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Common Literary Techniques
1. Imagery: It is the use of figurative language to create visual representations of actions, objects and ideas in our mind in such a way that they appeal to our physical senses. For example: * The room was dark and gloomy. -The words “dark” and “gloomy” are visual images. * The river was roaring in the mountains. – The word “roaring” appeals to our sense of hearing.
2. Simile and Metaphor: Both compare two distinct objects and draws similarity between them. The difference is that Simile uses “as” or “like” and Metaphor does not. For example: * “My love is like a red red rose” (Simile) * He is an old fox very cunning. (Metaphor)
3. Hyperbole: It is deliberate exaggeration of actions and ideas for the sake of emphasis. For example: * Your bag weighs a ton! * I have got a million issues to look after!
4. Personification: It gives a thing, an idea or an animal human qualities. For example: * The flowers are dancing beside the lake. * Have you see my new car? She is a real beauty!
5. Alliteration: It refers to the same consonant sounds in words coming together. For example: * Better butter always makes the batter better. * She sells seashells at seashore.
6. Allegory: It is a literary technique in which an abstract idea is given a form of characters, actions or events. For example: * “Animal Farm”, written by George Orwell, is an example allegory using the actions of animals on a farm to represent the overthrow of the last of the Russian Tsar Nicholas II and the Communist Revolution of Russia before WW II. In addition, the actions of the animals on the farm are used to expose the greed and corruption of the Revolution.
7. Irony: It is use of the words in such a way in which the intended meaning is completely opposite to their literal meaning. For example: * The bread is soft as a stone. * So nice of you to break my new PSP!
Definition of Allusion
Allusion is a brief and indirect reference to a person, place, thing or idea of historical, cultural, literary or political significance. It does not describe in detail the person or thing to which it refers. It is just a passing comment and the writer expects the reader to possess enough knowledge to spot the allusion and grasp its importance in a text.
Examples of Allusion in Everyday Speech
The use allusions are not confined to literature alone. Their occurrence is fairly common in our daily speech. Look at some common examples of allusions in everyday life: * “Don’t act like a Romeo in front of her.”
– “Romeo” is a reference to Shakespeare’s Romeo, a passionate lover of Juliet, in “Romeo and Juliet”. * The rise in poverty will unlock the Pandora’s box of crimes.
– This is an allusion to one of Greek Mythology’s origin myth, “Pandora’s box”. * “This place is like a Garden of Eden.”
–This is a biblical allusion to the “garden of God” in the Book of Genesis. * “Hey! Guess who the new Newton of our school is?”
– “Newton”, means a genius student, alludes to a famous scientist Isaac Newton. * “Stop acting like my ex-husband please.”
– Apart from scholarly allusions we refer to common people and places in our speech.
Definition of Ambiguity
Ambiguity or fallacy of ambiguity is a word, phrase, or statement which contains more than one meaning.
Ambiguous words or statements lead to vagueness and confusion, and shape the basis for instances of unintentional humor. For instance, it is ambiguous to say “I rode a black horse in red pajamas,” because it may lead us to think the horse was wearing red pajamas. The sentence becomes clear when it is restructured “Wearing red pajamas, I rode a black horse.”
Similarly, same words with different meanings can cause ambiguity e.g. “John took off his trousers by the bank.” It is funny if we confuse one meaning of “bank” which is a building, to another meaning, being “an edge of a river”. Context usually resolves any ambiguity in such cases. ommon Examples of Ambiguity
Below are some common examples of ambiguity: 1. A good life depends on a liver.
– Liver may be an organ or simply a living person. 2. Foreigners are hunting dogs.
– It is unclear whether dogs were being hunted or foreigners are being spoken of as dogs. 3. Each of us saw her duck.
– It is not clear whether the word “duck” refers to an action of ducking or a duck that is a bird. 4. The passerby helps dog bite victim.
- Is the passerby helping a dog bite someone? Or is he helping a person bitten by a dog? It’s not clear.
Examples of Metonymy in Everyday Life
We use metonymy frequently in our everyday life. For a better understanding, let us observe a few metonymy examples: * England decides to keep check on immigration. (England refers to the government.) * The suits were at meeting. (The suits stand for business people.) * The pen is mightier than the sword. (Pen refers to written words and sword to military force.) * The Oval Office was busy in work. (“The Oval Office” is a metonymy as it stands for people at work in the office.) * Let me give you a hand. (Hand means help.)
Definition of Understatement
An understatement is a figure of speech employed by writers or speakers to intentionally make a situation seem less important than it really is.
For example, you win 10 million dollars in a lottery. When you tell a news reporter “I am delighted”, you are making an understatement. Similarly, suppose a team loses to its opponent 50 to 0 in a soccer match and the captain of the team says in a post-match ceremony says, “We did not do well”, it is an understatement because he is trying to decrease the intensity of the loss.
An understatement usually has an ironic effect as an equally intense response is expected in severe situations but the statement in response is the opposite of what was expected i.e. less intense but of course with an ironical tone. For instance, your friend returns your new coat with blots all over it; in response, you make an understatement, “It doesn’t look too bad”. Therefore, an understatement is opposite to another figure of speech hyperbole or an overstatement.
Example #5
“It is a bit cold today,” when the temperature is 5 degrees below freezing.
Examples of Understatement in Literature
Example #1
In Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield says:
“I have to have this operation. It isn’t very serious. I have this tiny little tumor on the brain.”
Having a tumor in the brain is a serious issue, which has been understated in the above statement.
Example #2
In Emperor Mage, a fantasy novel by Tamora Pierce, Diana states (as if she has done nothing wrong):
“I lost my temper.”
This is an understatement that Diana makes, after raising an army of dinosaur skeletons to destroy the king and later, she destroys the imperial palace in order to avenge the death of her teacher.
Example #3
In Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Fin,
[Aunt Sally] “Good gracious, anybody hurt?”
[Huck] “No. me killed a nigger”
It is one of the understatement examples found in Twain’s literary pieces. Huck’s response, “no. me killed a nigger” exposes the thinking of the people back then, who did not consider black men humans. Killing a black man was not considered something serious.
Example #4
Look at the understatement in Night’s Dawn Trilogy written by Peter F. Hamilton;
“I’ve always been a massive admirer of the Edenist ability to understate. But I think defining a chunk of land fifteen kilometers across that suddenly takes flight and wanders off into another dimension as a little problem is possibly the best example yet.”
Example #5
Another example of understatement comes from Primula Bond’s novel The Silver Chain:
“And you, who have told me a hundred times how deeply you pitied me for the sorceries by which I was bound, will doubtless hear with joy that they are now ended forever. There was, it seems, some small error in your Ladyship’s way of treating them.”
The reference of “some small error” is an understatement as the error which ends somebody’s power is not small at all.
Example #6
In another fantasy novel Consider Phlebas, an understatement was made about a war that lasted for 48 years and took the lives of over 851 billion beings.
“A small, short war that rarely extended throughout more than .02% of the galaxy and .01% by stellar population. … the galaxy’s elder civilisations rate the Idiran-Culture war as … one of those singularly interesting Events they see so rarely these days.”
Function of Understatement
An understatement is a tool that helps to develop other figures of speech such as irony and sarcasm by deliberately decreasing the severity of a situation when an intense response is expected by the listeners or the readers.
Definition of Assonance
Assonance takes place when two or more words close to one another repeat the same vowel sound but start with different consonant sounds.
For instance,
“Men sell the wedding bells.”
The same vowel sound of the short vowel “-e-” repeats itself in almost all the words excluding the definite article. The words do share the same vowel sounds but start with different consonant sounds unlike alliteration that involvesrepetition of the same consonant sounds. Below are a few examples that are more common:
Definition of Cliché
Cliché refers to an expression that has been overused to the extent that it loses its original meaning or novelty. A cliché may also refer to actions and events which are predictable because of some previous events.
All examples of Cliché are expressions that were once new and fresh. They won popularity in public and hence have been used so extensively that such expressions now sound boring and at times irritable due to the fact that they have lost their original color. For instance, the phrase “as red as a rose” must have been a fresh and innovative expression at some point in time but today it is considered universally as a cliché and does not sound good to be used in everyday formal writing.
Expressions that are not Clichés
It is important to keep in mind that constant reuse of expressions does not necessarily create a cliché. Typical expressions that are used almost at all times in formal ceremonies, festivals, courts etc. are not considered cliché examples; rather they befit such occasions and are regarded as more appropriate: * “I second the motion” (Courts) * “I now pronounce you man and wife” (Wedding Ceremony) * “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” (Oath taking ceremony) * “Happy Birthday!”
Common Examples of Oxymoron * Open secret * Tragic comedy * Seriously funny * Awfully pretty * Foolish wisdom * Original copies * Liquid gas t is important to understand the difference between a paradox and an oxymoron. A paradox may consist of a sentence or even a group of sentences. An oxymoron, on the other hand, is a combination of two contradictory or opposite words. A paradox seems contradictory to the general truth but it does contain an implied truth. An oxymoron, however, may produce a dramatic effect but does not make sense. Examples of oxymoron are found both in casual conversations and in literature. Definition of Paradox
The term Paradox is from the Greek word “paradoxon” that means contrary to expectations, existing belief or perceived opinion. It is a statement that appears to be self-contradictory or silly but may include a latent truth. It is also used to illustrate an opinion or statement contrary to accepted traditional ideas. A paradox is often used to make a reader think over an idea in innovative way. * Your enemy’s friend is your enemy. * I am nobody. * “What a pity that youth must be wasted on the young.” – George Bernard Shaw * Wise fool * Truth is honey which is bitter. * “I can resist anything but temptation.” Oscar Wilde

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