Grammar and Style
Diction and Word Choice


Keith Ann Henney
/ Walt Gibbons


"If you doon wanna loook lie a fooo, check dat diction, son!"

Keith Ann Henney

Diction is the author's word choice in his or her work. (This is not to be confused with the author's tone. Diction often helps to enhance the author's tone in a work.) When you think about diction, you are considering your word choice. Your diction must be suited to the purpose of your writing. Think about your audience and your intended purpose as well as the tone you are trying to achieve. College language would not go over well with third graders. Some types of diction include informal, colloquial, archaic, denotative, concrete, abstract, euphonious (pleasant) or cacophonous (harsh). The number of syllables in a word is also related to diction. Words can be monosyllabic or polysyllabic. Monosyllabic words can add emphasis to the point you are making. In contrast, the more polysyllabic words, the more difficult the content. Also, be sure the word you choose has the correct connotation for what you are trying to say. That way you do not say one thing and mean another. Believe it or not, readers can tell when you don't know what you are talking about!

 

Exercises
How could you change these?

1. My homey-gees hung at the crib last night, yo.
This is an example of colloquialisms or slang. It reduces the reader's confidence in your writing, as well as his ability to understand what you are saying. Give another example of slang.

2. Roses (insert scientific name here) are deep red #53
Violets only grow indigenously in the eastern United States
I am suffering from an emotional mental state commonly referred to as love
Aand I hope you are having the same brain impulses.
Think about your purpose. Do not try to put educational vocabulary in a love poem. It will not fly. Change this poem to something you might want to receive!


3. Looking for a roommate. Must be 72 inches in height, 79 kilograms in weight, sleeping 6.7 hours a nocturnal period and eating .45 of bodyweight per week.
Think of you as a person. Do you really talk like this? Would you Want to be their roommate? Write an ad for your ideal roommate.
Think of the type of person you are trying to attract.

4. For a mythology class: The story of Hercules was okay and the theme of strength
shone through.
If you were writing a paper for this class, you might want to be a bit more technical. Use the terms for that study. Make up a sentence that might be found in a students essay.

5. To sew a curtain, fold over the material a little and start sewing!
To give directions, specific diction might work better. Write directions to do something simple but make them easier to follow.

6. Bill and Kara were doing it.
Watch your connotations. "It" could give the reader the wrong idea, even if Bill and Kara were only painting the garage. Give another example of using a word with the wrong connotation in a sentence.

7. I was looking for my petticoat, but I could not find it.
Just like wearing a petticoat, some words are archaic or out of date. Other examples: groovy, dandy. Rewrite the sentence in a more modern form.

8. Weellll, I doon rightly know but dey's say dat iiiit were righhhhht.
Diction works with tone. The author might have been trying to capture the style of a certain person by choosing certain words. Write a sentence in a different tone and use diction to enhance it.

9. It was a good day.
Monosyllabic sentences tend to not lend to your intelligence unless you intend to make a dramatic statement. Change the words to make them polysyllabic.

10. The blushing clouds smiled down on the candy-topped mountain.
Sounds pleasant, huh? Change your word choice to make it sound really harsh.


Works Cited

Anson, Chris M. and Schwegler, Robert A. "Choosing Appropriate Words." The
Longman Handbook for Writers and Readers. 2nd Ed. Addison Wesley Longman Inc.; New York. c. 2000: p 420-431.

Glatthorn, Allan A. "Chart 38." The English Book. SRA; New York. 1981.



When it is writing with clarity you want to try, the key is to simplify.

Walt Gibbons

Diction and word choice are one in the same. In order to choose the right words, there are several general ideas and rules to keep in mind. First, choose your purpose for writing. All writing has a purpose, and the diction you use should coincide with your purpose, based on your audience. This should help you to pick words that they will understand, but also will not be below their level. Remember to keep your writing simple, only using words in your normal vocabulary. Composition follows the initial step. Write freely and nonstop until you finish. The key to proper diction is in the revision of the paper. Read your paper and make sure the words are specific, and eliminate words that do not fit in. Then there are several things to look for in the second reading of your paper. Check for connotations, idioms, slang, jargon, archaic words, neologisms, regionalisms, and sexism. Connotations are images that a reader associates with certain words. These may often distract a reader and should be eliminated and replaced with words that have a simple denotation. Idioms are phrases, frequently used in everyday speech, but are almost always too informal for writing. Slang is the use of words that are not actually defined in the dictionary, but are commonly used in communication. Jargon is a special type of slang, which is used in association with a certain group of people. Archaic words are old words which are not often used anymore, and neologisms are new words, which may not be understood by everyone. These are often considered types of slang as well. The final type of slang is regionalism, the use of words with different meanings in different parts of the country. All slang should be removed from writing unless it relates specifically to the audience to which you are writing. Sexism involves using words that relate to one sex or the other; when referring to something done by both sexes, imply both sexes or, perhaps, females instead of males. To conclude, choosing words is the most important part of writing a paper, and by following these rules, your paper will be better.


Exercises

1. What should be replaced in the following sentence? Bob was a weird guy and he seemed to be missing a few screws.
2. Which word should be replaced in the following sentence? Bob said the roller coaster was gnarly.
3. Rewrite the following sentence to simplify it. Bob felt it was his undertaking to develop into the overseer of the system.
4. Change the following sentence according to the audience, being an eight-year-old. While talking to his eight-year-old about forestry, Bob said, "the foliage in the woodland was being desiccated."
5. What should be replaced in the following sentence. Bob said he would holla at the ladies later.
6. Change the improper word in the following sentence. Bob banged Bill in basketball.
7. Change the connotation to a different word or phrase in order to improve the following sentence. Bob passed out the instant he lay in his bed.
8. Which of the following words should be changed? A teacher should wipe his chalkboard between classes.
9. Eliminate the jargon in this sentence. Not only did Bob have a high batting average, he also hit forty-five bombs.
10. Make the following sentence more specific. Things caused Bob problems.

Answer Key
1. Replace "missing a few screws." For example, "he may have been insane."
2. Replace gnarly. An example would be "great."
3. Varies. An example, "Bob felt it was his job to become the manager of the system.
4. Varies. An example, "The trees in the forest were drying up."
5. Replace "holla." An example, "call the ladies later."
6. Change "banged." An example would be "beat."
7. Change "passed out." An example would be "fell asleep."
8. Change "his" to his/her to prevent sexism.
9. Change "bombs" to home runs.
10. Change "things" to any type of problem.


References

Anson, Chris M. and Robert A. Schwegler. The Longman Handbook for Writers and Readers. Second ed. New York: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc., 2000.

Hodges, John C. and Mary E. Whitten. Harbrace College Handbook. Tenth ed. New York: HBJ, 1986.