What is Diction?

By Nathan Petoskey

What is it?

Diction is the way an author, writer, actor, singer, poet, basically anyone who can speak or write, uses words to communicate. According to Merriam Webster online dictionary, it is the "choice of words especially with regards to correctness, clearness, or effectiveness."

Okay, so how do I use it?

Everyone uses the literary element of diction everyday, whether they realize it or not. In fact, all of you have from the time you first learned to speak. Its the way you decide what words to use when you speak, or conversely, when not to.

Think about it for a minute. How would you speak when giving a formal presentation in front of a class and teacher? It's probably a lot different than how you usually talk with your friends, or at home with your family. That's diction. The formality of the way you talk when giving a presentation is much higher than when talking with friends, therefore changing the diction of your words.

Furthermore, diction also refers to the use of words and whether or not they should be used in regards to everything else around them. For example, when writing a paper on the complexity of the nuclear physics of a singular Uranium atom, the word "small" used to describe the size atom may seem rather unsophisticated when compared to the surrounding paragraphs filled with extrememly complicated scientific material. Rather, the word "diminuative" may seem more appropriate.

Diction also can refer to the way in which words are spoken or written in order to generate a specific reaction within the listener or reader. During a movie, if a specific set of words is used in combination with a loud, condenscending voice, it would be natural for the listener to assume that the actor was angry. Conversely, if a set of words was used in a fast, high pitched, thrilled voice, it would be easy for the listener to see that the actor was happy. It is important for the emotional diction of words to match thier use, otherwise it can be easy to mislead the audience.


Literary Example

Excerpt from William Shakespear's Hamlet.

"Why, look you now, how unworthy a thing you make of
me! You would play upon me; you would seem to know
my stops; you would pluck out the heart of my
mystery; you would sound me from my lowest note to
the top of my compass: and there is much music,
excellent voice, in this little organ; yet cannot
you make it speak. 'Sblood, do you think I am
easier to be played on than a pipe? Call me what
instrument you will, though you can fret me, yet you
cannot play upon me."

In Class Text Example

Excerpt from Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried.

The guys can't cope. They lose it. They get on the radio and report enemy movement—a whole army, they say—and they order up the firepower. They get arty and gunships. They call in air strikes. And I'll tell you, they fuckin' crash that cocktail party. All night long, they just smoke those mountains. They make jungle juice. They blow away trees and glee clubs and whatever else there is to blow away. Scorch time. They walk napalm up and down the ridges. They bring in the Cobras and F-4s, they use Willie Peter and HE and incendiaries. It's all fire. They make those mountains burn.

Pop Culture Example

Excerpt of dialouge from the movie Escanaba In Da Moonlight.

Albert: I'm huntin' da swamp!

Remnar: Da' whole swamp?

Albert: You huntin' da whole ridge?

Remnar: Well dat's how I hunt, eh?

Albert: Well dat's how I hunt!

Remnar: You can't hunt da swamp da same way ya' hunt da ridge!

Albert: Da HELL I can't!

Remnar: De're two different terrains!

Ruben: Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey! Wait a minute... If you're up on da ridge and pop is down in da swamp, where da heck am I supposed to hunt?

Remnar: How 'bout out by da road?

Ruben: Out by what road?

Remnar: M-Tirty Five.

Ruben: It's a state highway!

Remnar: Deer love da highway!

Albert: Yeah! I hit one just last week.

Ruben: I'm not gonna hunt da highway! It's a highway!

Remnar: Are ya' sure? I tink you might be missin an opportunity here.

Ruben: You... You want me to set up a blind on da shoulder of M-Tirty Five and wait for da next ten pointer to cross in traffic?!

Remnar: I tink you're getting da plum spot, don't you pop?

Albert: Position A!