motif

The race car decor in your room, the refrain of a song, the idea or object that keeps popping up in a story — these are all motifs, reoccurring elements that move throughout and shape music, art and novels.

This French import is related to the Latin verb movere which means "to move." Think about a pattern or design that moves throughout something when you hear motif. Have you ever been to a restaurant with a tropical or Wild West motif? Do you like dresses with a floral motif? In novels, a motif can be a recurring idea like revenge or an object that symbolizes an idea. A character might notice shadows throughout a story which symbolize his dark past.

Definitions of motif
1

n a unifying idea that is a recurrent element in literary or artistic work

Synonyms:
theme
Types:
topos
a traditional theme or motif or literary convention
Type of:
idea, thought
the content of cognition; the main thing you are thinking about

n a design or figure that consists of recurring shapes or colors, as in architecture or decoration

Synonyms:
motive
Type of:
design, figure, pattern
a decorative or artistic work

n a theme that is repeated or elaborated in a piece of music

Synonyms:
motive
Types:
obbligato, obligato
a persistent but subordinate motif
Type of:
idea, melodic theme, musical theme, theme
(music) melodic subject of a musical composition

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