Friday, October 16, 2020

Improving Style Through Diction, Part 13: Personification

Plant and vehicle lovers tend to use personification when speaking of the object of their affection. I heard a friend say her plants say thank you when they blossom in response to her watering them, and another tell me about how his motorcycle understands all kinds of road conditions. Personification, the attributing of human qualities to nonhuman things, challenges readers as well as listeners to use their imagination

We use personification when we say those meatballs and sausages were mean to us, or the sun caresses our flesh, or a hard rain smacks our windshield. We personify computers all the time when we say they know a lot, work fast, and die suddenly.

Sometimes, writers can get carried away with personification, as does Ernest Hemingway in translating Spanish speakers to English in For Whom the Bell Tolls, when the mountain rebels make their machine guns "speak" or Eugene O'Neill, whose Christopher Christopherson in Anna Christie says, "dat ole davil, seashe knows!" But thoughtful personification adds excitement to our writing and even brings clarity to it.

Friday, October 09, 2020

Improving Style Through Diction, Part 12: Simile

Simile is a figure of speech similar to a metaphor, but one we are more likely to use in everyday speech. For example, we often hear a beautiful child is as cute a kitten, or a clumsy person is a bull in a china shop, or a mighty one is as strong as an ox. Instead of using metaphor to show someone or something directly applies to someone or something else, we use simile to show someone or something is like someone or something else. The key word in using simile is like or as:

  • The proud janitor moves her mop like a queen brandishing her staff.
  • She entered the meeting like a general.
  • The singer hits those high notes like an angel. 

As with metaphor, we can use simile in writing at work. In fact, we do when we write, "Our office gets as hectic as rush hour in Times Square at the opening bell of the stock market," or "Business in the personal protective equipment industry during the pandemic has soared like a meteor."

Friday, October 02, 2020

Improving Style Through Diction, Part 11: Metaphor

To describe our world, we often use metaphor, which is a figure of speech directly applied to someone or something to show resemblance, although the association cannot be literal. We use metaphors in multiple ways:
  • people with other people (My sister is the queen during our family's multi-city Zoom meetings.)
  • people with animals (The boxer became a bull terrier as he slashed through the ring.
  • people with things (Mother was the glue of our family.)
  • things with other things (San Sebastian is the heaven of food.)
  • places with other places (The platoon waded through hell in the rat-infested swamp.
Metaphors enliven not only fiction writing but our business correspondence. Instead of writing "Our company is at the top of the IT field," we might write "Our company stands atop the Everest of IT."  

Friday, September 25, 2020

Improving Style Through Diction, Part 10: Consonance

As with assonance, consonance is the repetition of sounds within the same phrase or sentence, the difference being that assonance uses vowel sounds and consonance consonant sounds. Notice the repetition of w and wh sounds in this example from one of my poems, "Do You See These Buildings?":

They wondered whether this was what

they signed up for, if all the awful waiting

through the waste was worth their while.

In this next example, the r sound repeats:

The rabbits running across garden wreaked destruction, tearing through the mesh barrier and devouring the carrots, parsnip, and radish.

Consonance brings simple pleasures to the reading experience. 


Friday, September 18, 2020

Improving Style Through Diction, Part 9: Assonance

By repeating the same vowel sounds within words in the same phrase or sentence, assonance creates musicality to a passage. Here are some examples:

  • When the fans deem the Dream Team has run out of steam, it seems they scream louder.
  • All of us were awed by Paula's thoughtful offer.
  • The man who owns the apple stand on Samson Way passed away yesterday, I'm sad to say.

Using assonance at strategic points of a story or essay adds a dash of poetry. 

Friday, September 11, 2020

Improving Style Through Diction, Part 8: Alliteration

Alliteration, the use of identical initial consonant sounds on a string of words, can realize a desired mood. Alliteration is usually taught as a poetic device, but it also works well in prose. Here are four examples:

She pressed her palms together in prayer promising piety to Providence.

The water felt like waves of sweat as I swam swiftly in the sweltering swamp.

He thunderously thrust his way through the thorny thicket.  

Woe to those wastrels for their wanton ways! 

Exaggerations? I suppose. When using alliteration, the idea is not to hatch a tongue twister but to create an effect that complements your point. Used sparingly and strategically, it can enliven your story line.

Friday, September 04, 2020

Improving Style Through Diction, Part 7: Neologism

Another rhetorical device for adding color to writing is the neologism, which is a relatively new word (e.g., frenemy, a friend with whom one frequently quarrels) or a standard word that has taken a new meaning (e.g., friend, now used as a verb meaning to add someone to a personal social media platform). As you might imagine, technological and cultural changes are the source of most neologisms. 

We do not have a set time for when a neologism stops being one. Some people would still consider vaping (2014) and staycation (2005) neologisms but not selfie (2006) and photobomb (2008). I think this is mostly dependent on the beholder's age and the word's pervasiveness.

Some of us might create a neologism of our own among our select circles. For instance, if one of a group of your friends, Terry, is perpetually late for get-togethers, you might say to everyone in that group, "Show up on time. Don't Terry it." 

I was surprised and, to say the least, deeply disappointed, to find online suckbomb defined as a word coined in 2009 to describe weak opponents in fantasy leagues. Absolutely not true! I coined it 43 years earlier, in 1966, in the James Monroe Housing Projects of the Bronx, to mean someone who is truly, indisputably, and unalterably useless or annoying. Don't tell me people don't rewrite history! If I could get my hands on the suckbomb who took credit for suckbomb.