The power of diction

Communication is a key element in today’s society. Words, the main means used in communicating, represent a magical power which only mankind possesses. In times gone by it used to be said that the pen is mightier than the sword, but I dare slightly change that to read ‘the pen (or should I say keyboard) is even mightier than the tongue’.

I state this because to my mind, with the explosion of social media, there are running commentaries round the clock on any subject under the sun by whoever has become keyboard happy. Words do come easy these days and, once posted, circle around the world in a split second and remain there for posterity.

Words are powerful tyranny and faithful wizards at the same time. They can call men to war; they bring together armies and motivate them to fight for an ideal; they convince people to vote in favour or against a political party; they can strike or end relationships; they can achieve or foil commercial negotiations; they are used by advertisers in order to entice people to buy their products; they can allay fear, alleviate sorrow, instil happiness, enhance mercy; they can bring dreams to life, as well as realise wishes and prayer; they can wipe away tears from a child’s face and win back a smile.

Words are powerful tyranny and faithful wizards at the same time.

It is thus that we often hear more and more of the power of diction, its ability to work on us, to assist us in doing things. Nobody doubts that language is a powerful means of dominion and authority. The art of rhetoric lies in making use of all linguistic resources to attract towards you and convince an audience. Whoever has these abilities can conquer the world through diction. Language has a very wide range of social power, especially where it concerns collective conscience.

Those who know how to make use of this magic wand go beyond merely to transmit information when they communicate and choose the proper diction in order to influence behaviour, change attitudes, beliefs and values. Charismatic leaders make use of diction in order to govern and have the ability to transform their words into deeds. Today’s society is teeming with all sorts of technique of linguistic manipulation.

The value of communicating exactly what you mean — not a close approximation, but exactly what you are trying to say — cannot be overestimated. It is the difference between a message sent and a message received. To get their point across, able orators identify the words that will make people listen to them, and use them until the words themselves are permanently associated with the message they are trying to send. For all the technological and intellectual advances humanity has achieved in our species’ existence, language is the greatest and most important — it is how other ideas are communicated and generated, and it has powered all of our other innovations from agriculture to the Mars rovers. We have infographics, emoticons, pictures and charts, but none of them communicate as clearly and accurately as words. Until we evolve the capability for mind-to-mind transmission of emotions and thoughts, words will matter more than anything else, so they have to be chosen carefully.

Of course, it is not just about words. There are many elements that work together to make writing or speech shine: rhythm, clarity, tone, voice. But word choice is the linchpin for all of this. The seemingly simple decisions one makes determine the success of the rest. Orators will know their audience. Simply identifying their audience is not enough. To reach them and move them, they also have to understand them. Everyone has a particular way of speaking. A voice should be distinctive. While one may be tempted to emulate the winners in a particular field, it is not advisable. The aim is not to sound like everyone else. One’s authenticity is what will win people over and turn potential customers into loyal fans and the electorate into loyal supporters, for example.

Diction can be defined as style of speaking or writing determined by the choice of words by a speaker or a writer. It is a combination of what one wants to say and what one wants the audience to hear. Diction motivates people to taking a stand because diction can create an inspirational atmosphere, which influences people to make a difference. Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble. Considering the ‘powerful force’ of the words we utter, we must discipline ourselves to speak in a way that conveys respect, gentleness and humility. One of the clearest signs of a moral life is right speech. Perfecting our speech is one of the keystones of mature people.

Religion has its preachers, its Imam, Rabbi, Pope and its Ayatollah. Far from the differences in faith, they all harbour special types of personalities who harness great power over the faithful. As consumers, contemporary society members listen bewildered to public discussions, all made up of effective diction. Industry and business magnates would not have spent so much had it no guarantee of making profit through intelligent propaganda. The power of manipulation in advertisements lies in the intelligent use of words as an incentive for consumption.

These are just a few reflections on the power of diction.

Words practically are concerned with all aspects of human life, and have the ability to change the whole world. Let us not, cautious in diction, and mighty in contradiction, venture on territory where angels fear to tread.

Our choice of words often reveal the depth of our knowledge or ignorance, or perhaps of our desire to be deemed knowledgeable.

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