Diction - Word Choice and Enunciation

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

photo of Dr. Seuss and quote from him
Dr. Seuss, quoted by Donald Murray in A Writer Teaches Writing (1984). (TNT/Getty Images)
  1. In rhetoric and composition, diction is the choice and use of words in speech or writing. Also called word choice.
  2. In phonology and phonetics, diction is a way of speaking, usually judged in terms of prevailing standards of pronunciation and elocution. Also called enunciation and articulation.


From the Latin, "to say, speak"


"The principal meaning of diction is the selection and use of words or the manner of expression. But this fact does not rule out, as some purists would like to do, the companion meaning of mode of speaking or enunciation."
(Theodore Bernstein, Miss Thistlebottom's Hobgoblins, 1971)

Concrete and Abstract Diction

"Concrete and abstract diction need each other. Concrete diction illustrates and anchors the generalizations that abstract diction expresses. . . . The best writing integrates concrete and abstract diction, the language of showing and the language of telling (explaining)."
(David Rosenwasser and Jill Stephen, Writing Analytically, 6th ed. Wadsworth, 2012)

Diction and Audience

"Diction will be effective only when the words you choose are appropriate for the audience and purpose, when they convey your message accurately and comfortably. The idea of comfort may seem out of place in connection with diction, but, in fact, words can sometimes cause the reader to feel uncomfortable. You've probably experienced such feelings yourself as a listener--hearing a speaker whose words for one reason or another strike you as inappropriate."
(Martha Kolln, Rhetorical Grammar. Allyn and Bacon, 1999)

Levels of Language

"Sometimes diction is described in terms of four levels of language: (1) formal, as in serious discourse; (2) informal, as in relaxed but polite conversation; (3) colloquial, as in everyday usage; (4) slang, as in impolite and newly coined words. It is generally agreed that the qualities of proper diction are appropriateness, correctness, and accuracy. A distinction is usually made between diction, which refers to the choice of words, and style, which refers to the manner in which the words are used."
(Jack Myers and Don Charles Wukasch, Dictionary of Poetic Terms. University of North Texas Press, 2003)

Small Surprises

"Your diction, the exact words you choose and the settings in which you use them, means a great deal to the success of your writing. While your language should be appropriate to the situation, that generally still leaves plenty of room for variety. Skillful writers mix general and particular, abstract and concrete, long and short, learned and commonplace, connotative and neutral words to administer a series of small but telling surprises. Readers stay interested because they don't know exactly what's coming next."
(Joe Glaser, Understanding Style: Practical Ways to Improve Your Writing. Oxford University Press, 1999)

"Note the placing of the single low word in [Dwight] Macdonald’s brilliantly high-flown definition of the academic prose that had already begun to jam the college libraries:

The amount of verbal pomposity, elaboration of the obvious, repetition, trivia, low-grade statistics, tedious factification, drudging recapitulations of the half-comprehended, and generally inane and laborious junk that one encounters suggests that the thinkers of earlier ages had one decisive advantage over those of today: they could draw on very little research.

The low word, of course, is junk. But it helps to light up a bravura sentence full of useful noncolloquial phrases: drudging recapitulations of the half-comprehended is a permanently good definition of the danger posed by college courses without standards, and low-grade statistics has the merit of starting another discussion altogether."
(Clive James, "Style Is the Man." The Atlantic, May 2012)

Exactness, Appropriateness, and Accuracy

"Word choice and usage come under the heading of diction. Some people seem to think that when it comes to word choice, bigger is always better. But using a word just because it is big is a bad idea. You're better off using words for their exactness, appropriateness, and accuracy than for their size. The only time a bigger word is a better choice is when it is more accurate. In any case, the final decision to use this word over that should be based on the audience for whom you're writing."
(Anthony C. Winkler and Jo Ray Metherell, Writing the Research Paper: A Handbook, 8th ed. Wadsworth, 2012)

Weasel Words

"One of our defects as a nation is a tendency to use what have been called 'weasel words.' When a weasel sucks eggs the meat is sucked out of the egg. If you use a 'weasel word' after another, there is nothing left of the other."
(Theodore Roosevelt, 1916)

T.S. Eliot on Words

"Words strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
Will not stay still."
(T.S. Eliot, "Burnt Norton")

Pronunciation: DIK-shun

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Diction - Word Choice and Enunciation." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/diction-words-term-1690466. Nordquist, Richard. (2021, February 16). Diction - Word Choice and Enunciation. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/diction-words-term-1690466 Nordquist, Richard. "Diction - Word Choice and Enunciation." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/diction-words-term-1690466 (accessed March 21, 2023).