My Definitions Rhetorical; My Questions Not

AP Language

August 21st, 2008


What I need from you, dear blog readers: If you are reading this, I assume you check the blog often enough. I need you to bug the others to get on here. This is the front-line source for articles online. The heart of my discussion material.

What I need from everyone: Topics! Ideas! If you are into something, I want to hear about it. We are creating a class on the art of persuasion, so there is nothing that we cannot discuss. But we must discuss often. We must post often. We must write often. We must read often. In this, and in all things, we shall prevail! [Diction, anyone?]

Oh, sorry for the extra-long post, but here are the notes from today’s class:


The Wizard of ID or, Imagery and Detail in Your Everyday Write

AP Language

August 20th, 2008

Themes: , ,

Welcome back to our T-DIDLS series. We are covering TONE as we move along, and have covered DICTION here and here and here. Go back if you are uncertain about diction, connotation, denotation, jargon, or colloquialisms.

Imagery and detail. If diction is the part of a writer’s VOICE that packs meaning into individual words, Imagery and detail are the two parts that keep a reader interested, and "paint the picture" of whatever is being described. Actually, as imagery is the representation of any sensory experience in words, it also "sings the sounds," "invigorates the touch," "supplements the taste," and "supplies the scent" of any scene or experience. Let’s look at this sentence from Bram Stoker’s Dracula:

The windows were curtainless, and the yellow moonlight, flooding in through the diamond panes, enabled one to see even colours, whilst it softened the wealth of dust which lay over all and disguised in some measure the ravages of time and moth.

This section contains some striking visual imagery, but the other senses are possibly heightened by the imagination. What does the room smell like? Are the surfaces rough or smooth? If you tasted something in the room… Okay, maybe that one doesn’t work. Taste is tough.

Detail can be a more slippery term, but coupled with DICTION, it is a vital aspect of IMAGERY. Think of the words on a page as a camera lens, and the writer as a cinematographer. By bringing certain aspects of a scene into focus (the curtains, the dust in the previous example), the author/cameraman can leave the rest of a scene out of focus, trusting us to fill in the blanks (again, what does the room smell like? Ask a bunch of people what they think and I bet you will all have similar answers.)

From Alberto Alvaro Rios’s story, "The Iguana Killer":

An old man, Don Tomasito, the baker, played the tuba. When he blew into the huge mouthpiece, his face would turn purple and his thousand wrinkles would disappear as his skin filled out.

Just like in a movie scene, the first sentence sets the mise-en-scene, while the second takes the reader/viewer into a close-up of the tuba player’s head and neck. [Quick review: what does the author’s choice of the word "filled" add to the whole scene and the detail of the neck expansion in particular?] If we changed the second sentence to something like When he blew the tuba, his face turned purple and his cheeks puffed out, how is the tone and your feeling about the baker change?

Tying it all together: Just as we examined metaphor and simile in light of CONNOTATION and DENOTATION, IMAGERY adds to these devices as well. Check out this example from H.G. Wells’s War of the Worlds:

Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.

Recognize the device from ACT or SAT prep? This is a wild analogy (one in its natural habitat, not one used by Johnny Carson) that could be set up this way: Martian minds : Human minds :: Human minds : Animal minds. How does the focus on the Martian’s minds add to the overall creepiness factor of this passage? [Rhetorical side note: If this were a persuasive piece (and someone could certainly make that argument), which of the big three would this analogy fall under? Think about how this passage affects you as a reader hint hint. Click here for the answer.

To sum up:

“Cross-Buying” Annotated

AP Language

August 18th, 2008

Themes: , , ,

Click below for image from class.

I blacked-out some of the article for copyright purposes (we are using this for our classroom, so it falls under fair use, but I cannot publish a full copy).Cross-Buying Annotated

Diction II: Hunker Down; This Is Gonna Be a Big One

AP Language

August 16th, 2008

Themes: , ,

[Lame.  I posted the wrong old one before.]

Okay, not really. Connotation and denotation. These are important not only because they are vital to metaphors, metonymy, and such, but because they are fairly simple terms and can make a world of difference in an essay.

The DENOTATION of a word is the literal dictionary definition of a word. (Quick mnemonic: denotation and definition both begin with "de." Add "dictionary" to the mix and they all start with "d." Big D little d what begins with d? Dr Seuss, anyone? No? Moving on…)

Anyway, the CONNOTATION of a word is the meaning implied or suggested by the word and its CONtext (the words that surround it). That’s it. The difficulty comes when we must learn to recognize these terms in their various incarnations. But don’t worry, I have examples!

The name of the rock band Rage Against the Machine plays on the word "machine." In this case, "machine" can mean numerous things, but I’ll take a stab at it: "the Man," "the government," "major corporations," "major industries." . . . Well, I think I hit all of those when I said "the man." This is an example of METONYMY, where something associated with another thing is used to name the first.  It’s easier to imagine a METaphor (another mnemonic) for a piece of something.

Following the previous example, Fiona Apple’s latest (to my knowledge) album, Extraordinary Machine contains the same word (machine), but in this case she uses it proudly to name herself. One could say in an essay, "While it may seem odd that Apple describes herself as a ‘machine,’ within the album the word connotes a sense of power and resilience. She gets knocked down, but as the metaphor implies, she keeps moving forward with ‘extraordinary’ mechanistic ability."

"Zoot Suit Riot" is a famous swing song by the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies. Gesundheit. The title refers to battles between the "Zoot Suiters" and sailors in California during WWII. As with "machine" earlier, while the word’s denotation points to an article of clothing, the connotation and context (clothes can’t riot. At least not when you’re in the room…) refer to the people wearing them. Aww… sneaky metonymy.

Enough of the music examples. Here is one from literature:

Art is the antidote that can call us back from the edge of numbness, restoring the ability to feel for another.

—Barbara Kingsolver, High Tide in Tuscon

Now. Why does she choose the word "antidote"? The denotation of this word elicits medicine—a cure. This is emphasized by her use of "restoring" later in the sentence. I now know that she wants to convey the idea that our "ability to feel for one another" is sick (it is not as it should be), and that art can help that. By drawing out the metaphor of a sick ability to feel, she piles her reader with meaning. Our thoughts go back through experiences with medicine, with connections to the sick, and with art and its palliative power. All by choosing her words carefully.

Take a look at The Decemberists song "The Infanta" from their album Picaresque. The artists use words that may be unfamiliar to the listener, words like "palanquin," "standards" (meaning flags denoting position and duty), and "phalanx." How does this help the "feel" of the piece? Again, we find DICTION and TONE inextricably combined.

Stay tuned for the next part in this series: "The Wizard of ID or, Imagery and Detail in Your Everyday Write."

Diction 0: The Prequel That Tells You Things You Already Know or, PreDiction

AP Language

November 17th, 2007

Themes: , , ,

[Note: This is a re-post from last year.  I’ve made some minor alterations to the text, but the content is mostly the same.]

Voice is the second most important aspect of rhetorical (or persuasive) communication. When the communication is written, we call this aspect the author’s “style.” I assume that many of you have been introduced to the style analysis paper in other courses, probably Freshman or Sophomore English. If not, have no fear. Here is a quick review.

When we describe voice in a rhetorical argument, we are actually describing six things. I will refer to them using the acronym T-DIDLS (“tee-diddles”) because it sounds funny and we can all remember it. The first letter stands for TONE, which will be described throughout this series. The second is DICTION, which we will be covering today.

Diction is how we describe an author’s choice of words. You will rarely find a character in a novel “saying” anything; often, they “shout,” “mutter,” “respond,” or “sneer.” This allows the author to pack as much meaning into one word as possible. The same goes with descriptive words. So, instead of describing a scene like this:

The old cat was bad for the man’s asthma.

An author could describe it this way, with more interesting diction:

The dandered and decrepit cat irritated her owner’s asthma.

Okay, so I may not be the next Faulkner, but I hope you get the idea. The words “dandered” and “decrepit” in the second sentence replace “old” in the previous sentence. Not only is the second sentence more interesting, but it more specifically describes the situation. By adding the word “irritated,” a TONE of frustration or annoyance is added to an otherwise frank explanation of events.

Another aspect of diction depends on the author’s purpose. If the author intends to entertain, there will be much laughter and gaiety all around. His or her word choice will reflect a relaxed diction; informal and colloquial words like “um,” “okay,” “well,” and “K,” “LOL,” “whatcha up to?,” and “nuthin'” are all relaxed words that put the reader in a mind to be entertained. On the other hand, if the author’s purpose is to inform, then the words will be much more formal. Academic writing, presentations, most speeches, and any proposals or resumes are written in precise and proper words:

Both Vladimir Nabokov and Marcel Proust state that the worldview they held as children was slanted and inaccurate, yet each devotes much of his story to the recollection of his formative years. Each has devoted numerous pages to narrating or explaining scenes of his early youth that have affected him later in some manner, profound or otherwise. One should certainly wonder, then, what it is about childhood memories that endow them, for these men, with such weight in later life?

Enough of that. It informs, but only if you are really interested in Speak, Memory or Remembrances of Things Past. Which we aren’t; not at this point.

Quick Self-Quiz: Can anyone label the diction I am using throughout this explanation? Take into consideration my purpose and goals.

[This post was WinsomeWiki’d on 5 Jul. 2009.]