Trope (literature)

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A literary trope is the use of figurative language, via word, phrase or an image, for artistic effect such as using a figure of speech. [1] Keith and Lundburg describe a trope as, "a substitution of a word or phrase by a less literal word or phrase." [2] The word trope has also come to be used for describing commonly recurring literary and rhetorical devices, [3] motifs or clichés in creative works. [4] [5] Literary tropes span almost every category of writing including poetry, television, and art. Tropes can be found in all literature.



The term trope derives from the Greek τρόπος (tropos), "turn, direction, way", derived from the verb τρέπειν (trepein), "to turn, to direct, to alter, to change". [4] Tropes and their classification were an important field in classical rhetoric. The study of tropes has been taken up again in modern criticism, especially in deconstruction. [6] Tropological criticism (not to be confused with tropological reading, a type of biblical exegesis) is the historical study of tropes, which aims to "define the dominant tropes of an epoch" and to "find those tropes in literary and non-literary texts", an interdisciplinary investigation of which Michel Foucault was an "important exemplar". [6]

In medieval writing

A specialized use is the medieval amplification of texts from the liturgy, such as in the Kyrie Eleison (Kyrie, / magnae Deus potentia, / liberator hominis, / transgressoris mandati, / eleison). The most important example of such a trope is the Quem quaeritis? , an amplification before the Introit of the Easter Sunday service and the source for liturgical drama. [3] [7] This particular practice came to an end with the Tridentine Mass, the unification of the liturgy in 1570 promulgated by Pope Pius V. [6]

In Victorian writing

Weaving is a literary trope that in the works of Victorian women authors symbolized a subversive femininity as a mode of self-expression for women, who were traditionally expected to remain silent in matters of public concern. [8]

Types and examples

Rhetoricians have analyzed a variety of "twists and turns" used in poetry and literature and have provided a list of labels for these poetic devices. These include:

For a longer list, see Figure of speech: Tropes.

Kenneth Burke has called metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche and irony the "four master tropes" [10] owing to their frequency in everyday discourse.

These tropes can be used to represent common recurring themes throughout creative works, and in a modern setting relationships and character interactions. It can also be used to denote examples of common repeating figures of speech and situations. [11]

Whilst most of the various forms of phrasing described above are in common usage, most of the terms themselves are not, in particular antanaclasis, litotes, metonymy, synecdoche and catachresis.[ citation needed ]

See also

Related Research Articles

Metaphor Figure of speech marked by implicit comparison

A metaphor is a figure of speech that, for rhetorical effect, directly refers to one thing by mentioning another. It may provide clarity or identify hidden similarities between two different ideas. Metaphors are often compared with other types of figurative language, such as antithesis, hyperbole, metonymy and simile. One of the most commonly cited examples of a metaphor in English literature comes from the "All the world's a stage" monologue from As You Like It:

A simile is a figure of speech that directly compares two things. Similes differ from other metaphors by highlighting the similarities between two things using comparison words such as "like", "as", "so", or " than", while other metaphors create an implicit comparison. This distinction is evident in the etymology of the words: simile derives from the Latin word similis, while metaphor derives from the Greek word metapherein.

Metonymy Figure of speech where a thing or concept is referred to indirectly by the name of something similar to it

Metonymy is a figure of speech in which a thing or concept is referred to by the name of something closely associated with that thing or concept.

Figure of speech Change of the expected pattern of words

A figure of speech or rhetorical figure is a word or phrase that entails an intentional deviation from ordinary language use in order to produce a rhetorical effect. Figures of speech are traditionally classified into schemes, which vary the ordinary sequence or pattern of words, and tropes, where words are made to carry a meaning other than what they ordinarily signify.

Synecdoche Use of a term for a part of something to refer to the whole or vice versa

A synecdoche is a figure of speech in which a term for a part of something refers to the whole of something or vice versa.

Catachresis, originally meaning a semantic misuse or error—e.g., using "militate" for "mitigate", "chronic" for "severe", "travesty" for "tragedy", "anachronism" for "anomaly", "alibi" for "excuse", etc.—is also the name given to many different types of figures of speech in which a word or phrase is being applied in a way that significantly departs from conventional usage.

Literal and figurative language is a distinction within some fields of language analysis, in particular stylistics, rhetoric, and semantics.

In rhetoric, litotes is a figure of speech and form of verbal irony in which understatement is used to emphasize a point by stating a negative to further affirm a positive, often incorporating double negatives for effect. Litotes is a form of understatement, more specifically meiosis, and is always deliberate with the intention of emphasis. However, the interpretation of negation may depend on context, including cultural context. In speech, it may also depend on intonation and emphasis; for example, the phrase "not bad" can be intonated differently so as to mean either "mediocre" or "excellent". Along the same lines, litotes can be used as a euphemism to diminish the harshness of an observation; "He isn't the cleanest person I know" could be used as a means of indicating that someone is a messy person.

In rhetoric, a rhetorical device, persuasive device, or stylistic device is a technique that an author or speaker uses to convey to the listener or reader a meaning with the goal of persuading them towards considering a topic from a perspective, using language designed to encourage or provoke an emotional display of a given perspective or action. Rhetorical devices evoke an emotional response in the audience through use of language, but that is not their primary purpose. Rather, by doing so, they seek to make a position or argument more compelling than it would otherwise be.

In rhetoric, zeugma and syllepsis are figures of speech in which a single phrase or word joins different parts of a sentence.

Metalepsis is a figure of speech in which a word or a phrase from figurative speech is used in a new context.

Articles related to literature include:

Kyrie Common name of a Christian liturgical prayer

Kyrie, a transliteration of Greek Κύριε, vocative case of Κύριος (Kyrios), is a common name of an important prayer of Christian liturgy, also called the Kyrie eleison.

In rhetoric, antanaclasis is the literary trope in which a single word or phrase is repeated, but in two different senses. Antanaclasis is a common type of pun, and like other kinds of pun, it is often found in slogans.

Polyptoton is the stylistic scheme in which words derived from the same root are repeated. A related stylistic device is antanaclasis, in which the same word is repeated, but each time with a different sense. Another related term is figura etymologica.

Signifyin' (vernacular), is a wordplay. It is a practice in African-American culture involving a verbal strategy of indirection that exploits the gap between the denotative and figurative meanings of words. A simple example would be insulting someone to show affection. Other names for signifyin' include: "Dropping lugs, joaning, sounding, capping, snapping, dissing, busting, bagging, janking, ranking, toasting, woofing, putting on, or cracking."

Owing to its origin in ancient Greece and Rome, English rhetorical theory frequently employs Greek and Latin words as terms of art. This page explains commonly used rhetorical terms in alphabetical order. The brief definitions here are intended to serve as a quick reference rather than an in-depth discussion. For more information, click the terms.

This glossary of literary terms is a list of definitions of terms and concepts used in the discussion, classification, analysis, and criticism of all types of literature, such as poetry, novels, and picture books, as well as of grammar, syntax, and language techniques. For a more complete glossary of terms relating to poetry in particular, see Glossary of poetry terms.

Irony Rhetorical device, literary technique, or situation in which there is an incongruity between the literal and the implied meaning

Irony, in its broadest sense, is a rhetorical device, literary technique, or event in which what on the surface appears to be the case or to be expected differs radically from what is actually the case.

Trope (cinema) Element of film semiology

In cinema, a trope is what The Art Direction Handbook for Film defines as "a universally identified image imbued with several layers of contextual meaning creating a new visual metaphor".



  1. Miller (1990). Tropes, Parables, and Performatives. Duke University Press. p.  9. ISBN   978-0822311119.
  2. 1 2 author., Lundberg, Christian O. (Christian Oscar),. The essential guide to rhetoric. ISBN   978-1-319-09419-5. OCLC   1016051800.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  3. 1 2 Cuddon, J. A.; Preston, C. E. (1998). "Trope". The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory (4 ed.). London: Penguin. p.  948. ISBN   9780140513639.
  4. 1 2 "trope", Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, 2009, retrieved 2009-10-16
  5. "trope (revised entry)". Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. 2014.
  6. 1 2 3 Childers, Joseph; Hentzi, Gary (1995). "Trope" . The Columbia Dictionary of Modern Literary and Cultural Criticism. New York: Columbia UP. p.  309. ISBN   9780231072434.
  7. Cuddon, J. A.; Preston, C. E. (1998). "Quem quaeritis trope". The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory (4 ed.). London: Penguin. p.  721. ISBN   9780140513639.
  8. Hirsch, Marianne (1989). The Mother / Daughter Plot: Narrative, Psychoanalysis, Feminism. p. 69.
  9. author., Lundberg, Christian O. (Christian Oscar),. The essential guide to rhetoric. ISBN   978-1-319-09419-5. OCLC   1016051800.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  10. Burke, K. (1969). A grammar of motives . Berkeley: University of California Press.
  11. D'Angelo, Frank J. (September 1992). "The four master tropes: Analogues of development". Rhetoric Review. 11 (1): 91–107. doi:10.1080/07350199209388989. ISSN   0735-0198.