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Genre (zhan’ r) – Although possibly borrowed from painting, this term does not mean in literature what it does in fine arts. Genre paintings are those of simple, common, everyday objects, scenery, or people. The paintings of Jean Francois Millet, such as “The Gleaners”, or those of the Dutch school, are good examples. In literature the term means a kind, type, form, or style. For example, the Gothic novel is a genre, and so is the Elizabethan tragedy of blood. In the introduction to their distinguished collection, Criticism, the Foundations of Modern Literary Judgment (Harcourt, Brace, 1948), editors Schorer, Miles, and McKenzie use the word to describe the broad divisions of literature: “We have hoped in other ways, too, to make the range of this collection as great as possible: in the genres (poetry, fiction, drama, and criticism itself) which the authors discuss;…”On the other hand, Alfred Kazin in his study of modern American literature. On Native Grounds,(Doubleday, 1942, 1956) uses the term in a narrower sense, ”The Novel had swiftly and unmistakable, from the late seventies on, become the principal literary genre…”

Gobbledygook ( gob’ l di gook’) – a slang word coined by Congressman Maury Maverick of Texas in imitation of the gobbling of turkeys. It means the inflated, involved, and obscure verbiage often characteristic of the pronouncements of officialdom. (In other words, nonsense often stated by those in positions of authority.)

Gothic – having the characteristics and atmosphere associated with Medievalism or the Middle Ages. Related to Romanticism, Gothicism suggest rugged grandeur, emotional or spiritual appeal and a shadowy mysteriousness. The Gothic Novels were a group written in England in the latter part of the eighteenth century (such as Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otranto) which contains traits that have come to be associated in literature with the term Gothic: a gloomy castle or mysterious house, secret passageways, hidden documents, screams in the night, creaking doors, fearful suspense, etc. Many of these qualities have been handed down to us in modern mystery and adventure stories. The characteristics of Gothic literature are most obvious in the works of Edgar Allan Poe.


Hack or Hack Writer – coming from hackney, meaning a horse for riding or driving, or one let out for hire, this now means, in literature, a writer who hires himself out for any sort of literary work or ghost writing; a literary drudge.

Hackneyed – worn-out, like a hired horse; indiscriminate or vulgar use; threadbare, trite, commonplace. Here are some examples of hackneyed expressions:

After all is said and done, along these lines, budding genius, by leaps and bounds, deadly earnest, drastic action, it stands to reason, last but not least, and to relate, needs no introduction, shadow of the goalpost, etc.

Hero – the principal male figure in a narrative, provided he has brave and noble qualities. If he lacks these qualities, but is the central male figure, he is often called simply the protagonist. Mock Heroic is a term used to describe a method of satirizing or mocking conventional or traditional concepts of heroism by giving a ridiculously exaggerated treatment to “heroic” characters or deeds.

Hexameter – meter of six feet to a line. A line of six iambic feet is sometimes called an alexandrine.

Historical Present – the present tense when used in telling of past events, as if they were taking place at the time of the recital. The effects of immediacy and excitement are thus often gained for happenings that have already taken place. It is sometimes more aptly called the “hysterical” present.

Homonym – a word pronounced the same as another but having a different meaning (scene and seen).

Hubris – Insolence, arrogance, or pride. In Greek tragedy, the protagonist’s hubris is usually the tragic flaw that leads to his/her downfall.

The swaggering protagonist of Oedipus Rex is ultimately made to suffer because

of his hubris. He defies moral laws by unwittingly killing his father and marrying his mother, and then bragging about how his father’s murderer will be punished.

Hymn – a sacred song. (See Lyric)

Hyperbole – a figure of speech using gross or absurd exaggeration for poetic or imaginative effect.

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