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Diction. AP Lexicon, Lecture 1. Diction. Word choice Diction can refer to specific word choices or the general character of language chosen by the author Three areas to consider Appearance Sound Meaning. Semantics.

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AP Lexicon, Lecture 1

  • Word choice
  • Diction can refer to specific word choices or the general character of language chosen by the author
  • Three areas to consider
    • Appearance
    • Sound
    • Meaning
  • The branch of linguistics that studies the meaning of words, their historical and psychological development, their connotations, and their relation to one another.
a quick activity
A Quick Activity…

Draw the first thing you think of when I say…





denotation vs connotation
Denotation vs. Connotation



  • The strict, literal, dictionary definition of a word, devoid of any emotion, attitude, or color.
  • Monday:–noun the second day of the week, following Sunday.
    • The non-literal, associative meaning of a word; the implied, suggested meaning.
    • Connotations may involve ideas, emotions, or attitudes.
  • Monday: the beginning of the work week or school week, often negatively associated with stress, lack of sleep, overwhelming responsibilities, a loss of freedom, etc.
more on connotations
More on connotations:
  • The room was so small, everyone felt ________.
  • The _________ entered the city quickly and without incident.
  • She excitedly showed us around her _________.







sound of words
Sound of Words



  • Pleasant sounding words
    • Long vowels are better than short vowels
    • “Liquid” consonants: l, m, n, r
    • Soft consonants: v, f, th, wh, sh, w, y
  • Harsh sounding words
    • Short vowels rather than long vowels
    • “Plosive” consonants: b, d, g, k, p, t
    • More challenging to say
    • Flow is broken up by harsher sounding letters
sound of words1
Sound of Words



Upon Julia’s Voice

Robert Herrick

So smooth, so sweet, so silvery is thy voice,

As, could they hear, the Damned would make no noise,

But listen to thee (walking in thy chamber)

Melting melodious words to Lutes of Amber.

FromDulce et Decorum Est

Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, 

Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge, 

Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs 

And towards our distant rest began to trudge. 

monosyllabic vs polysyllabic
Monosyllabic vs. Polysyllabic



  • Words are one syllable in length
  • Often creates a sense of urgency or simplicity
  • Words are more than one syllable in length
  • Often creates a sense of complexity or a more erudite effect
monosyllabic vs polysyllabic1
Monosyllabic vs. Polysyllabic



  • “I did not want to see the bank. There were shots when I ran and shots when I came up the first time. I heard them when I was almost above water. There were no shots now” (Hemingway 225).
  • “All about stretched drying cornfields, of the pale-gold colour, I remembered so well… Along the cattle-paths the plumes of goldenrod were already fading into sun-warmed velvet, grey with gold threads in it. I had escaped from the curious depression that hangs over little towns, and my mind was full of pleasant things” (Cather 287).
informal vs formal
Informal vs. Formal



  • Conversational; often appropriate for conversations but not professional or academic documents.
  • Plain language of everyday use, including slang, jargon, vulgarity, and dialect. Monosyllabic.
  • “I just gotta get my stuff.”
  • Professional, educated, and academic language
  • Dignified, elevated, and perhaps impersonal.
  • Elaborate, or sophisticated vocabulary. Polysyllabic
  • “I just need to gather my belongings.”
informal vs formal1
Informal vs. Formal



  • “It's funny how people and bookstores sell used books on Alibris.com and Amazon.com” (Peter).
  • “But a great book, rich in ideas and beauty, a book that raises and tries to answer great fundamental questions, demands the most active reading of which you are capable” (Adler).
  • The use of slang or informalities in speech or writing. Not generally acceptable for formal writing, colloquialisms give a work a conversational, familiar tone.
  • Colloquial expressions in writing include local or regional dialects.
  • Often considered a subset of informal diction

“Ain’t everybody’s daddy the deadest shot in Maycomb County” (Lee 112).


“I’d made up my mine ‘bout what I’s a-gwyne to do… So I says, a raff is what I’s arter; it doan’ make no track” (Twain 44).

  • Language spoken by people in a region or group
  • The special language of a profession or group.
  • Often has pejorative associations
    • evasive, tedious, and unintelligible to outsiders.
  • Ex: Lawyers, doctors, literary critics
objective vs subjective
Objective vs. Subjective



  • Impersonal and unemotional
  • “The pursuit of happiness is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence as a right of all Americans, as well as on the self-improvement shelves of every American bookstore. Yet the scientific evidence makes it seem unlikely that you can change your level of happiness in any sustainable way” (Seligman xi-xii).
  • Personal and emotional language
  • “I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy… At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great” (Cather 21).
concrete vs abstract
Concrete vs. Abstract



  • Tangible and specific language
  • Conceptual and philosophical language

“Abstract words such a glory, honor, courage, or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the umbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and dates” (Hemingway 185).

literal vs figurative
Literal vs. Figurative



  • Straight-forward language without embellishment

From The Man He Killed

Thomas Hardy

But ranged as infantry

And staring face to face,

I shot at him and he at me,

And killed him in his place.

  • Features literary devices, like hyperboles or metaphors

FromDulce et Decorum Est

Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, 

Knock-kneed, coughing like hags…

words to describe diction
Words to describe diction…
  • Pedantic
  • Cultured
  • Learned
  • Pretentious
  • Archaic
  • Scholarly
  • Pedantic
  • Ornate
  • Elegant
  • Flowery
  • Didactic
  • Elevated
  • Cliché
  • Abrupt
  • Terse
  • Laconic
  • Vulgar
  • Slang
  • Jargon
  • Exact
  • Journalistic
  • Straightforward
  • Pedestrian
  • Unadorned
  • Plain
  • Detached
  • Simple
  • Homespun
  • Colloquial
  • Invective
  • Pejorative
  • Metaphoric
  • Poetic
  • Lyrical
  • Symbolic
  • Obscure
  • Sensuous
  • Grotesque
  • Picturesque