7 Obscure Literary Devices


Metaphor. Foreshadowing. Boy wizards. Most of us know the common elements of fiction. But there’s an endless supply of devices authors use to augment their work, including some that demand such a high degree of difficulty that they’re rarely employed. We’re betting you haven’t seen these techniques in recent bestsellers—though they might’ve been more interesting if you had.

1. The Intrusive Narrator

Otherwise known as an omniscient narrator, this third-person storyteller is more than just a mere chronicler of events: he (or she) also editorializes, providing subjective insight into characters and situations. In Jane Eyre—ostensibly a first-person work—Charlotte Bronte interjects by describing details of a room or foreshadowing events and addressing the reader directly. In The Princess Bride, author William Goldman provides two intrusive narrators: fictional storyteller S. Morgenstern and Goldman himself, who claims to have abridged Morgenstern’s manuscript after it was read to him as a child. “This is my favorite book in all the world,” Goldman explains, “though I have never read it.” 

2. Amanuensis

A common prerequisite of writing is being literate, though that didn’t slow down some of the authors from earlier civilizations who had something to say. They employed an amanuensis, essentially someone to take dictation for them, while they recited their work verbally. Many contemporary writers reject this practice—which can now be done via software—because they prefer to see the words appear on the computer screen or paper. But Henry James and Dostoevsky employed women who actually acted as sounding boards, reacting to the story being told. It could change a narrative’s direction: Dostoevsky even called his typist (and later wife) a “collaborator.” 

3. Charactonyms

A common presence in cartoons, a charactonym is a name that’s overtly reflective of a character’s personality. Dudley Do-Right and Snidely Whiplash are charactonyms with training wheels; few authors are that on-the-nose. Charles Dickens was renowned for proper names that acted as descriptors: His Mr. Gradgrind was a tyrannical headmaster; Mr. Jaggers, a tenacious lawyer. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is equally well-stocked, though more subversive: Draco Malfoy resonates as a likely antagonist, Draco is Latin for dragon, and Rowling has indicated that Malfoy is French for "Bad Faith." 

4. Reverse Chronology

Starting with an ending and ending with the beginning, novels told in reverse trade surprise for unspooling exposition. Martin Amis’s Time’s Arrow places its protagonist—a German Holocaust physician—as an elderly man postwar at the start and charts his journey until the book ends with his birth. Rebecca Makkai’s Hundred Year House begins in 1990 and wraps up in 1900, guiding the reader through a reversed series of occupant drama in a Chicago Mansion.   

5. The Second Person

Sometimes seen in short stories, the second person narrative is a tricky one to pull off in book-length form. While ostensibly immersive—the author directly addresses the reader, making him/her an active participant in the story—it’s also oddly displacing. Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City is one of the few major novels of the past decades to attempt it, implicating the reader in a lurid tale of debauchery. The most popular example of the technique is the Choose Your Own Adventure series, which allowed young readers to make decisions inside the story.  

6. Poetic Novels

While some readers might describe a novel as poetry, it’s usually not meant literally. Poetic novels are told through verse in their entirety. Don Juan is one example, with the titular womanizer’s exploits related through more than 16,000 lines of verse. Karen Hesse’s 1997 novel, Out of the Dust, which describes a Dust Bowl family’s struggles in 1935 Oklahoma, is comprised entirely of free-verse poems.

7. The Book-Length Sentence

Of all literary devices, the level of difficulty in an entire book comprised of one sentence is substantial—that’s probably why only a handful of writers have ever tried it. The most notable is Bohumil Hrabal’s Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age, a 1964 novel about a loquacious shoemaker that the New York Times described as “an unbroken highway of text.” Considering Hrabal’s objective, that should be considered a compliment.

Sploot 101: 12 Animal Slang Words Every Pet Parent Should Know

For centuries, dogs were dogs and cats were cats. They did things like bark and drink water and lay down—actions that pet parents didn’t need a translator to understand.

Then the internet arrived. Scroll through the countless Facebook groups and Twitter accounts dedicated to sharing cute animal pictures and you’ll quickly see that dogs don’t have snouts, they have snoots, and cats come in a colorful assortment of shapes and sizes ranging from smol to floof.

Pet meme language has been around long enough to start leaking into everyday conversation. If you're a pet owner (or lover) who doesn’t want to be out of the loop, here are the terms you need to know.


You know your pet is fully relaxed when they’re doing a sploot. Like a split but for the whole body, a sploot occurs when a dog or cat stretches so their bellies are flat on the ground and their back legs are pointing behind them. The amusing pose may be a way for them to take advantage of the cool ground on a hot day, or just to feel a satisfying stretch in their hip flexors. Corgis are famous for the sploot, but any quadruped can do it if they’re flexible enough.


Person holding Marnie the dog.
Emma McIntyre, Getty Images for ASPCA

Unlike most items on this list, the word derp isn’t limited to cats and dogs. It can also be a stand-in for such expressions of stupidity as “duh” or “dur.” In recent years the term has become associated with clumsy, clueless, or silly-looking cats and dogs. A pet with a tongue perpetually hanging out of its mouth, like Marnie or Lil Bub, is textbook derpy.


Cat laying on desk chair.
PoppetCloset, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

If you’ve ever caught a cat or dog poking the tip of its tongue past its front teeth, you’ve seen a blep in action. Unlike a derpy tongue, a blep is subtle and often gone as quickly as it appears. Animal experts aren’t entirely sure why pets blep, but in cats it may have something to do with the Flehmen response, in which they use their tongues to “smell” the air.


Mlems and bleps, though very closely related, aren’t exactly the same. While blep is a passive state of being, mlem is active. It’s what happens when a pet flicks its tongue in and out of its mouth, whether to slurp up water, taste food, or just lick the air in a derpy fashion. Dogs and cats do it, of course, but reptiles have also been known to mlem.


Very fluffy cat.
J. Sibiga Photography, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Some pets barely have any fur, and others have coats so voluminous that hair appears to make up most of their bodyweight. Dogs and cats in the latter group are known as floofs. Floofy animals will famously leave a wake of fur wherever they sit and can squeeze through tight spaces despite their enormous mass. Samoyeds, Pomeranians, and Persian cats are all prime examples of floofs.


Dog outside barking.

According to some corners of the internet, dogs don’t bark, they bork. Listen carefully next time you’re around a vocal doggo and you won’t be able to unhear it.


Shiba inu smiling up at the camera.

Speaking of doggos: This word isn’t hard to decode. Every dog—regardless of size, floofiness, or derpiness—can be a doggo. If you’re willing to get creative, the word can even be applied to non-dog animals like fennec foxes (special doggos) or seals (water doggos). The usage of doggo saw a spike in 2016 thanks to the internet and by the end of 2017 it was listed as one of Merriam-Webster’s “Words We’re Watching.”


Tiny kitten in grass.

Some pets are so adorably, unbearably tiny that using proper English to describe them just doesn’t cut it. Not every small pet is smol: To earn the label, a cat or dog (or kitten or puppy) must excel in both the tiny and cute departments. A pet that’s truly smol is likely to induce excited squees from everyone around it.


Hands holding a puppy.

Like doggo, pupper is self-explanatory: It can be used in place of the word puppy, but if you want to use it to describe a fully-grown doggo who’s particularly smol and cute, you can probably get away with it.

10. BOOF

We’ve already established that doggos go bork, but that’s not the only sound they make. A low, deep bark—perhaps from a dog that can’t decide if it wants to expend its energy on a full bark—is best described as a boof. Consider a boof a warning bark before the real thing.


Dog noses poking out beneath blanket.

Snoot was already a dictionary-official synonym for nose by the time dog meme culture took the internet by storm. But while snoot is rarely used to describe human faces today, it’s quickly becoming the preferred term for pet snouts. There’s even a wholesome viral challenge dedicated to dogs poking their snoots through their owners' hands.

12. BOOP

Have you ever seen a dog snoot so cute you just had to reach out and tap it? And when you did, was your action accompanied by an involuntary “boop” sound? This urge is so universal that boop is now its own verb. Humans aren’t the only ones who can boop: Search the word on YouTube and treat yourself to hours of dogs, cats, and other animals exchanging the love tap.

From Camreigh to Kayzleigh: Parents Invented More Than 1000 New Baby Names Last Year

Look out Mercedes, Bentley, and Royce—there's a new car-inspired name in town. The name Camreigh was recorded for the first time in the U.S. last year, according to Quartz’s take on data released by the U.S. Social Security Administration.

The name was given to 91 babies in 2017, making it the most popular of the 1100 brand-new names that cropped up last year. However, the Social Security Administration only listed names that had been given to at least five babies in 2017, so it's possible that some of the names had been invented before 2017.

An alternate spelling, Kamreigh, also appeared for the first time last year, as did Brexleigh, Kayzleigh, Addleigh, Iveigh, Lakeleigh, and Riverleigh. Swapping out “-y” and “-ey” for “-eigh” at the end of a name has been a growing trend in recent years, and in 20 years or so, the workforce will be filled with Ryleighs, Everleighs, and Charleighs—names that all appeared on a list of the 500 most popular names in 2017.

Following Camreigh, the second most popular new name, appearing 58 times, was Asahd. Meaning “lion” in Arabic, Asahd was popularized in 2016 when DJ Khaled gave his son the name. The American DJ is now attempting to trademark the moniker, which is an alternate spelling of Asad and Assad.

Other names that were introduced for the first time include Iretomiwa (of Nigerian origin) and Tewodros (Ethiopian). The name Arjunreddy (given 12 times) possibly stems from the 2017 release of the Indian, Telugu-language film Arjun Reddy, whose title character is a surgeon who spirals out of control when he turns to alcohol and drugs.

Perhaps an even bigger surprise is the fact that 11 babies were named Cersei in 2017, or, as Quartz puts it, "11 fresh-faced, sinless babies were named after the manipulative, power-hungry, incestuous, helicopter parent-y, backstabbing character from Game of Thrones."

Below are the top 20 most popular new names in 2017.

1. Camreigh
2. Asahd
3. Taishmara
4. Kashdon
5. Teylie
6. Kassian
7. Kior
8. Aaleiya
9. Kamreigh
10. Draxler
11. Ikeni
12. Noctis
13. Sayyora
14. Mohana
15. Dakston
16. Knoxlee
17. Amunra
18. Arjunreddy
19. Irtaza
20. Ledgen

[h/t Quartz]


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