Grammar and Style
Diction is a term that is often examined in the study of writing and language. While many use it as a rough synonym for the word usage, the definitions of the terms show something rather different. One definition says diction is an accent, inflection, intonation, and the speech-sound quality of an individual speaker measured against a common standard. Another definition stresses the means and manner of expression with the implications of higher levels of usage, particularly in reference to the choice of particular words. Finally, and more succinctly, yet another definition stresses a style of speaking and or writing particularly dependent on the choice of individual words. In this case, diction differs from formal Standard English in that while formal English stresses the highest levels of formality, diction may at times dictate that you deploy a lower level of formality in a specific context.
In a conversation with a friend, you might alienate him or her with the use of an elevated and stilted selection of words that might send a message of condescension or distance when nothing of the kind is desired. Knowledge of the consequences of selecting inappropriate words for particular circumstances is often critical to the success of one’s communication and the maintenance of interpersonal relationships. Although no list would be complete, the terms listed on the following screens represent some of the most often confused terms that confound our diction. Mark Twain’s famous comment about diction demonstrates not only the celebrity’s humor but the dramatic differences we face in the selection of particular words. Twain once said that the difference between selecting the right word and an alternative is like the difference between physical lightning and a lightning bug. The famous novelist Gustave Flaubert was notorious for his expression le mot juste, by which he meant that in his writing often only one perfect word could express exactly what he wanted. He often spent not hours but days searching for the perfect word when he was writing Madame Bovary. We will not encounter what Twain or Flaubert faced with our word selections, but we can realize that word choice is often critical and that aspects of our clear communication will be affected by selecting the wrong or right word.
Accede vs. exceed
· Accede: to assent or agree to a request or demand; also to assume a position, job, or office
· Exceed: to be greater in size, number, quantity etc.; to go beyond what is permitted; to be better than; to surpass
Access vs. excess
· Access: the right or ability or permission to enter, speak with, approach, or use; a way or means of approach
· Excess: going beyond what is regarded as normal, proper, or customary; immoderate, indulgent, intemperate
Affection vs. affliction
· Affection: love, devotion, or attachment; sentiment
· Affliction: grief, misery, pain, distress, loss, calamity
Allude vs. elude
· Allude: to refer to something casually or indirectly; to make an allusion to something or someone
· Elude: to escape or avoid something by speed, trick, or cleverness; to evade, dodge, or even shun
Allusion vs. illusion
· Allusion: a casual reference; mentioning something directly or even by implication
· Illusion: something deceiving and giving a false impression of being real; being deceived in one or another manner; false, as in an optical illusion
Climatic vs. climactic
· Climatic: pertaining or referring to climate
· Climactic: referring to or reaching the end of something; the climax, high point, or conclusion
Conscious vs. conscientious
· Conscious: aware of something, awake; deliberate, intentional, on purpose
· Conscientious: ruled by conscience, a sense of right and wrong; careful, meticulous, or methodical
Deprecate vs. depreciate
· Deprecate: to disapprove of, to be against something, to belittle
· Depreciate: to become lower in value; to represent something as of little value, merit, or worth
Elicit vs. illicit
· Elicit: to bring out something, to draw out, to evoke or bring out
· Illicit: not legal, permitted, accepted, or authorized; unethical or immoral
Elegant vs. eloquent
· Elegant: luxurious, refined, graceful, or poised
· Eloquent: fluent, forceful, appropriate, or expressive speech or linguistic skill
Exacerbate vs. exasperate
· Exacerbate: to make something worse; to increase the violence or feelings; to aggravate, irritate, exasperate
· Exasperate: to irritate, annoy to an extreme degree
Genus vs. genius
· Genus: in biology, a major subdivision of family or subfamily of organisms; a group, family, kind, sort, or class
· Genius: an exceptional gift of intelligence, talent or natural ability; gifted or smart
Inequity vs. iniquity
· Inequity: not fair, unequal, bias
· Iniquity: wickedness, evil, or sin
Ingenious vs. ingenuous
· Ingenious: clever, original, brilliant, or intelligent; showing evidence of genius
· Ingenuous: naïve, innocent, sincere, open, or honest
Irrelevant vs. irreverent
· Irrelevant: not important; not applicable or pertinent to something
· Irreverent: being disrespectful; showing no respect for something, often something religious
Moral vs. morale
· Moral: as an adjective – ethical, knowing right from wrong, virtuous, honest
· Morale: one’s attitude with respect to hardship or challenges; one’s demeanor, feelings, and attitude
Proceed vs. precede
· Proceed: to go forward or continue with respect to anything
· Precede: to come before in some way: birth, importance, time, order, rank, place etc.
Vicious vs. viscous
· Vicious: immoral, depraved, evil, wrong, savage, or ferocious
· Viscous: having a thick, sticky, jelly-like consistency
Check for Understanding (on Diction Part 1)
(See Answer Key at bottom of document.)
Select the appropriate term for consistent diction in the sentence.
1. We knew that Tom would (accede, exceed) the speed limit on the trip.
2. Our professor would always (allude, elude) to obscure pieces of literature.
3. We found out that our boss had an (elicit, illicit) relationship with one of his secretaries.
4. The (moral, morale) of the company had been low since the salaries were cut.
5. We were told that Mary had to (proceed, precede) John when we all walked in.
6. Without any doubt, Martin Luther King was an (elegant, eloquent) speaker.