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diction

Dr. Seuss, quoted by Donald Murray in A Writer Teaches Writing (Houghton Mifflin, 1984)

Definition:

(1) The choice and use of words in speech or writing.

(2) A way of speaking, usually judged in terms of prevailing standards of pronunciation and elocution.


See also:

Etymology:

From the Latin, "to say, speak"

Examples and Observations:

  • "The principal meaning of diction is the selection and use of words or the manner of expression. But this fact does not rule out, as some purists would like to do, the companion meaning of mode of speaking or enunciation."
    (Theodore Bernstein, Miss Thistlebottom's Hobgoblins, 1971)


  • Concrete and Abstract Diction
    "Concrete and abstract diction need each other. Concrete diction illustrates and anchors the generalizations that abstract diction expresses. . . . The best writing integrates concrete and abstract diction, the language of showing and the language of telling (explaining)."
    (David Rosenwasser and Jill Stephen, Writing Analytically, 6th ed. Wadsworth, 2012)


  • Diction and Audience
    "Diction will be effective only when the words you choose are appropriate for the audience and purpose, when they convey your message accurately and comfortably. The idea of comfort may seem out of place in connection with diction, but, in fact, words can sometimes cause the reader to feel uncomfortable. You've probably experienced such feelings yourself as a listener--hearing a speaker whose words for one reason or another strike you as inappropriate."
    (Martha Kolln, Rhetorical Grammar. Allyn and Bacon, 1999)


  • Levels of Language
    "Sometimes diction is described in terms of four levels of language: (1) formal, as in serious discourse; informal, as in relaxed but polite conversation; (3) colloquial, as in everyday usage; slang, as in impolite and newly coined words (see neologism). It is generally agreed that the qualities of proper diction are appropriateness, correctness, and accuracy. A distinction is usually made between diction, which refers to the choice of words, and style, which refers to the manner in which the words are used."
    (Jack Myers and Don Charles Wukasch, Dictionary of Poetic Terms. University of North Texas Press, 2003)


  • Small Surprises
    "Your diction, the exact words you choose and the settings in which you use them, means a great deal to the success of your writing. While your language should be appropriate to the situation, that generally still leaves plenty of room for variety. Skillful writers mix general and particular, abstract and concrete, long and short, learned and commonplace, connotative and neutral words to administer a series of small but telling surprises. Readers stay interested because they don't know exactly what's coming next."
    (Joe Glaser, Understanding Style: Practical Ways to Improve Your Writing. Oxford Univ. Press, 1999)


  • Exactness, Appropriateness, and Accuracy
    "Word choice and usage come under the heading of diction. Some people seem to think that when it comes to word choice, bigger is always better. But using a word just because it is big is a bad idea. You're better off using words for their exactness, appropriateness, and accuracy than for their size. The only time a bigger word is a better choice is when it is more accurate. In any case, the final decision to use this word over that should be based on the audience for whom you're writing."
    (Anthony C. Winkler and Jo Ray Metherell, Writing the Research Paper: A Handbook, 8th ed. Wadsworth, 2012)


  • Weasel Words
    "One of our defects as a nation is a tendency to use what have been called 'weasel words.' When a weasel sucks eggs the meat is sucked out of the egg. If you use a 'weasel word' after another, there is nothing left of the other."
    (Theodore Roosevelt, 1916)


  • T.S. Eliot on Words
    "Words strain,
    Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
    Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
    Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
    Will not stay still."
    (T.S. Eliot, "Burnt Norton")
Pronunciation: DIK-shun
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