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Poetic words


Special literary vocabulary

Terms are mostly and predominantly used in special works dealing with the notions of some branch of science. Therefore it may be said that they belong to the style of language of science where they fulfil their basic function, that of bearing exact reference to a given concept. This function of terms does not allow the development of polysemy and seldom do the terms have synonyms. Although the synonymy is uncharacteristic for this layer of vocabulary the cases of synonymic substitution are possible and even favourable for stylistic purposes especially in Ukrainian where the bulk of this layer consists of the loan words. Some loan terms in Ukrainian have their synonyms, e.g.: алфавіт – азбука – абетка, процент – відсоток, дует – двоспів etc. There is a tendency to use the loaned term in official style and in scientific works and to use its synonym in publicistic, newspaper, colloquial, belles-lettres styles. The following extract exemplifies how the usage of terms contributes to the realistic description of the laboratory where the main heroine works:


In front of her were the instruments which she had been taught to read…there was a logarithmic amplifier, with faces like speedometers, which would give a measure – she had picked up some jargon – of the “neutron flu”.

On the bench was pinned the sheet of graph paper and it was there that she was to plot the course of the experiment. As the heavy water was poured in, the neutron flux would rise: the point on the graph would lead down the spot where the pile had started to run where the chain reaction had begun… (Ch. Snow).


The use of terms in newspaper style, in publicistic and practically in all other existing styles of language may change their function. The function of terms, if encountered in other styles, is either to indicate the technical peculiarities of the subject dealt with, or to make some reference to the occupation of a character whose language would naturally contain special words and expressions. When a term occurs in the belles-lettres style, for instance, it may simultaneously actualize its direct and figurative meaning and may acquire a definite stylistic value:


"What a fool Rawdon Crawley has been," Clump replied, "to go and marry a governess. There was something about the girl too."

"Green eyes, fair skin, pretty figure, famous frontal development" Squill remarked. (W. M. Thackeray).

The combination 'frontal development' is terminological in character (used sometimes in anatomy). But being preceded by the word 'famous' used in the sense indicated by the Shorter Oxford Dictionary as "a strong expression of approval (chiefly colloquial); excellent, capital" the whole expression assumes a specific stylistic function due to the fact that 'frontal development' is used both in its terminological aspect and in its logical meaning 'the breast of a woman'.

The following lines of Lina Kostenko can also be cited as a bright example of the artistic employment of terms, where the words that belong to the domain of mathematics embody the image of intricate and complexity of individual’s life:


Плюс мінус життя.

Таблиця розмноження.

Квадратний корінь із мрій романтика.

Два пишем, три помічаєм.




математика (Л. Костенко).

There is an interesting process going on in the development of any language. With the increase of general education and the expansion of technique to satisfy the ever-growing needs and desires of mankind, many words that were once terms have gradually lost their quality as terms and have passed into the common literary or even neutral vocabulary. This process may be called "de-terminization". Such words as 'radio', 'television' and the like have long been in common use and their terminological character is no longer evident. It is also interesting to know that in the Ukrainian language in certain times of its development the following words as писовня (орфографія), мовниця (граматика), складання (синтаксис), голосівка (голосний звук), шелестівка (приголосний звук), речівник (іменник), злучник (сполучник), звучня (фонетика), письмівка (курсив), копальня (шахта), прогонич (болт), квас (кислота), кисняк (оксид), первень (елемент), мірило (масштаб), стіжок (конус) were terms.


Poetic words form a rather insignificant layer of the special literary vocabulary. They are mostly archaic or very rarely used highly literary words which aim at producing an elevated effect, like e.g. Ukrainian words уста, ланіти, перст, браття, возлюбити, недруг, супокій etc.

In the epoch of classicism, for example, there was a tendency to create special poetic style in which “simple”, “rough” and plain words of the folk language were not allowed, whereas new lexical, morphological and syntactical norms were created. The following stanzas of S. Johnson which abounds in highly elevated metaphors, abstract nouns and adjectives with the strong evaluative component can be a vivid example of this style:


Friendship, peculiar boon of heaven,

The noble mind’s delight and pride,

To men and angels only given,

To all the lower world denied,

While love, unknowen among the blest,

Parent of thousand wild desires,

The savage and the human breast

Torments alike with raging fires


Nor shall thine ardours ceased to glow,

When souls to peaceful climes remove;

What rais’d our virtue here below,

Shall aid our happiness above.

At the beginning of XIX-th century the classical canons of poetic diction were rejected by some poets-romanticists (G.G. Byron, P.B. Shelley, J. Keats) who strived to enrich the language of poetry using dialectal, archaic elements, new expressive means taken from ancient literature or built on the basis of live, colloquial forms of native language.

In modern English poetic words are not freely built in contrast to neutral, colloquial and common literary words, or terms. There is, however, one means of creating new poetic words still recognized as productive even in present-day English, viz. the use of a contracted form of a word instead of the full one, e. g. drear instead of dreary, scant – scanty. Sometimes the reverse process leads to the birth of a poeticism, e. g. vasty – vast. These two conventional devices are called forth by the requirements of the metre of the poem, to add or remove a syllable, and are generally avoided by modern English poets.

Alongside with the specific word-building models in modern English there are a certain number of words which have constant poetic connotations and are marked in the dictionaries by a special stylistic label – poet.

In order to exemplify the usage of poetic vocabulary let us consider the humoristic poem of J. Updike in which the bigotry to the classical poetic canons is derided:




At verses she was not inept!

Her feet were neatly numbered.

She never cried, she softly wept,

She never slept, she slumbered.

She never ate and rarely dined

Her tongue found sweetmeats sour.

She never guessed but oft divined

The secrets of the flower.

A flower! Fragrant, pliant, clean,

More dear to her than crystal.

She knew what earnings dozed between

The stamen and the pistil

Dawn took her thither to the wood,

At even, home she hithered.

Ah, to the gentle Pan is god

She never died, she withered (J. Updike).

Poetic words (предковічний, славнозвісний, многостраждальний, возносити, уславляти, etc) are not infrequent in modern Ukrainian poetic discourse.


Прекрасний Києве на предковічних горах!

Многострадальному хвала тобі, хвала!

Хай на просторищах, де смерть, як ніч пройшла,

Воскресне день життя і весен неозорих! (М. Рильський)

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Stylistic classification of English and Ukrainian vocabulary | Archaic, obsolete and historic words

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