Slaying the Fire-Breathing Jargon
The new SAT includes questions about rhetorical devices
on both long and short RPs. Rhetorical devices are tools that authors
use to convey meaning or add depth and richness to their writing.
Terms such as simile, metaphor,
and personification are rhetorical devices. Jargon’s
in, so now you’ve got to figure jargon out.
If you think this decision confirms that the new SAT overhaul
is really more like The SAT Gone Wild, we don’t necessarily disagree.
But consider this: You’ll have to recognize and analyze rhetorical
devices in literature throughout high school and college. Learning
these terms now will actually prove useful to your education beyond
studying for the SAT. To help you get the most important rhetorical
devices down cold, here’s a list of the top 25 terms that will most
likely appear on the new SAT:
- Alliteration—The repetition
of similar sounds, usually consonants, at the beginning of words.
“Sweet scented stuff” is an example of alliteration in Robert Frost’s
poem “Out, Out—.”
- Allusion—A reference within a literary work
to a historical, literary, or biblical character, place, or event.
The following line from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice contains
an allusion to the Roman mythological character Cupid: “Come, come,
Nerissa; for I long to see quick Cupid’s post that comes so mannerly.”
- Assonance—The repetition of vowel sounds
in a sequence of nearby words. “The monster spoke in a low mellow
tone” has assonance in its repetition of the “o” sound.
- Caricature—A description or characterization
that exaggerates or distorts a character’s prominent features, usually
for purposes of mockery. A cartoon of Abraham Lincoln with a giant
top hat, a very thick beard, and extremely sunken eyes could be
considered a caricature.
- Cliché—A familiar expression that has been
used and reused so many times that it’s lost its expressive power.
“Happy as a clam” or “eyes like a hawk” are examples of clichés.
- Epiphany—A sudden, powerful, and often spiritual
or life-changing realization that a character experiences in an
otherwise ordinary moment.
- Foreshadowing—An author’s deliberate use
of hints or suggestions to give a preview of events or themes that
do not develop until later in the narrative. Images such as a storm
brewing or a crow landing on a fencepost often foreshadow ominous
developments in a story.
- Hyperbole—An excessive overstatement or exaggeration
of fact. “I’ve told you that a million times already” is a hyperbolic
- Idiom—A common expression that has acquired
a meaning that differs from its literal meaning, such as “It’s raining
cats and dogs” or “That cost me an arm and a leg.”
- Imagery—Language that brings to mind sensory
impressions. Homer’s description of dawn as “rosy-fingered” in the Odyssey is
an example of his use of imagery.
- Irony—Irony usually emphasizes
the contrast between the way things are expected to be and the way
they actually are. Here’s an example of irony: Medieval people believed
that bathing would harm them when in fact not bathing
led to the unsanitary conditions that caused the bubonic plague.
- Metaphor—The comparison of one thing to another
that does not use the terms like or as.
Metaphors use a form of the verb “to be” to establish a comparison. A metaphor
from Shakespeare’s Macbeth: “Life is but a walking
- Motif—A recurring structure, contrast, idea,
or other device that develops a literary work’s major ideas. Urban
decay is a motif in the novel 1984, which is filled
with scenes of a dilapidated, rundown city. Shadows and darkness
is a motif in A Tale of Two Cities, a novel that
contains many dreary, gloomy scenes and settings.
- Onomatopoeia—The use of words such as pop or hiss where
the spoken sound resembles the actual sound. “The whoosh of
the waves at the seashore,” and “The zoom of the
race cars speeding around the track” are two examples of onomatopoeia.
- Oxymoron—The association of two terms that
seem to contradict each other, as in the expression “wise fool”
or “jumbo shrimp.”
- Paradox—A statement that seems contradictory
on the surface but often expresses a deeper truth. The line from
Oscar Wilde’s The Ballad of Reading Gaol, “All
men destroy the things they love” is a paradox.
- Personification—The use of human characteristics
to describe animals, things, or ideas. Using the word “babbling”
to describe a brook is an example of personification.
- Pun—A play on words that uses the similarity
in sound between two words with distinctly different meanings. For
example, the title of Oscar Wilde’s play The Importance
of Being Earnest is a pun on the word earnest,
which means “serious” or “sober,” and the name “Ernest.”
- Rhetorical Question—A question asked not
to elicit an actual response but to make an impact or call attention
to something. “Will the world ever see the end of war?” is an example
of a rhetorical question.
- Sarcasm—A verbal tone in which it is obvious
from context that the speaker means the opposite of what he or she
says. “Mom, I’d love to see Howard the Duck with
you” is probably a phrase you would say sarcastically.
- Simile—A comparison of two things that uses
the words like or as. “Love is
like a fire” is a simile.
- Symbol—An object, character, figure, place,
or color used to represent an abstract idea or concept. The two
roads in Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” symbolize the
choice between two paths in life.
- Theme—A fundamental and universal idea explored
in a literary work. The struggle to achieve the American Dream is
a common theme in twentieth-century American literature.
- Thesis—The central argument that an author
tries to make in a literary work. Some might consider J. D. Salinger’s
thesis in The Catcher in the Rye that society often
forces people to be phoney.
- Tone—The author’s or narrator’s attitude
toward the story or the subject. The tone of the Declaration
of Independence is determined and confident.