Slaying the Fire-Breathing Jargon
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 statement.
  • 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.
  • IronyIrony 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 shadow.”
  • 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.
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