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What Is Diction?

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  • Written By: A. Gamm
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 28 July 2014
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Diction is the words chosen and the personality of the language to be used in relation to the context of the situation. It is generally agreed that there is no correct diction, as it is dependent upon the situation, context and the purpose of the language. The appropriateness of a word and its efficiency is usually based on the actual appearance of the word, how it sounds, and its meaning. Each word lends its own character, which can shape the sentence.

When speaking, a person may find that while he or she wishes to convey the same meaning to different people, a different type of phrasing is more appropriate for each audience. For more professional settings to the point, factual, and objective words might be preferable, whereas more emotional and subjective words are better suited when speaking to friends and family. When giving a speech, deliberately exaggerating or under-exaggerating a point with the choice of words may have a profound effect. Children may prefer people to use more illustrative and sensory words. Often, in prose and novels different types of diction may be used to convey different personality types for each character.

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Although the general belief is that there is no wrong diction, many people believe there are guidelines that should be followed to choose the best word. Abstract and lengthy vocabulary words are usually unnecessary, and concrete and sensory words are more appealing instead. Words that are specfic to the topic are almost always available. For example, instead of “John walked into the school,” the sentence, “John limped into Washington High School,” is more preferable. Using adectives and adverbs is usually inefficient. For instance, saying “Sally walked confidently and proudly down the street” does not work as well as saying, “Sally strutted down the street.”

In poetry, diction considers not only the choice of words, but also the order of the words as important to set the tone and layers within the poem. The exact words used in a poem can also shape the mood and complexity of the poem. Certain items are purposefully added or left out and placed in certain orders to convey the exact meaning and tone. With poetry, using specific or concrete words and phrases is not as important. In fact, many poets spend much of their time researching and choosing the right words and order of the words before they actually begin to write.

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Discuss this Article

NathanG
Post 3

@allenJo - In my opinion, anyone who wants to improve their diction should write poetry, and I mean rhymed, structured poetry, not free form.

Learn how to write a sonnet, a haiku, and any other type of poem. You will learn economy of words in a hurry, in addition to expressiveness in your writing.

MrMoody
Post 2

@allenjo- I’ve never read The Elements of Style, but I’ve heard of it. It’s a compact little book from what I understand. I guess it would defeat the purpose to have a book on concise diction that took up thousands of pages!

I prefer to read essays to expand my vocabulary and range of expression. Most essays that I’ve read are fairly concise, from what I can tell. I like to read Truman Capote and Joan Didion, to name a few of my favorite authors.

I can learn a lot, not by imitating them directly, but by paying attention to how they choose their words and trying to apply the same principles to my own writing.

allenJo
Post 1

I generally agree with the point that there is no correct diction; it depends on context.

However, I think that everyone could benefit from reading Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. In my opinion, every English writer in the whole world should be required to read this book. It’s the bible of concise, direct and expressive writing.

Some people may find it a little too dogmatic, and it certainly doesn’t hurt now and then to stray from its basic precepts, but on the whole you should write in a way that conveys the most information with the fewest words.

I have referred to this book time and time again when doing any kind of professional writing, and I give it a lot of credit for improving my writing both in college and now.

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