Definition of Diction
Diction is a literary device through which the writer and speakers choose the words and style of expression for use in their work. It circumscribes the vocabulary, phrasing and the level of formality suited to the particular situation and audience. Effective diction is helpful to convey messages clearly and it greatly influences the impact of the communication.
Why Do writers use diction?
Writers use diction to shape their narrative voice, create mood and give their readers a vivid impression. They choose the words which make their work more relatable, authentic and convincing. It is also helpful to create emotional contact with the audience. Good diction enhances the overall readability and enjoyment of a piece of writing.
Types of Diction
There are four types of diction:
I- Formal diction:
This kind of expression is employed in all types of formal writing, such as academic papers and business reports. The example of words include: ‘utilize’, ‘expedite’ and ‘assess’. These are hard words and they belong to a peculiar field. It gives their words a certain air of professionalism and authority.
In everyday speech and casual writing the language is always colloquial. The examples are: text messages, social media posts and personal letters. This type of diction is the sort of idiomatic expression in which words such as ‘wanna’ and later are used. These are words that are more relaxed and casual. This diction helps to keep things warm and peaceful.
III- Technical diction
It is used in science, technology engineering and mathematics. It is an expression of many complex thoughts and concepts. Technical terms include the words ‘molecule’, ‘algorithm’ and ‘ microchip ‘. The use of technical diction assists in the accurate and clear expression of technical information.
IV- Figurative diction
Words and phrases are used in such a diction to express thoughts which go beyond their literal definition. They are metaphor, simile or personification. This is one approach that the writer’s language can become richer, more profound and creative.
Examples of Diction in Literature
Diction Examples in Drama/Novel
“Romeo and Juliet” by William Shakespeare
“For never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”
Here, the Shakespeare employs a rich and evocative diction to convey the intensity and tragedy of Romeo and Juliet’s love story. The word ‘woe’ is significant here as it signals the suffering and misery. It’s use implies that the story of Romeo and Juliet is the epitome of woe. The aforesaid line also highlights the emotional depth of Shakespeare’s language which gives it timeless appeal.
“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.”
This excerpt exemplifies the mastery of vibrant and expressive diction by the writer. The irresistible repetition of contrasting elements, such as ‘best’ and ‘worst’, ‘spring’ and ‘winter’ sets the tone for the entire novel. This poetic use of language emphasizes the intricate and multi-layered nature of Dicken’s writing and highlights his storytelling skills.
“A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner
“The barbarous ivy-covered house was homely, but its homeliness was forgiven because it was old and because a woman lived there who fit it tall and spare, secluded and pervaded by an azure melancholy; she was as aged as the house.”
The passage is a classic illustration of Faulkner’s distinctive and evocative diction. He combines words like ‘barbarous’, ‘ivy-covered’ and ‘melancholy’ to create a mood of decay and beauty. The use of the word ‘old’ reinforces the sense of tradition and permanence, while the stretched and succinct sentences reflects Faulkner’s gift for precise and concise expression.
“The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood
“He shut his eyes and all the world dropped away. I stood up, and my feet had left the ground altogether. Better than happiness. Here. It was delicate, but fervid; vibrant and constitutional; a fruit ripening on the tree of the soul. You put your hand into it, and drew out a perfect peach. The color of it was mellow like sunset; thick skin, fuzzy; your fingers dented it, and it cracked a little, but didn’t collapse. Juice was wet on your chin, trickling; it was succulent like nectar, but first, like nectar, you had to split it with your own body, had to be tricked into opening up and taking it into yourself. And crying, ‘Salvation! Salvation, to whatever size required! All the world genuflected before him, was his obedient and devoted servant. His bed was a hexagon.”
The aforesaid passage is a prime example of Atwood’s inventive and descriptive diction. She creates a rich and sensory atmosphere by using figurative language and delicate images, such as a ‘mellow peach’ and a ‘succulent juice’. The use of words like ‘fervid’ and ‘constitutional’ adds a depth and intensity to the language. Further, the repetition of words like ‘delicate’ and ‘vivid’ express the theme of sensuality and pleasure. Moreover, the movement of the text and the use of punctuation, such as dashes and hyphens convey a sense of urgency and intensity that make the language both visceral and memorable.
Examples of Diction in Poetry
“Wild Nights” by Emily Dickinson
“Wild nights – Wild nights! / Welcome to my sullen bourne! / If you have hazed fancies / They have stung me like a bourn! / Wild nights – Wild nights! / Were a pair of night-winged senses / That reconnoit for moons / In a room haunted by attributes.”
Explanation: In this example, Dickinson employs rich and evocative diction to create a dreamlike and surreal atmosphere. The repetition of “Wild nights” creates a sense of urgency and excitement, while “sullen bourne” and “night-winged senses” convey a darker and more ominous mood. The use of words like “fancies” and “attributes” adds depth and complexity to the language, showing how Dickinson’s keen sense of diction elevates her poetry to a higher plane of meaning and emotion.
Example from Sylvia Plath’s “Mirror”
Original text: “I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions. I am not cruel, only truthful – / the eye of a little god, four-cornered. / Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall. / It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long / I think it is a part of my heart. / It is known as asse’s eye, perhaps, because it resembles the color / in the middle of the dark brown eye of an ass, / sleepy and veiled and filmy- / an enchanter, moving slowly / even in his sleep.”
Explanation: This passage from Plath’s poem is a stunning example of how rich and vibrant diction can create a vivid and dreamlike atmosphere. The repetition of the word “silver” highlights the objectivity and detachment of Plath’s speaker, while her choice of adjectives, such as “little god,” “four-cornered,” and “ass’s eye,” adds a layer of mystery and intrigue to the language. The use of words like “filmy” and “veiled” underscores the theme of introspection and self-reflection, creating a reflective and introspective mood that is both dark and haunting. Plath’s use of metaphor and vivid imagery elevates this poem into a tour-de-force of poetic language that is both evocative and deeply moving.
Langston Hughes’ “Harlem”
Original text: “What happens to a dream deferred? / Does it dry up / like a raisin in the sun? / Or fester like a sore – / And then run? / Does it explode?”
Explanation: In this classic example from Hughes’ famous poem, the diction is rich and evocative, conjuring up vivid and powerful images. The repetition of the question “What happens to a dream deferred?” creates a sense of mystery and introspection, while the metaphors of a raisin and a sore add depth and complexity to the language. The use of the verb “explode” is particularly striking, as it captures the emotional intensity of Hughes’ message and underscores the theme of frustration and anger.
Example from T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land”
Original text: “April is the cruellest month, breeding / Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing / Memory and desire, stirring / Dull roots with spring rain.”
Explanation: This excerpt from Eliot’s modernist masterpiece illustrates the power of rich and evocative diction to create a mood and atmosphere that is both haunting and beautiful. The repetition of the word “cruellest” highlights the theme of paradox and contrast, while the uneasy juxtaposition of “lilacs” and “dead land” underscores the theme of decay and renewal. The use of words like “breeding,” “stirring,” and “spring rain” adds a layer of sensuality and vitality to the language, creating a environment that is both alive and dark. Eliot’s diction is precise and deliberate, showcasing his mastery of language and his ability to craft powerful and evocative poetry.
Related Terms with Diction
The use of words and phrases to convey meanings beyond their literal senses is called figurative language. Such language uses figurative devices like metaphor and simile, exaggeration (hyperbole), and personification to create highly sensual images which engage both the reader’s sensesand feelings. As an example, take William Butler Yeats’s poem The Second Coming. He describes this unholy force simply as the rough beast to create a picture of sinister menace and genuine terror.
It is the use of sensory language that creates concrete, clear images in a reader’s mind. This process is called imagery. Such language speaks to the sense, letting readers get closer to and experience in more a visceral way than usual. In Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poem ‘Icarus,’ for example, she includes rich and colorful imagery like the sea-god’s brew, and its forming glimmers to evoke a dreamlike sense of unreality.
Tone is the attitude or mood with which an author approaches a subject or theme. In this type of language, diction and figurative devices are used to express the author’s point of view or attitude, as well what he is feeling about a given topic. One example, from George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm: in it his tone is satirical and ironic as he employs the animals of a farm to comment upon totalitarianism and oppression through politics or ideologies. This high-flown diction, as in “a long feed” and a trumpeting noise helps to achieve the sarcasm and irony of the book.