Evolving diction: Old diction vs new diction

By Stephanie Lingenfelter
Editor in Chief

Merriam Webster defines diction as, “choice of words especially with regard to correctness, clearness, or effectiveness.” Diction has changed significantly from the time of Shakespeare to the 21st Century due to factors like syntax, culture changes and technology advancements.

English teacher Brooke Fuentes explained that one of the major reasons for the changing of diction is technology and mixing of cultures.

“As technology advances, we must create new words. As mobility around the globe is made more possible, words from different cultures mix and become more prevalent,” Fuentes said.

Social media has opened a new door for diction with introducing words like “meme” while changing the meaning of the number sign and introducing more slang terms. Now when someone mentions story, they’re most likely referring to Snapchat or Instagram.

Celebrities are huge influences to people today, especially those in younger generations, so the words and phrases they use can influence regular people’s word choice. Junior Branson Starr believes pop culture is the major reason behind the transition from elevated, sophisticated diction, to a much simpler diction.

“The prominence of pop culture has had a huge impact on modern diction. In pop culture, slang and lowered diction is heavily used by actors and celebrities, and since their admirers tend to emulate them, the average level of complexity is lowered,” Starr said.

Slang is constantly changing with new jargon weekly due to media releases and trends on the internet. It’s always been common, it just depends on what year it is to determine what slang terms were used and their meaning. English teacher Heath Harrison said he used terms like “totally tubular” in high school. Now, that term is rarely heard unless said as a joke. According to USA Today, some of the most popular words of 2017 so far include, “fam, lit, shade, thirsty, goals, bet and savage.” Harrison explained people like to use slang to connect with others.

“They like to connect to those around them. Vernacular language connects people no matter their race, gender, socioeconomic status,” Harrison said.

Fuentes explained her opinion on the different slang words that she hears in the hallways.

“I really don’t mind slang much as long as students aren’t trying to use it in their formal writing. I don’t really like slang that is introduced to call people names. I think we have enough derogatory terms for people; we don’t need more. ‘Bet’ drives me crazy. I like to use ‘lit’ for my own purposes as an English teacher, not its intended meaning,” Fuentes said.

Literary works from the time of Shakespeare involved elevated diction that can be difficult for people in the 21st century to understand. Shakespeare’s plays and other older classics involve a more complicated sentence structure and sophisticated language. Words prevalent in Shakespeare’s works include words like “ye” and “anon” that are no longer used. While many words prevalent in Shakespearean plays aren’t around anymore, Shakespeare is still credited with the creation of numerous words. According to Shakespeare Online, he is responsible for over 1700 of today’s common words, including “bet,” “birthplace” and “champing.” Shakespeare’s words changed diction. Without him, we might not have the words we do today.

“Bet” is the prime example of evolving diction. When it was created by Shakespeare, it was defined as being something to wager on, but now it is a common slang term. Now, it is typically used as a single term meaning “challenge accepted.” For example, a teacher might say, “This isn’t a project you can do in one night,” and then a student would say “bet” in response. People say it even when they know something’s not possible and it’s used as a joke.

Words have to keep up with the times and reflect the current culture. Our culture allows more freedom and individual expression. Formal dinner parties, getting dressed up for family meals and churchgoers wearing their Sunday best aren’t as common as it used to be. We’ve become more laid back and less sophisticated, but that doesn’t mean we’re becoming less intelligent or our diction changes are bad. With our advancing culture, over 1,000 words are added to the Merriam Webster dictionary yearly, so it’s hard to say our diction is devolving.


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