METRO Glossary





Synonym: stress

The especial force devoted to the voicing of one syllable in a word over others.


Lacking a beginning.


A poetic line with twelve syllables.


From Latin littera, an alphabetic letter.

The repetition of an initial consonant or consonant cluster.

Example: "Fee, fi, fo, fum."


Greek for "saying otherwise."

Saying one thing (the "vehicle" of the allegory), and meaning another (the allegory’s "tenor"). Allegories may be momentary aspects of a work, as in metaphor ("John is a lion"), or, through extended metaphor, may constitute the basis of narrative.


A three-syllable foot following the rhythmic pattern, in English verse, of two unstressed (uu) syllables followed by one stressed (/).

Example: Illinois


Greek for "carrying back."

The repetition of a word or group of words at the beginning of sentences, clauses, or lines of poetry.


The poetic address of a person or a personified figure who is not physically present in the poem.


A grammatical construction in which two elements, usually noun phrases, are placed right next to each other, with one element serving to define or modify the other.


The repetition of a certain vowel sound within a passage (usually within stressed syllables).


Lacking an ending.

auxiliary verb

Auxiliary verbs are verbs that help form the various tenses, moods, and voices of other verbs. The principal ones in English are bedo, and have. They are sometimes called helping verbs because they help form the tenses of main verbs.


Greek for "depth."

A sudden and sometimes ridiculous descent of tone.


Latin for "cut."

A pause or breathing space within a line of verse, generally occurring between syntactic units.


A word written at the very end of the last page of a given quire, indicating the first word or syllable of the next quire. Catchwords helped insure that quires would be assembled in the correct order when finally bound together.

Houghton MS Eng 920, image 1Houghton MS Eng 920, image 2

Catchwords are visible at the end of quires in Chaucer's Treatise on the Astrolabe (Houghton Library, MS Eng 920); above, you can see a catchword as it appears at the bottom of folio 10 verso, and the same word repeated at the beginning of folio 11 recto.


The physical format of most modern books and medieval manuscripts, consisting of a series of separate leaves gathered into quires and bound together, often with a cover.


The study of books, particularly manuscripts, and the materials and techniques of their production.


Someone who collects and organizes multiple works into a single manuscript. In the Middle Ages, a single manuscript did not necessarily contain a single text or even the works of a single author; instead, a manuscript's contents depended on the compilers who assembled texts according to their own preferences, or their patron's.


A conditional is used to talk about possible or imaginary situations. It uses an if...then construction, although the word "then" is often omitted.

Example: If I go, (then) he would be sad.


The conventional associations of a given word, beyond its literal meaning or denotation.


The repetition of certain pattern of consonants within a passage, with changes in the intervening vowels (e.g. "send, sand, sinned").

copy text

also 'base manuscript'

The text selected as the closest to the original, which is believed to contain the most authentic version of the text.


Greek for "finger," pertinent for its three joints.

A three-syllable foot following the rhythmic pattern, in English verse, of one stressed (/) followed by two unstressed (uu) syllables.

Example: Michigan


plural deictics

Greek for "pointing."

A word that points to the "here" and "now" of a literary work.


The literal meaning of a word.


Latin for "word."

The actual words used in any utterance: speech, writing, or literary works.


Greek for "two measure."

A two-stress line, rarely used as the meter of whole poems, though used with great frequency in single poems by Skelton.


The study of old documents, especially those that are historical.

direct object

The direct object of a verb is created, affected or altered by the action of a verb, or appreciated or sensed by the subject of the verb.

Example: In the sentence, "John kicks the ball," the direct object is "ball."

dream vision

A popular literary genre in the Middle Ages. In a dream vision, the narrator generally falls asleep at the beginning of the poem and dreams. A guide of some sort is usually encountered during the dream, and the narrator awakens at the poem's close.


The omission of one or more sounds (such as a vowel, a consonant, or a whole syllable) in a word or phrase. In Middle English poetry, an elision generally occurs whenever a word ending in a vowel is followed by a word beginning with a vowel or the letter "h."


The alteration of the text of a manuscript in a printed edition, to reflect what is believed to be the scribe's intention or the original text.


The co-incidence of a complete syntactic unit and a complete metrical pattern, as opposed to enjambment.


French for "striding, encroaching."

The contrary of end-stopping, enjambment occurs when the syntactic unit does not end with the metrical pattern, i.e. when the sense of the line overflows its meter and, therefore, the line break.


The closing words of a medieval text. A text's incipit and explicit are often used in place of a title to identify the text.


A Latin term for a verbal parallelism, in which an idea is rephrased and repeated.


A common phenomenon among medieval scribes, eyeskip occurs when a scribe inadvertently omits a portion of a text during the process of transcription due to the fact that the beginnings of two lines in the source text are similar.

feminine rhyme

The rhyme of two or more syllables at the end of poetic lines. The final syllable is unstressed, which creates the effect of a "falling" rhyme.

See, for example, the conclusion of Shakespeare's Sonnet 20:

"But since she prick'd thee out for women's pleásure,
Mine be thy love and thy love's use their treásure."

figures of speech

Verbal patterns that are apparent to the eye or ear.

figures of thought

Verbal patterns that are conceptual, and may violate the normal rules of language.


A manuscript leaf. Each folio has two sides: a recto (the front side of the leaf, on the right side of a double-page spread in an open codex), and a verso (the back side of the leaf, on the left side of a double-page spread). Modern book pagination follows the pattern 1, 2, 3, 4, while medieval manuscript pagination follows the pattern 1r, 1v, 2r, 2v.


An individual scribe's unique style of handwriting.


Greek for "six measure."

The hexameter line is the meter of classical Latin epic; while not imitated in that form for epic verse in English, some instances of the hexameter (a six-stress line) exist.


A poetic device in which words that naturally belong together are separated from each other for emphasis or effect.


Greek for "over-measured."

Any instance where the expected metrical pattern is broken by excess.


A nonlinear presentation of text, allowing for several possible directions of reading to be determined by the reader.


Greek for "ordering under."

The use of subordinate clauses in a sentence with a single main verb.

Example: The boy who cried wolf was ridiculed.

i-mutation noun

A noun whose plural is formed not by adding a suffix, but rather by changing an internal vowel sound in the singular form of the word.

I-mutation has occurred over time in several languages, as vowel sounds in plural suffixes began to change the vowel sound in certain root words, resulting in some nouns with non-standard plural forms.

Examples: "mouse" and "mice," "foot" and "feet."


A two-syllable foot following the rhythmic pattern, in English verse, of unstressed (u) followed by stressed (/) syllable, thus producing a rising effect.

Example: Vermont

Note: the basic foot of English verse


The illustration, decoration, or embellishment of a manuscript with color, especially with gold or silver.


A verb used to give orders, commands and instructions.

Example: In the sentence, "Go outside," the imperative verb is "go."


The opening words of a medieval text. A text's incipit and explicit are often used in place of a title to identify the text.


Any printed book produced in Europe before 1501. Famous incunabula include the Gutenberg Bible, printed in 1455. Sometimes referred to as "incunables."


A mood of a verb, favored in declarative statements.

Example: He will be home soon.

indirect object

The indirect object of a verb is not directly affected by the action, but can either receive the direct object or have the action done for them.

Example: In the sentence, "I give the gift to her," the indirect object is "her."

internal rhyme

Rhyme that occurs within a single line of verse.


A rhetorical device in which what is literally expressed is different from, and usually opposite to, what is actually meant or understood.

lexical set

Words that habitually recur together.

Examples: January, February, March; Christ, God, Mary.

littera notabilior

An enlarged letter, usually used to mark the beginning of a new section of text in a manuscript.

main clause

A main clause is a clause that is not introduced by a subordinating term. It does not modify anything, and it can stand alone as a complete sentence.

Example: In the sentence, "While riding her bike to the store, Meg stopped," the main clause is "Meg stopped."

main verb

The main verb is the most important verb in a sentence; without it, the sentence would not be complete.

Example: In the sentence, "While riding her bike to the store, which was far away, Meg stopped," the main verb is "stopped."


Latin for "written by hand."

A book or document written by hand (as opposed to modern printed books, which are produced mechanically with printing presses). Abbreviated ms (singular) or mss (plural).


Empty space surrounding the block of text on a manuscript page. This space can be filled with marginalia (marginal illuminations, notes, or glosses).


Greek for "carrying across."

The identification, or implicit identification, of one thing with another, with which it is not normally identifiable. A figure of thought.


A figure of thought in which a thing or concept is not called by its own name, but by the name of something with which it is closely associated.

Example: "The White House supports the bill" (using "The White House" instead of "The President").


A single written stroke. Minims were component strokes of many medieval letters, such as i, j, m, n, u, and v.

A single minim (the letter "i"):


Three minims. This could be 1) "m"; 2) "ui"; 3) "iu"; 4) "ni"; 5) "in". Context must decide.



Greek for "one measure."

An entire line with just one stress.

n-plural noun

A noun whose plural is formed with an "n" suffix, rather than an "s" suffix.

Example: "to" and "toon" (rather than the Modern English "toe" and "toes").


The study of old handwriting. For a brief tutorial, see "How to Read Medieval Handwriting (Paleography)" under The study of old handwriting. For a brief tutorial, see "How to Read Medieval Handwriting (Paleography)" under Editions and Editing.


Greek for "ordering beside."

The use of coordinating clauses in a sentence, often marked by the conjunction "and."

Example: "I'll huff, and I'll puff, and I'll blow your house in."


A term used to describe scenes or passages in a text which prompt an audience's sympathy or pity.


In English verse, a five-stress line. Between the late fourteenth and the nineteenth centuries this meter, frequently employing an iambic rhythm, has been the basic line of English verse.

Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, and Wordsworth each deployed this very flexible line as their primary resource.


Greek for "talking around."

A figure of thought for a roundabout way of speaking, or circumlocution. Thus: instead of "The President," "The current incumbent of the White House."


Small holes made with a point or knife along the length of a manuscript page, used as a guide for ruling.


Pricking is visible down the right side of this page from Chaucer's Treatise on the Astrolabe (Houghton MS Eng 920).


A word standing in for a noun. The commonest kinds are personal pronouns ("I," "you," "he," "she"); demonstrative pronouns ("this," "that"); possessive pronouns ("mine," "yours"); and interrogative pronouns ("who?").


A play on words.

Example: "When I am dead, I hope it may be said: 'His sins were scarlet, but his books were read'" (Hilaire Belloc).


Latin for "point."


A type of punctuation that looks like our modern period. Typically used to separate minor syntactic units, such as clauses.

punctus elevatus

Latin for "raised point."


A type of punctuation that looks like an inverted semi-colon. Typically used to separate major syntactic units, such as sentences.


When medieval manuscripts were assembled, a few loose sheets of parchment or paper would first be folded together and sewn along the fold. This formed a quire (also known as a "gathering" or "signature"). Folded in this way, four large sheets of parchment would produce eight smaller manuscript leaves. Multiple quires could then be bound together to form a codex.


A particular group of versions of a text.


The stylistic level of a word or utterance. The register is distinguished by its degree of technicality but also by its degree of formality.


To alter spelling or punctuation from the manuscript text to reflect modern English usage.

relative clause

A clause that modifies a noun or a noun phrase in a sentence.

Example: In the sentence, "The little boy, who lived down the lane, was very clever," the relative clause is "who lived down the lane."

relative pronoun

Relative pronouns, such as that, who, which, whose, and whom, introduce relative clauses in sentences.

Example: In the sentence, "The little boy, who lived down the lane, was very clever," the relative pronoun is "who."

rhyme royal

A stanzaic verse form first introduced into English by Chaucer. The form consists of seven lines of iambic pentameter, with the rhyme scheme ababbcc.


A word, heading, or section of text written in red in order to make it stand out from the surrounding text.


Horizontal lines impressed into or drawn on a manuscript page, which served as a guide for the scribe who would write the text. This could be accomplished with a hard point, which left a slight indentation on the page, or a lead point, which drew a light lead line on the page.


A faint lead ruling is visible between lines of text on this page from Chaucer's Treatise on the Astrolabe (Houghton MS Eng 920).


The person who writes text in a manuscript.


The handwriting used in manuscripts. A variety of different scripts developed during the Middle Ages, with notable functional, regional, and historical differences.

For more information on different kinds of medieval scripts, see "Types of Scripts" under Editions and Editing.


plural scriptoria

A place for producing written documents and manuscripts.


singular siglum

Abbreviations or symbols used to denote manuscript sources in critical editions.


A figure of thought comparing two different things, usually introduced with the word "like" or "as."


A two-syllable foot following the rhythmic pattern, in English verse, of two stressed (//) syllables.

Example: New York


plural stemmata

A description of the relationships between manuscripts of the same text. Stemmata are conceptualized in the manner of genealogies: when manuscripts appear to be copied from other manuscripts, they are said to "descend" from the earlier manuscript.


The subject or of a sentence is the noun, pronoun or noun phrase that governs the main verb. In Modern English, the subject always precedes the verb.

Example: In the sentence, "The frog croaked," the subject is "frog."


A mood of a verb, used when there is an attitude of doubt, uncertainty, or speculation.

Example: "I wish she were nicer." Were is subjunctive.

subordinate clause

A subordinate clause is usually introduced by a subordinating element such as a subordinating conjunction or relative pronoun (for instance, "while," "although," "because," "which"). It depends on the rest of the sentence for its meaning. It does not express a complete thought, so it does not stand alone. It must always be attached to a main clause that completes the meaning.

Example: In the sentence, "Because he stayed out past curfew, his parents grounded him," the subordinate clause is "because he stayed out past curfew."


The smallest unit of sound in a pronounced word. The syllable that receives the greatest stress is called the tonic syllable.


In literature, an object or event which has a further range of reference beyond itself. A symbol can implicitly gesture toward other objects, events, or concepts through association, convention, or resemblance.


Greek for "four measure."

A line with four stresses.

textual families

A group of "related" manuscripts (i.e., manuscripts that were copied from the same exemplar).


A letter-by-letter copy of a text (usually from a manuscript.)


Greek for "three measure."

A line with three stresses.


A two-syllable foot following the pattern, in English verse, of stressed (/) followed by unstressed (u) syllable, thus producing a falling effect.

Example: Texas


Differences (in word choice, phrase choice, spelling) that appear among different manuscripts or printed editions of the same text.


A punctuation mark that looks like the modern slash (/). The virgula (plural virgulae or virgule) was used to divide small syntactic units, and sometimes verse lines or half-lines.