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Dictionary of Literary Terms – why you need one

Alok Mishra tells the students of English literature why do they need a good dictionary of literary terms and literary theory. Read this article to understand the need for a specialised dictionary of literary vocabulary.

dictionary of literary terms alok mishra

Having a dictionary is always a cool idea as a student. However, most of the students of literature don’t usually think it cool to have a literary dictionary or a dictionary of literary terms. And at the outset, let me make it clear that it is a mistake that they make and it might cost this or that moment – be sure! If you are a serious student of English literature, you must have a dictionary of literary terms and maybe theory too. It will be your instant door out of any problems you find yourself trapped in. Let me make some points on why a student of literature should have a dictionary of literary terms.

Some of the terms used in literary corridors are really tough. And at times, we need the help of dictionaries which are not general but are specialised enough to tell us the exact meaning and details of the terms we inquire. For example, when you see for ‘deconstruction’ in any general dictionary, most of the times, you will get a result resembling the following:

“noun – a philosophical theory of criticism which seeks to explore the possible contradictions in a work by digging the various layers”

Have you got it? On such occasions, these meanings need to be explained themselves more than they explain the terms! And if you go to find such words in a literary dictionary, you will find meaning well-explained along with the details of the movement and examples and some of the key figures which were involved in such movements. Deconstruction will lead you to various other theories like structuralism and narratology; it will also introduce you to the personalities like Derrida and Barthes.

Dictionary of literary terms and (or) theories become you first handbook to know literature’s practical or applied aspects in short. In different words, they can easily expose you to the difficult world of literature which will enable you to equip yourself before you actually read the books on specialised subjects.

Do you know what these terms mean?

  • Litotes

  • Hiatus

  • Holophrasis

  • Catastasis

  • Periphrasis

  • Sestina

    and more…

Well, there will be a huge gap between what the general dictionary will tell you and what a literary terms dictionary will tell you. So, always keep at least one good dictionary of literary terms with you. Below are my opinions on the most popular ones. You can choose one or all of them or as many of them as you want.

Penguin’s Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory: This is the most popular book when it comes to this category! You can go for this without any worry. This will explain to you the most versatile literary terms as well as offer an acute observation on various literary theories with minute details. It will satisfy all your literary needs at one place! You can get this book from Amazon and it will cost you something around 550 Rs with delivery charges. That’s a nothing price for such useful book! Here is the link:

Penguin Literary Terms & Theory Dictionary: 5th Edition: Amazon India

The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms: This is not so versatile as the Penguin one. However, this is stick when it comes to defining the terms. Though I prefer the former, you can still have it for a change of taste on some occasions or at times when you want to have second opinions. It’s cheaper than the Penguin dictionary as well – it will cost you something around 300 Rs only!

Buy Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms on Amazon India

A Glossary of Literary Terms: This is the classic one by M. H. Abrams: This is a very simple book but a significant one as it was among the firsts of its kind. I have taken it way before and it cost me just 120 Rs in the days when I did not have any cards (credit or debit) and there were no cheap android phones to enable us to shop online. Today, you can get this classic well under 300 Rs from Amazon link below. This book has a class language and the meanings of various literary terms will come to you as ‘education’. It has some basic things as well – the format of a book, various ages in English literature, three unities, and many others.

M. H. Abrams’ A Glossary of Literary Terms on Amazon 


You may buy one of these or you may buy all three. If you ask my personal opinion, I will advise you should take the Penguin one as that is the most versatile and competent one.

I hope you may have something from this post. DO let me know your opinions in the comment section. I will try to respond to as many as I can.

Alok Mishra

First and foremost a poet, Alok Mishra is an author next. Apart from these credentials, he is founder & Editor-in-Chief of Ashvamegh, an international literary magazine and also the founder of BookBoys PR, a company which helps writers brand themselves and promote their books. On this blog, Alok mostly writes about literary topics which are helpful for literature students and their teachers. He also shares his poems; personal thoughts and book reviews.

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