Word Choice Help
Diction: What's In A Word?
Today's lesson focuses on diction, the words writers choose to convey their meaning. The smallest change in choice of words can significantly change the tone and meaning of a passage. Today's lesson shows you how to pick up on the clues to meaning writers give through their choice of words.
What made Sherlock Holmes such a good detective? Was he just much smarter than everyone else? Did he have some sort of magical powers? Could he somehow see into the future or into the past? No, Sherlock Holmes was no medium or magician. So what was his secret? His powers of observation.
You may recall that the introduction to this book talked about active reading. As an active reader, you should have been marking up the passages you've read in this book: identifying unfamiliar vocabulary, underlining key words and ideas, and recording your reactions and questions in the margin. But there's another part of active reading we haven't talked about: making observations.
Making observations means looking carefully at the text and noticing specific things about how it is written. You might notice, for example, the point of view the author has chosen. You could also notice
- particular words and phrases the writer uses.
- the way those words and phrases are arranged in sentences and paragraphs.
- repeated word or sentence patterns.
- important details about people, places, and things.
When you make observations, you can then make valid inferences.
Observations and Inferences
Inferences, as you may recall, are conclusions based on reason, fact, or evidence. Good inferences come from good observations. The observations are the evidence for the inferences. Good inferences—ones based on careful observation—can help you determine meaning, as they helped Sherlock Holmes solve crimes.
To be better readers, then, we need to be more like Sherlock Holmes: We need to be better observers. In the story "The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier," Sherlock Holmes tells a client: "I see no more than you, but I have trained myself to notice what I see." You don't have to be Einstein to be a good reader; you just have to train yourself to notice what you see.
Test your observation skills on these two sentences:
- The town's new parking policy, which goes into effect on Monday, should significantly reduce traffic congestion on Main Street.
- The town's draconian new parking policy, which goes into effect on Monday, should significantly reduce traffic congestion on Main Street.
You don't need Sherlock Holmes's magnifying glass to see the difference between sentence A and sentence B: B uses the words draconian and new to describe the parking policy, while A uses only new. Now that you have noticed this, why is it important?
- What does sentence B tell you that sentence A doesn't?
- what type of policy is being discussed
- how the writer feels about the policy
- when the policy begins
The answer is b. Both sentences tell you that the policy is a new parking policy, and both say that the policy goes into effect on Monday. But sentence B, because it adds the word draconian, tells you how the writer feels about the new policy: He doesn't like it. His opinion is implied through his choice of the word draconian. Rather than directly saying, "I think the policy is very severe," the writer suggests or implies that this is the way he feels.
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