A Level English: 7 Literary Terms You Might Not Know

Whilst we might often hear literary terms such as Metaphor, Plot, and Alliteration, how often do you hear Anecdote being mentioned? Quite embarrassingly, when I first heard that term, I thought it was a type of medicine- a far cry from it’s true meaning!

And yet literary terms can be so important in making your work sound more concise, informative and professional. Provided they are not overused, and you actually know what the terms you are using mean, they can be a great addition to any literary essay.

So today we are going to look briefly at some rather peculiar sounding literary techniques- think things like Bathos, Cacophony, and, one you sometimes have to read twice to pronounce- synesthesia.



Examples include: The Millers Tale and the Carpenters Tale from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales


Literarydevices.com (http://www.literarydevices.com/bathos/) has some fantastic examples of Bathos in Literature and Comedy. My favourite was the one from Monty Python:

 Bridge-keeper: Stop. Who would cross the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three, ere the other side he see.

Sir Lancelot: Ask me the questions, bridge-keeper. I am not afraid.

Bridge-keeper: What… is your name?

Sir Lancelot: My name is Sir Lancelot of Camelot.

Bridge-keeper: What… is your quest?

Sir Lancelot: To seek the Holy Grail.

Bridge-keeper: What… is your favourite colour?

Sir Lancelot: Blue.

Bridge-keeper: Go on. Off you go.

Sir Lancelot: Oh, thank you. Thank you very much.


Ultius (https://ultius.com/glossary/literature/literature-vocabulary/epithet.html) gives a memorable example of an epithet: “in the name Alexander the Great, the clear implication is that greatness is fundamental to the very essence of what Alexander is”




Examples: If like some other linguists you believe that the climax of Hamlet is when Hamlet stabs Polonius, events in the falling action of the play would thus include the duel between Hamlet and Laertes, which eventually leads to the crowning of Fortinbras and the end of the play.



Example: See Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard (http://www.thomasgray.org.uk/cgi-bin/display.cgi?text=elcc)


Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight,

And all the air a solemn stillness holds,

Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,

And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds;

Save that from yonder ivy-mantled tower

The moping owl does to the moon complain

Of such, as wandering near her secret bower,

Molest her ancient solitary reign.


Example: TheWritePractice (http://thewritepractice.com/synesthesia/) describes how: “Multiple authors have used synesthesia in their writing. Dante used it in his Divine Comedy when he writes about “the region where the sun is silent”. Clearly the sun does not make noise, but the idea of the sun being silent uses the sense of hearing to evoke a sense of despair.”


Do you have any other important yet unusual literary terms to suggest? Comment below!


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