Guilford College Writing Manual

This is the official Guilford College Writing Manual. A collaboration between the English Department and the Hege Library.

Diction

You have two joy sticks with which to control your style. One involves word choice.

The English language is a marvelous treasure-trove. It has more words by far than any other language. It is also a world language; not only do we find it in use across the globe, but it has borrowed from nearly every language on earth.

Throughout its history, many tributaries have fed the English word stock, some more so than others. During certain periods Old Norse, French, Latin, and Greek have made enormous contributions.

The result of all these contributions has been a rich, multi-leveled layering of vocabulary, with many words to choose from to designate any concept. English is the only language for which there is a thesaurus because it is the only language that offers so many different words to name a specific thing.

If you want to say that a person is thin, for example, here are some of your choices: thin, slender, slim, svelte, slinky, sylph-like, willowy, slight, frail, fine, lean, skinny, spare, meager, scrawny, gaunt, lanky, gangling, gawky, spindly, bony, skeletal, spidery, twiggy.

We may consider these words synonyms, but each means something different because it carries a different semantic meaning (compare, for example, "svelte" and "skeletal"). When you write, you want to choose the word that expresses exactly the nuance you mean. That's why it's good to avoid the most commonly used variants, because these words are used so broadly as to have lost whatever nuance they once had.

So, use your resources! Be an artist!!

What I've said above about adjectives applies to other parts of speech as well. Take verbs, the most energy-laden units in your sentences. Why be satisfied with the most common verbs (e.g., "is," "have", "get," "seem", "go) when you can express yourself with gusto? See, for example, the verbs in the "festival of verbs" list, adapted from a collection contributed by instructor Sandra Winters. It appears on the next page.