Diction or choice of words separates good writing from bad writing. It depends on a number of factors. Firstly, the word has to be right and accurate. Secondly, words should be appropriate to the context in which they are used. Lastly, the choice of words should be such that the listener or readers understand easily. Besides, proper diction or proper choice of words is important to get the message across. On the contrary, the wrong choice of words can easily divert listeners or readers which results in misinterpretation of the message intended to be conveyed.
Types of Diction
Individuals vary their diction depending on different contexts and settings. Therefore, we come across various types of diction. It may be “formal” where formal words are used in formal situations e.g. press conferences, presentations etc. Similarly, we use “informal” diction in informal situations like writing or talking to our friends. Moreover, a “colloquial” diction uses words common in everyday speech. “Slang” is the use of words that are impolite or newly coined.
Diction Examples in Literature
Depending on the topics at hand, writers tend to vary their diction. Let us see some examples of diction in literature:
Keats in his “Ode to the Grecian Urn” uses formal diction to achieve a certain effect. He goes:
“Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter: therefore, ye soft pipes, play on”
Notice the use of formal “ye” instead of informal “you”. The formality here is due to the respect the urn inspires in Keats. In the same poem he says:
“Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the spring adieu.”
It is more formal to use “adieu” than to say “goodbye”.
“Busy old fool, unruly Sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains, call on us?
Must to thy motions lovers’ seasons run?
Saucy pedantic wretch,”
Treating the sun as a real human being, the poet speaks to the sun in an informal way using colloquial expressions. He rebukes the sun because the sun has appeared to spoil the good time he is having with his beloved. Further, he orders the “saucy pedantic sun” to go away.
Writers’ skillfully choose words to develop a certain tone and atmosphere in their works. Read the following excerpt from a short story “The School” by Donald Barthelme:
“And the trees all died. They were orange trees. I don’t know why they died, they just died. Something wrong with the soil possibly or maybe the stuff we got from the nursery wasn’t the best. We complained about it. So we’ve got thirty kids there, each kid had his or her own little tree to plant and we’ve got these thirty dead trees. All these kids looking at these little brown sticks, it was depressing.”
The use of the words “died”, “dead”, “brown sticks” and “depressing” gives a gloomy tone to the passage.
Sometimes writers repeat their chosen words or phrases to achieve an artistic effect. Read the following example from “ A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
By repeating the phrase “It was…” throughout the passage, the writer ensures that the readers will give more consideration to characteristic of the “age” they are going to read about in the novel.
Function of Diction
In literature, writers choose words to create and convey a typical mood, tone and atmosphere to their readers. A writer’s choice of words and his selection of graphic words not only affects the reader’s attitude but also conveys the writer’s feelings toward the literary work. Moreover, poetry is known for its unique diction that separates it from prose. Usually, a poetic diction is marked by the use of figures of speech, rhyming words etc.