Words as Art: Diction Is King

When I say words are art, what does that notion conjure in your mind?  Poetry?  Song lyrics?  A play?  For many people in many ways, words are used artistically.  But I’m not concerned with how words can be used; I’m concerned with words themselves.  Their nature, their relationships to other words, their power, their pain, their pleasure – these attributes are what define art.

A stroke of paint on a canvas is meaningless without context.  Even within an abstract work, a stroke of white surrounded by white would be lost. It’s the surrounding hues that give that one stroke of white a life.  In music, a single note is fleeting and sterile, but wrapped in a melody or harmony, or even in dissonance against the grain, a single note can define a piece of music.  Any true artist can tell you her vision cannot be expressed without a medium, while a medium without a vision is not art.

This is NOT art.
Not art.

We’ve all met someone whose manner of speaking fascinated us.  Some have a regional or national accent, some have interesting pronunciations, and some have combinations of these.  The ones who most catch my attention, though, are the people who seem to craft their sentences.  I’m enamored with the art of diction. For centuries, languages have evolved.  Proper words and informal slang alike have a place in language.  One’s decision to use a particular word is what separate’s him from another. There is nothing wrong with simplistic, utilitarian strings of words.  Clean and concise, these are sometimes the best ways to convey thoughts.  Nevertheless, the tactic of quickly getting to the point does not constitute art.

If I refer to the current trend of unreasonable lawsuits in the United States as “taking advantage of a court system in need of reform,” you will understand what I’m saying, but if I refer to this trend as “manipulating the twisted wreckage of a once-majestic justice system,” you will have the same understanding, but may also be entertained.  In my estimation, entertainment is a hallmark of art.

While not dismissing spontaneous art forms, one characteristic inherent to most finished art (finished in the sense that it is permanent and available at one’s leisure for later enjoyment, and not changing or changeable) is that the making of it is a deliberate process.  Musicians rarely walk into a recording studio unrehearsed and play the first thing that comes to mind.  Most songs are refined over days, weeks, months, or even years before the musician is ready to commit their work to tape, or digital media as it were, for posterity.

Words are often spoken on the fly, abruptly, and without deliberation, which is one reason so much of our communication consists of short, simple sentences, if not fragments.  One double-edged sword of communication was born in the cell phone era.  Text messaging, which some would champion as quick and convenient while others would vilify as impersonal and cold, has all but supplanted the phone call.

I have no idea how to use this thing.

One aspect of texting that goes against everything I’m trying to accomplish in this essay is the use of truncated tech speak, such as replacing “you” with “U” and “are” with “R” for instance.  People attempt to excuse this dumbing down of the language by claiming it saves time.  While I disagree, I can’t prevent the practice.

What I can do, however, is endorse another beautiful opportunity presented by text messaging: deliberation.  Rather than blurting out the first thing that comes to one’s mind, replying to a text message affords a person the ability to slow things down and carefully weave a response.  One word, which may clearly convey a thought with the help of audible inflection, may possibly confuse a recipient in bare text form, while another word may be unmistakeably cogent.  Deliberation is the only thing that will lead most people to the realization of this problem, and to its resolution.

I often meet opposition to my insistence on text messaging, typically from older people who miss the personal connection an audible conversation can foster, or from people who think talking is faster than texting.  These days, though, text messaging is the closest thing most people do to writing, and writing has always had an elegance and sophistication unmatched in spoken words.  Word choice can sometimes be the only difference between sounding like an idiot and channeling brilliance.  Approaching a conversation with consideration for diction can turn even a mundane text message into a work of art.

Not exactly art.
You’re doing it wrong.

Don’t be afraid to be an artist.



~ by hamiltonjacobs on December 9, 2013.

One Response to “Words as Art: Diction Is King”

  1. After reading this, I am lead to believe that perhaps low teenage test scores in writing may be partially due to texting. I’ve been in a restaurant and watched teenagers text each other while sitting at the same table. hmmmm Something to think about.

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