end of the sentence, it would be a simple sentence with the subject "bed" and the verb "is." But the Shakespeare actually wrote: "Her bed is India: there she lies, a pearl." This is two simple sentences joined by a colon.

    Sound patterning (alliteration, assonance). The catchiness or memory-triggering devices used in writing such as alliteration (consonants grouped near each other that are the same; “Fred fried a fish” catches and binds with the “f” sound) or assonance (grouped vowels near each other that are the same; “Ghosts do a “Boo!’” catches and binds with the oo sound). Repetition and other patterns of sound might also be mentioned.

    Story. See also narrative. A story can be long or short, but it usually has a plot (a beginning, tension in the middle, and an end) and dialogue. It also has characters.

    Subordinating conjunction. A little word, such as "while," "although," "since," (and there are others), that is put in a sentence to express a status relationship between two words, clauses, or sentences. In a sentence with a subordinating conjunction, one group of words expressing one idea is lower in status than the other, less emphasized words. A subordinating conjunction is similar to a preposition in that it is a word that sets up other words for logical relationships to other words. For example, "While you skip, I run." In this sentence, the main action, or governing verb, is "run." But "while you skip" gives us information about the running—it is done while the skipping is going on by you. And if it said "While you skip, I run around the block" the "while you skip" would be information adding to our knowledge about the "I run", telling us under what circumstances I run, and so would the "around the block" (a preposition phrase telling where). See also coordinating conjunctions.

    Style. The way something is written (not the content, or ideas written), which is exhibited in word choice, phrasing choices, and other literary devices.

    Summary. A section of text that gives a shorter version of a larger text, in words that are one's own words but still convey the main thought of the larger text. Thesis. The main argument or claim being made in a persuasive text.

    Thesis statement (central claim). See claim or argument. The sentence or sentences that tell the main argument a paper is making, in an academic or persuasive text; usually found towards the beginning of the writing. Proofs of the thesis, or support paragraphs, usually follow.

    Tone. The author’s intent and feeling towards the audience of their text, or the people and actions in a text. The tone of a text comes forth mainly from style choices and the state of the author’s inner mind.

    Topic sentence. The first sentence in a paragraph, in which the central idea of the paragraph is brought up or made clear.

    Transitions. Words used to move from one phrase to another, or from one paragraph to another such as “And” or “Next,” or “And thus” or “To conclude.”

    Verb. The word in a sentence that describes actions or states of being. In a sentence, there will always be a main (governing) verb. There may even be two or more governing verbs. There also may be other non-main verbs, in clauses that are subordinate to the main clause, or in prepositional phrases, and the like. For example in Henry IV, Part 1 we read: "I speak of peace, while covert enmity / Under the smile of safety wounds the world." Here, the main (governing) verb is "speak." But "wounds" is also a verb. It is not the main governing verb, though, in terms of the logical relationships of this sentence.

    Work cited (bibliography) – a list at the end of an informative (expository) writing which tells where the scholarly information in the text came from, written in an academic form according to the rules of a discipline such as MLA (Modern Language Association) or APA (American Psychological Association) style guidelines.

    Work cited in Chapter One: Why Write?

    Strauss, Valerie. “The surprising thing Google learned about its employees — and what it means for today’s students.” The Washington Post, 20 Dec. 2017, Accessed 23 Jan. 2018.

    Work cited in Chapter Seven: Drafting

    Fish, Stanley. How to Write a Sentence. New York: Harper, 2012. Print. Kenko, Yoshida. “from Essays in Idleness [c. 1320],” in The Norton Anthology of World Literature. Donald Keene (transl) 2nd ed. Vol B. Norton 2002, pp 2328-2342. Print.

    Lawrence, D. H. “The Prussian Officer [1914]," in Selected Short Stories, Dover 1993, pp 1-18. Print.

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