Literary Terms

M - Q

     All this tries to do is to give a brief glossary of terms. These are mostly those that have been used elsewhere on this part of the site, but some others have been added.

     I have deliberately excluded many that seem to me to be insignificant or pointless and have been arbitrary in my judgements. There is no pretence to be comprehensive.

      This page covers M - Q alphabetically. Click below for other entries.



Macaronic verse: A poem that combines more than one language.

Martian poets: A movement in the UK of the 1980s that used various kinds of word play to make the reader look anew at common objects and experiences. A Martian Sends a Postcard Home by Craig Raine typifies the movement.

Masculine rhyme: Rhyming on single stressed syllabes, like poke/smoke. This form of rhyme is encountered more often than feminine rhyme.

Metalanguage: The use of language about language.

Metaphor: The most frequently used figure of speech. One incident, idea, etc. is referred to by another to suggest a common quality. For example, Shakespeare in Julius Caesar has Brutus saying: 'There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.' It can be helpful to think of a metaphor as a condensed simile: instead of saying that something is like something else, it is referred to directly as if it is that something else.

Metre: See Metre.

Monody: A dirge or lament spoken by one person.

Muse: The personification of the source of inspiration of a poet or other artist.


Narrative: The recounting of some real or invented event.

Near Rhyme: This term encompasses many things, but is used for a form of rhyme in which the sounds are similar, though not exact, as in home and host or close and loss. Many terms are used, for instance approximate rhyme, slant rhyme, para rhyme, off rhyme, imperfect rhyme and half rhyme. Most commonly encountered are assonance and consonance.

Neologism: An invented new word or expression. Neologisms differ from nonce words in that the latter are only intended for use on one occasion in that specific context.

Nonsense verse: A type of light verse that uses nonce words or illogical ideas. Lewis Carroll made much use of nonsense verse in the Alice books. See the separate entry on this.


Octet: A group of eight lines. This term usually means the first part of a sonnet. A self-contained stanza of eight lines is usually referred to as a huitain.

Ode: A formal or ceremonial lyric poem.

Onomatopoeia: Use of words like 'pop', 'swish', etc. which sound like their meaning.

Ottava Rima: Stanzas comprising eight lines rhyming abababcc. In English it uses iambic pentameters. See Ottava Rima.

Oulipan: An adherant of the school of Oulipo. The term comes from Ouvroir de Littérature potentialle. It's a French movement given to creating poems and other forms of writing using stunts like not using a particular vowel (this particular form is called a lipogram). You may agree with one definition that I have seen of oulipans: 'rats who construct the maze from which they must escape'.

Oxymoron: Two normally contradictory terms combined paradoxically, as 'a living death'.




Pantoum: A fixed form. See the Pantoum page.

Parody: A tongue-in-cheek imitation of another poet's style or mannerisms.

Pastiche: As above, except that in this case the imitation is intended to be in flattering tribute of the other writer.

Pastoral: A celebration of the idealised lives of 'nymphs and shepherds'.

Pentameter: A metrical verse line having five feet. See Metre.

Petrachian: See Sonnet.

Poetaster: A derogatory reference to a poet who writes worthless verse.

Poetic Licence: The linguistic liberty accepted from poets.

Poetry: One of the most popular definitions remains that made by William Wordsworth in the introduction to the second edition of Lyrical Ballads in 1802: 'Poetry is the spontaneous outflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origins from emotion recollected in tranquillity'. I prefer something more playful, like Jeremy Bentham's 'Prose is when all the lines except the last go on to the end. Poetry is when some of them fall short of it'. Even this would ignore sound poetry and other forms. Something loose like 'any form of linguistic expression genuinely thought of by its creator as poetry' would suit me.

Prose poem: A short piece of prose, which however gives attention to some of the poetic demands of free verse, like cadence, poetic imagery etc.

Prosody: The formalised study of metre and other poetic devices.


Quatrain: Any stanza of four lines.

Quintain: Any stanza of five lines.