Diction: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Amanda Carlisle

Amanda teaches high school and college English. She has a bachelor's degree in literature and a master's in English.

In writing, diction refers to word selection. This lesson will explain the importance of diction, as well as how diction can be used to create voice and impact in one's writing.

Diction Definition

Words are the building blocks of language, and thus the process of selecting words is integral to effective communication. Diction is this selection process, the choosing of what to say and when.

Selecting the right word - or the word that best expresses the author's intent - is a key. Like choosing the perfect engagement ring from among hundreds of sparkly treasures, a writer must approach the process of choosing the right word with care. Take two seemingly similar words: smart versus wise, or pretty versus gorgeous. Intuitively, we know that a smart person will ace an exam, but a wise person's intelligence runs much deeper. A wise person knows more than just math formulas or grammar rules; a wise person knows about life. Similarly, a pretty girl might live next door or be pleasing to the eye, but a gorgeous woman will take your breath away.

The selection of words - or diction - then is instrumental to a writer's ability to create and communicate.

Diction Examples

To better understand the impact that a writer's diction has on their craft, let's look at the different words William Golding uses in his classic novel, 'Lord of the Flies.'

Consider the words that Golding uses to describe a gathering of pigs:

'The pigs lay, bloated bags of fat, sensuously enjoying the shadows under the trees. There was no wind and they were unsuspicious…Under the trees an ear flapped idly. A little apart from the rest, sunk in deep maternal bliss, lay the largest sow of the lot'(192).

When Golding combines bloated with bags, we get an idea of how calm and relaxed the pigs are. It's as if they just enjoyed a massive Thanksgiving feast, and now are reveling in post-dinner satisfaction. Other words reinforce this sense of calm: 'idly,' 'bliss,' and 'lay.' Imagine if Golding had instead described the pigs as 'round,' 'awkward,' and 'waiting.' The scene would have been one of tension and discomfort rather than satisfied bliss.

Here is another excerpt from 'Lord of the Flies,' this one describing a group of boys' desire to kill the very pig previously discussed:

'Kill the pig! Cut his throat! Kill the pig! Bash him in!a'(164).

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