1. Ferb
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    Ferb Member

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    How do you improve your diction?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Ferb, Jul 29, 2009.

    I seem to have trouble coming up with words that mean exactly what I mean. This normally results in me writing three sentences when one sentence could have done it, or in me writing a full sentence when one word could have done it.

    Any advice on how to tackle this problem?
     
  2. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    I use a thesaurus or even ask people here or other friends.

    For instance, do you know what marines call those silly songs they sing as they run?
    That is called a jodey.

    You can tell a lot about an author by what they do and do not write. If they include details about something, then they are obviously familiar with it. However, some authors completely skip the details of other things. They might simply call it a "running song" if they don't know what a jodey is.

    Another author might say "warmup exercises" if they don't know what calisthenics are.

    Ask people.

    I couldn't remember the word "honorific" for things like "sir" and "ma'am" and "Colonel". When you call someone by a title, it's called an honorific. I knew there was a word for it, so I described it here, and people helped me figure it out.

    The jodey thing came about because I have a friend in the Air Force and we went running together one day. She wanted us to sing a jodey (which I did not participate in). Previously, I had only known that military people sing as they run. I didn't know there was a word for it. Now I do.

    It's hard to tell what you don't know.

    Try and tell me something that you don't know. I dare you!
     
  3. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Increase your vocabulary. That will really help when it comes down to saying exactly what you want to say. A limited vocabulary only limits what you can write. You can google "most common SAT words" or "most common GRE words" and study a few new words a day. Even if you learn 3 new words a day, that adds up to more than 1000 words a year.
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, build your vocabulary by reading, reading, and more reading.

    Beware the thesaurus. It is a feral beast that will turn around and rip you apart if not carefully managed. The thesaurus will give you a pile of words that mean similar things to your reference word, but in general they are not drop-in replacements.

    You can always tell a writer who lets his thesaurus roam freely. His or her writing will bear the scars of poorly understood words that simply do not fit in the context they are used in.

    Even dictionaries cannot be fully trusted. The definitions are more likely to provide good guidelines as to proper context, but there can still be shades of meaning, connotations that are missing from the dictionary definitions.

    This is what distinguishes diction from vocabulary (there's also a definition of diction that refers to clarity of speaking, but that's not the one we're discussing). Vocabulary focuses on having a wide variety of choices for a given meaning, but diction is all about choosing the words for clarity and precision. A thesaurus will not help with that!
     
  5. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    I second that notion about the thesaurus!

    Rather, I use the thesaurus (which sounds remarkably like a dinosaur to me) as a starting point. Often, while perusing "similar" words, it will jog my memory for the word that I'm looking for.

    Don't ever use a word that you don't know how to use in every day speech.
     
  6. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Dave (Cog) has already said everything I would have said.

    Read, read, read, and read. A good vacabulary, and more importantly, a good knowledge of how to wield that vocabulary will cost you nothing but your time.

    I would add to never be afraid to use your new found vocabulary in your everyday diction. Keeping two sets of diction, one for everyday speaking and one for writing, is poppycock! Use your tools everyday so that when it comes time to put pen to paper your tools will feel friendly and familiar to you.

    Think about it. Who would you rather have perform surgery on you: the doctor who is in the surgery every day with scalpel in her hand practicing and perfecting, or the doctor who only makes a guest appearance in the surgery every once in a blue moon?

    Your words are your scalpels, they should feel like an extension of you.
     
  7. Gigi_GNR
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    Gigi_GNR Guys, come on. WAFFLE-O. Contributor

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    I built my vocabulary by reading, and challenging myself to read. I read "complicated" books, meaning I move on from the Harry Potter to Jane Austen, the more advanced wordings.
     
  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    to improve your diction, expand your vocabulary, follow the advice given above...

    and...

    do the daily ny times [or london, if you're in the uk/commonwealth] crosswords until you can finish them in ink, in less than 30 minutes... when you get to that point, switch to the sunday crosswords [you can get 50-200 in book collections from amazon]... and when you can do those in ink, in less than an hour, promote yourself to the paper's book collections of acrostics and do those on a daily basis...

    that is the absolute best-of-all way to both increase your vocabulary and understanding of words and their meanings... much better than reading, in fact, though you must also read constantly, if you hope to become a writer...
     
  9. penhobby
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    penhobby Contributing Member

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    Write a few stories and post them here. This forum will help you weed out the unnecessary language. In a few months time or less, you'll look back at your writing and cringe. I cannot express enough the importance of a good writing forum. But I also cannot express enough that you take only what you need and trash the rest. Be big enough of character to admit when you're wrong and strong enough of mind to recognize when you're right.

    FYI-- hope you have tough skin!
     
  10. Demief
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    A thing i did was get a new notebook and whenever i'm re-reading a book and come across a word i usually would not use, i right it down. Then when it comes to reading my work, i might replace some words with the words i have written down and mix up my diction slightly.
     
  11. Ferb
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    Ferb Member

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    Regarding vocabulary building:

    I do read a lot, and I've noticed that while I understand a lot of "big words," I'm fully incapable of actually using them when I write. This is the problem.
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I would rather see a smaller vocabulary used well than a vast vocabulary used poorly.
     
  13. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    I can't remember who said it, but I just saw a quote:

    -or something to that effect.
     
  14. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Unattributed quotes are unacceptable here. This is the actual quote:
    --Ernest Hemingway, about William Faulkner
     
  15. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    That's the one!

    Anyways, I think that conveys the spirit of the conversation.
     
  16. *BK*
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    *BK* Member

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    Ferb - There are vocabulary building programs out there that work very well (audio books). I have done one specifically that has worked very well for me. I think vocabulary is only one part of improving diction though.

    I am very interested in how you learn to speak clearly, concisely, and with minimal words to get a point across in a strong manner. I'm guessing vocabulary is part of this but sentence structure is probably very important as well. I know nothing of sentence structure :(
     
  17. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    I don't think that is the advice given here. The advice is not to learn the ten-dollar words, but to learn useful words that reduce a phrase to a word.

    She went to the doctors to have the fetus extracted from her.

    She went to the doctors to get an abortion.
     

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