Ap English Literature Vocabulary List Letters B-C
For Kids and Teachers
Ap English Literature Vocabulary List Letters B-C
*Ballad: A long, narrative poem, usually in very regular meter and rhyme. A
ballad typically has a naïve folksy quality, a characteristic that distinguishes
it from epic poetry.
*Bathos, Pathos: When the writing of a scene evokes feelings of dignified pity
and sympathy, pathos is at work. When writing strains for grandeur it can’t
support and tries to create tears from every little hiccup, that’s bathos.
*Black Humor: This is the use of disturbing themes in comedy. In Samuel
Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, the two tramps, Didi and Gogo, comically debate
about ending their lives, and whether the branches of the tree will support
their weight. This is black humor.
*Bombast: This is pretentious, exaggeratedly learned language. When one tries to
be eloquent by using the largest, most uncommon words, one falls into bombast.
*Burlesque: A burlesque is a broad parody, one that takes a style or form, such
as a tragic drama, and exaggerates it into ridiculousness. A parody usually
takes on a specific work, such as Hamlet. For the purposes of the AP test, you
can think of the terms parody and burlesque as interchangeable.
*Cacophony: In poetry, cacophony is using deliberately harsh, awkward sounds.
*Cadence: The beat or rhythm of poetry in a general sense. For example, iambic
pentameter is the technical name for rhythm. One sample of predominately iambic
pentameter verse could have a gentle, pulsing cadence, whereas another might
have a conversational cadence, and still another might have a vigorous, marching
*Cant The name for a section division in a long work of poetry. A canto divides
a long poem into parts the ways chapters divide a novel.
*Caricature: A portrait (verbal or otherwise) that exaggerates a facet of
*Catharsis: This is a term drawn from Aristotle’s writing on tragedy. Catharsis
refers to the “cleansing” of emotion an audience member experiences, having
lived (vicariously) through the experiences presented on stage. A reader or
audience member can feel great sorrow, pity, laughter..for example when Ophelia
dies in Hamlet. A character can also have a cathartic experience..for
example when Laertes realizes that it was wrong for him to trick/kill Hamlet.
*Chiasmus: a figure of speech by which the order of the terms in the first of
two parallel clauses is reversed in the second. This may involve a repetition
of the same words. "Pleasure's a sin, and sometimes sin's a pleasure" --Byron.
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty"-Keats. It is named after the Greek letter chi
(x), indicating a "criss-cross" arrangement of terms.
*Chorus: In Greek drama, this is the group if citizens who stand outside the
main action on stage and comment on it.
*Circular Reasoning: the practice of assuming something, in order to prove the
very thing that you assumed. In Logic-speak, you assume that proposition A is
true, and use that premise (directly or indirectly) to prove that proposition A
is true. This is one of many logical fallacies that routinely get used in heated
arguments, and is actually a special case of the fallacy of false assumptions.
*Classic: What a troublesome word! Don’t confuse classic with classical. Classic
can mean typical, as in oh, that was a classic blunder. It can also mean an
accepted masterpiece, for example, Death of a Salesman. But, classical refers to
the arts of ancient Greece and Rome, and the qualities of those arts.
*Coinage (neologism) A coinage is a new word, usually one invented on the spot.
People’s names often become grist for coinages, as in, "Oh, man, you just pulled
a major Veesta." Of course, you’d have to know Veesta to know what that means (a
compliment or an insult).
*Colloquialism: This is a word or phrase used in everyday conversational English
that isn’t a part of accepted “school-book” English. For example, I’m toasted.
I’m a crispy- critter man. I’ve got this wicked headache. Alison's idea is
*Complex / Dense: These two terms carry the similar meaning of suggesting that
there is more than one possibility in the meaning of words (image, idea,
opposition); there are subtleties and variations; there are multiple layers of
interpretation; the meaning is both explicit and implicit.
*Conceit, controlling image: In poetry, conceit doesn’t mean stuck-up. It refers
to a startling or unusual metaphor, or to a metaphor developed and expanded upon
several lines. When the image dominates and shapes the entire work, it’s called
a controlling image. A metaphysical conceit is reserved for metaphysical poems
*Connotation, denotation: The denotation of a word is it’s literal meaning. The
connotations are everything else that the word suggests or implies. For example,
in the phrase the dark forest, dark denotes a relative lack of light. The
connotation is of danger, or perhaps mystery or quiet; we’d need more
information to know for sure, and if we did know with complete certainty that
wouldn’t be connotation, but denotation. In many cases connotation eventually so
overwhelms a word that it takes over the denotation. For example livid is
supposed to denote a dark purple-red color like that of a bruise, but it has
been used so often in the context of extreme anger that many people have come to
use livid as a synonym for rage, rather than a connotative description of it.
*Consonance: The repetition of consonant sounds within words (rather than at
their beginnings, which is alliteration). A flock or sick, black-checkered,
*Couplet: A pair of lines that end in rhyme:
But as my back I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near