10 o’clock list: (Non-English) English Major Vocab

Tonight’s list is brought to you by friend of The Thrill Ben Ros ’14.

Being an English major isn’t always easy. Sometimes we have to look up words, and sometimes, they’re not even in English. Listen, I’m not saying we’re Kenyon’s hardest-working, but … well. Anyway, good guy that I am, I put together a few vocab words so that you can get back to work without actually using a dictionary. Oh, and you non-majors pay attention: drop a few of these bad boys in your 9:10 a.m. class discussion and that doe-eyed Chekhov lover will be chopping down your cherry orchard/that strapping young Faulkner fan will be bringing his sound and fury by lunchtime. To make it even easier for you, I’ve included modern examples to accompany the classics listed below, just in case it wasn’t on your required reading.

WARNING: Some links (especially in the first and definitely the fourth section) are definitively NSFW. You’ve been warned.

  1. bildungsroman (German): a literary genre which focuses on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood. One of my favorite stories in the bildungsroman tradition is Joyce‘s short story “Araby,” but we’re all familiar with this particular genre. Whether it’s tragically canceled shows or more mainstream fare, there’s no shortage of Hollywood narratives built off of acne-ridden, teenage angst to reassure us that we are not alone.
  2. deus ex machina (Latin): “god out of the machine”; a plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly solved with the contrived intervention of some new event, character, ability or object. Classically, deus ex machina has been used since its birth in Greek tragedy — but who actually reads that stuff? A much cooler example is H. G. Well’s War of the Worlds, in which a devastating alien invasion is thwarted by the common cold. The ark opening scene in the first Indiana Jones film, wherein God literally (and literarily) melts him some Nazi faces, is a solid modern example. It should be noted that the deus ex machina here isn’t actually God bringing down the hammer on the SS, but the fact that Indy (despite no former mention of it in the film) knows to close his eyes to avoid the holy wrath.
  3. picaresque (from the Spanish literary genre picaresco, from pícaro, for rogue or rascal): while the original genre was characterized by satire and depicts, in realistic and often humorous detail, the adventures of a roguish hero of low social class who lives by his wits in a corrupt society, the English-language term can simply refer to an episodic recounting of the adventures of an anti-hero on the road. The classic example from Spanish literature is Don Quixote, but we know the lovable scoundrel in a number of guises. (Ugh. I melt for that man.)
  4. fabliau (French): a short metrical tale, usually ribald and humorous, popular in medieval France. Perhaps one of the best-known stories influenced by the French fabliau is Geoffrey Chaucer‘s “Miller’s Tale” from The Canterbury Tales (which, by the way, follows “The Knight’s Tale”). You can see strains of fabliau’s “sexual and scatological obscenity” in Kevin Smith’s surprisingly lewd modern masterpiece. (Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)
  5. in media res (Latin): “into the middle of things;” the literary and artistic narrative technique wherein a story begins either at the mid-point or at the conclusion. The classic example is of Odysseus derpin’ with Calypso. (Incidentally, here’s some stop motion I stumbled across while looking up that last crap-tastic television movie. Why? Because men who somersault into green fireballs that produce some kind of heat-based force field are okay in my book.) Anyway, the modern example couldn’t be anything but this fine piece of cinema. Oh, and this one, too. Oh hey, and this guy. Hm … hmmmmm.
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6 responses

  1. Then, in the words of a famous Thrill writer, there is. . .wait for it. . .Deus ex moccasin. Which translates (maybe): If the shoe fits, or give fits, blame the guy upstairs.

  2. Pingback: From the Collegian Archives: Kenyon Students Never Change « The Thrill

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