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Literary Devices
AP English 12: Satire and Comedy Terminology
Satire – The act of ridiculing human vices and follies; laughing “at” others
because we (sometimes unwillingly) relate to them. It was originally
meant as constructive criticism of society, but is now a regular comedic
medium in pop-culture; derives from the Greek word Satura meaning “a
mixed dish” – in other words, a combination of mockery, parody, mockheroic, sarcasm, verbal irony, understatement, overstatement, and bathos.
Horatian: Named after the Roman satirist Horace, satire in which
the voice is indulgent, tolerant, amused, and witty. The speaker
holds up to gentle ridicule the absurdities and follies of human
beings, aiming at producing in the reader not the anger of a Juvenal,
but a wry smile.
Juvenalian: Named after the Roman satirist Juvenal, formal satire
in which the speaker attacks vice and error with contempt and
indignation; Juvenalian satire addresses social evil through scorn,
outrage, and savage ridicule. This form is often pessimistic,
characterized by irony, sarcasm, moral indignation and personal
invective, with less emphasis on humor.
Mennippean: Characterized by attacking mental attitudes rather
than specific individuals or entities.
Sarcasm – Using praise to personally mock someone; derives from a
Greek word meaning “to tear flesh”
Parody – A mocking imitation of a known person, literary work, cultural
icon, or institution
Puns – A play on words that relies on a word’s having more than one
meaning or being mistaken for a homophone
Repartee – Conversation featuring snappy retorts and witty comments –
often the verbal insults happen quickly or subtly, so only a quick observer
can follow along
Burlesque – A form of comedy characterized by ridiculous exaggeration
and distortion. A serious subject may be treated frivolously or a frivolous
subject seriously. The essential quality that makes for burlesque is the
discrepancy between subject matter and style. That is, a style ordinarily
dignified may be used for nonsensical matter, or a style very nonsensical
may be used to ridicule a weighty subject. Burlesque takes serious or
respectable issues and treats them as menial, or dismisses them quickly in
favor of something silly, or treats them in a way that is emotionally overdramatic
Farce – A low type of comedy that employs improbable or otherwise
ridiculous situations and mix-ups, slapstick and horseplay, and crude
Understatement – A type of satire in which one implies the opposite by
saying less than one means to say; very subtle
Meiosis – A figure of speech whereby something is made to seem
smaller or less important than it actually is. (Ex: “The Pond” for The
Atlantic Ocean)
Litotes – A figure of speech in which the speaker emphasizes the
magnitude of a statement by denying its opposite; a figure of speech
in which understatement is used with negation to express a positive
attribute (Ex: “He’s not exactly a rocket scientist.” OR “That’s not
Paralipsis – Irony in which one proposes to pass over a matter, but subtly
reveals it
Overstatement – Hyperbole; exaggeration for the purpose of making a
point or drawing attention to error or flaws
Mockery – An imitation, especially of a ridiculous or unsatisfactory kind;
whereas parody can sometimes be a form of flattery – “mocking”
something because it has set a standard or become iconic – mockery is
meant to demean or insult
Mock-Heroic – Imitation of the literary epic and its style by exaggeration
and distortion and by elevating the trivial to a level higher than it
deserves; Mock-Heroic takes something insignificant or tacky and treats it
with awe and authority
Bathos – Going quickly from the sublime or serious to the ridiculous or to
oversentimentalized; the humorous arrangement of items so that the listed
items descend from grandiosity to absurdity. In this technique, important
or prestigious ideas precede an inappropriate or inconsequential item. For
instance, "In the United States, Usama bin Laden is wanted for conspiracy,
murder, terrorism, and unpaid parking tickets."
Verbal Irony – A figure of speech in which a character says one thing but
means another or, inadvertently speaks an unknown truth