Monday, August 13, 2018

Diction Drops & Spikes

As of this year, the second Monday of the month is dedicated to my workshop students and anyone else interested in creative writing.



Thanks to the Battle of Hastings of 1066! Because it is a blend of languages, mainly Anglo-Saxon and Norman French, English offers unusual facility for diction drops and spikes, and you, dear writerly reader, if you care to dare, can employ these for a richly dazzling array of effects. Irony, comedy, sarcasm, intimacy, poignancy, revelation, poetry, punch, sass, shock... it's a long list and I'm sure that you can make it longer.

Here, taken from a few favorite books and blogs, are some examples of diction spikes-- that is, a sudden rise in the level of formality of vocabulary and syntax(wherein it all gets very elliptically Latinate)-- and drops-- gettin' funky with the grammar and using short, sharp words.

See if you can spot the spikes and drops. I separate them out for you below the quotes.

"What then, does one do with one's justified anger? Miss Manners' meager arsenal consists only of the withering look, the insistent and repeated request, the cold voice, the report up the chain of command and the tilted nose. They generally work. When they fail, she has the ability to dismiss inferior behavior from her mind as coming from inferior people. You will perhaps points out that she will never know the joy of delivering a well-deserved sock in the chops. True-- but she will never inspire one, either."
-- Judith Martin, Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior

SPIKE: "What then, does one do with one's justified anger? Miss Manners' meager arsenal consists only of the withering look, the insistent and repeated request, the cold voice, the report up the chain of command and the tilted nose."
DROP : "sock in the chops"

"Department of Transportation engineers explained that aluminum highway signs bore a chemical film which kept them from oxidizing. And that the film over time formed a halo effect, a light-purple tinge which migrated to stress points on the metals' surface. The regional maintentance engineer didn't think the sign looked a bit like the Virgin, by the way. You must of had to use your imagination. Though maybe, he admitted, he was unenlightened. The manager of the plant that supplied the aluminum sheets assured everyone that they weren't treated by monks or anything. It was done by a bunch of folks in Alabama."
-- Philip Garrison, "La Reconquisita of the Inland Empire"

SPIKE: "Department of Transportation engineers explained that aluminum highway signs bore a chemical film which kept them from oxidizing. And that the film over time formed a halo effect, a light-purple tinge which migrated to stress points on the metals' surface."
DROP:  "...didn't think the sign looked a bit like the Virgin, by the way. You must of had to use your imagination..."
SPIKE:  "The manager of the plant that supplied the aluminum sheets assured everyone..."
DROP: "...they weren't treated by monks or anything. It was done by a bunch of folks in Alabama."

"As I thought about composing a new blog post over the past couple of weeks, I resisted the idea of writing about wildfire, even as the topic claimed a growing share of mind day after day. For one thing, I've touched the subject before. For another, yet another blog bemoaning the lack of precipitation seemed tiresome. Plus, well, geez: fires are such a downer."
-- Andrea Jones, "Out of the Background" in "Between Urban and Wild" blog, July 4, 2018

SPIKE:  "...bemoaning the lack of precipitation seemed tiresome."
DROP: "Plus, well, geez: fires are such a downer."


"When I was a young man in the 1970s, New York was on its ass. Bankrupt. President Gerald Ford told panhandling Mayor Abe Beame to "drop dead." Nothing was being cared for. The subway cars were so grafitti-splattered you could hardly find the doors or see out the windows. Times Square was like the place Pinocchio grew donkey ears. Muggers lurked in the shadows of Bonwit Teller on 57th and Fifth. These were the climax years of the post-war (WWII) diaspora to the suburbs. The middle class had been moving out of the city for three decades leaving behind the lame, the halt, the feckless, the clueless, and the obdurate 'risk oblivious' cohort of artsy bohemians for whom the blandishments of suburbia were a no-go state of mind. New York seemed done for."
-- James Howard Kunstler, "The Future of the City"

DROP: "...New York was on its ass."
DROP: "drop dead."
SPIKE: "These were the climax years of the post-war (WWII) diaspora to the suburbs. The middle class had been moving out of the city for three decades leaving behind the lame, the halt, the feckless, the clueless, and the obdurate 'risk oblivious' cohort of artsy bohemians for whom the blandishments of suburbia were a no-go state of mind."
DROP: "New York seemed done for."


P.S. More resources for writers on my workshop page, including "Giant Golden Buddha" and 364 More Five Minute Writing Exercises.


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