Part One: Diction
from unit 1 to unit 4
? To help students understand how to choose and use words in writing
? To help students understand several levels of words ? To help students understand the meaning of words ? To help students understand the general words and specific words
? To help students understand the using of idioms in writing
? To help students understand and identify several figures of speech, and use them
reasonably in writing
II. 8 hours
III. Teaching plan
• understanding the levels of words
• understanding the meaning of words
• understanding the general and specific words
• understanding several figures of speech and how to apply them in writing
1. Introduction to Writing
Some tips for improving your English writing
Read as much as possible in English! Have you heard that Chinese old saying?
---―You will become a poet yourself if you have read three hundred Tang poems
thoroughly‖. That's true. Reading is extremely important for someone who wants to
write well. So if you want to be a good writer, first you should be a good reader.
What should you read? Anything in original---English newspapers, magazines,
history books, social commentaries, novels, almost anything serious or light. In this
way, you are exposed to all kinds of ideas and views.
The only way to learn to write in English is through writing in English. There is no
short cut or quick fix. Write as much and as often as you can in English and gradually
you will have a feel how it works.
The simplest and most practical way to practise writing is to keep a regular journal in
English. In your journal, you can record what has happened during the day, your
impressions, your feelings, and more importantly your thoughts.
For most writers, writing is ninety-nine percent hard work and one percent inspiration.
A piece of writing must be experienced several revisions before you feel satisfied.
• Think in English
Diction is the choice and use of words. The English language has a large vocabulary. The social and technical progress is contributing new words and expressions to this large vocabulary each year. As a learner of English, it is impossible and unnecessary for you to master all of them. Instead, you should develop an awareness of the uses of various types of English words so that you can learn to use the words that are most useful and most often used to express yourself.
2.1 Levels of words
The words that we come across can be divided into 3 types, according to a stylistic point of view: formal, common, and colloquial.
Formal words may also be called ―literary words‖. They mainly appear in formal writing, such as scholarly works, political and legal documents, etc. In the English vocabulary, only a few thousand words are used by ordinary people in daily communication. These are the most useful words, or common words. They form the core of the English vocabulary which can be used on all occasions. As a learner of English, you must learn and remember these words.
The third type of words which are mainly used in informal or familiar conversation. They seldom appear in formal writing. This type of words is called colloquial words. Formal/literary common/general colloquial/informal/slang
E.g. automobile car wheels
Fortitude strength guts
Visage face mug
Attire clothes threads
Spectacle glasses specs
Expropriate steal rip-off
Voluble talkative big-mouthed The classification of usage is often difficult and controversial, because our language is constantly changing. Good writers should try to choose the word that fits the readers' interest. Since most of the writing you do in college are literary papers or essays, you'd better choose those formal or common words, and you should generally avoid those words and expressions labeled ―informal‖, ―colloquial‖ or ―slang‖. Also, good
writers should avoid mixing of informal and formal writing in a composition. 2.2 The Meaning of Words
There are two aspects about a word, see page 13.
• denotation: literary meaning in dictionary
• connotation: implied meaning or suggested meaning
Take ―snake‖ as an example.
According to the dictionary, the word ―snake‖ denotes a kind of animal, limbless, lidless eyes, reptile. For some people, the word ―snake‖ may connote evil, cheating, for some others, wisdom.
When we try out some new words, be careful about the possible mistakes in denotation. To avoid mistake in denotation, pay careful attention to the way words are used in context, and check your dictionary when you are unsure of meaning. Notes:
1). Words with similar literal meaning may have connotation that vary widely. For
example, ―quiet, still, tomblike‖ all mean silent. But the first two words have positive
connotation suggesting peacefulness while the last one has the negative connotation.
2). The words we choose as we write also show our attitude toward our subject.
For example, we might write,
The skinny woman slinked in. 瘦的皮包骨头的女人溜了进来。
The slender woman glided in. 一位苗条的淑女飘然而至。
Each of these sentences could describe the same event, but each shows a different
attitude on the part of the writer.
Therefore, in writing, we must always pay attention to both the literal and the
suggestive meaning of the words we use.
2.3 General and specific words
In the English language, some words denote general entities or concepts while others
denote specific meanings. These two groups of words form a relationship of meaning
General words are words or phrases that refer to qualities or ideas, things we can not
perceive through our five senses. Specific words are often concrete words.
For example, compared with the general word ―flower‖, words like ―rose‖, ―tulip‖ are
In writing, an experienced writer may vary between general words and specific words
to achieve variety and coherence.
E.g. general specific more specific
Food fast food pizza/KFC
Place city Harbin
Art painting Van Gogh(post-impressionist)
In writing the composition, if writers tend to use too many abstract words or general
words, their writing might be lifeless. As you select words to fit your context, be as
specific and concrete as you can.
Exercise IV on page 39
An idiom is a fixed group of words with a special meaning which is different from the
meanings of the words that form it. English is rich in idioms, using idioms in writing
can make the composition vivid.
A little bird told me. === get the information from the secret way
A penny saved is a penny earned. 省一分是一分（贬义），吝啬
A watched pot never boils=== 心急水不开 Bite of more than one can not chew=== 贪多嚼不烂
Bite one's nails=== 神经紧张 to be nervous
Bite the bullet=== 饮弹自尽，忍气吞声 Bite one's the dust=== 一败涂地，阵亡 Still water run deep=== 径流水深，真人不露相 Talk big=shoot the bulk into the sky 吹牛 talk shop 三句话不离本行
1. Figure of speech
Rhetorical devices, refer to ― the art of using language effectively‖. That is to say, the
linguistic expressions that make verbal communication more precise, vivid and lively.
The following are some of the commonly used rhetorical devices. A sparing use of
these rhetorical devices can make your writings more colorful and powerful.
There are many figures of speech in English as in Chinese.
Simile is a figure of speech involving a comparison between two or more things
which are essentially different but have at least one property or characteristic in
common. Words like as, as…as, as if, as though, (just) as…so, and like are the
commonly used expressions to make the comparison. In writing, the writer may
compare something abstract to something concrete, something remote to something
proximal, something unfamiliar to something familiar, and so forth.
This is the most often used rhetorical device in description, exposition and illustration.
Many idioms are similes, the structure is like ―as+adj+as+n.‖
As blind as a bat 目光如豆，完全看不见东西的 As cool as cucumber 泰然自若
As busy as a bee 象蜜蜂一样忙
As mute as an oyster 噤若寒蝉
As strong as a horse 健壮如牛
like a duck to water 如鱼得水
like a hen on a hot griddle 象热锅上的蚂蚁 like a cat in a hole 瓮中之鳖
There are many forms to express simile
1) Subjunctive sentence
The most commonly used structure is ―as if‖ or ―as though‖ , but there are also some
My handwriting looks as if a swarm of ants, escaping from an ink bottle, had walked
over a sheet of paper without wiping their legs. 2) What
A is to B what C is to D; What C is to D, A is to B.
The pen is to a writer what the gun is to a fighter.
Intellect is to the mind what sight is to the body.
智力对思想犹如视力对于身体一样重要。 Marx did for the development of society what Darwin did for the development of the
A fool can no more see his own folly than he can see his ears.
愚人之不知其愚，犹如其不能自视其耳。 4) And
This is a special kind of simile used especially in English idioms.
A word and a stone let go cannot be recalled.
说出的话犹如抛出的石，是收不回来的。 Love and cough can not be hid. 恋爱如同咳嗽，难逃他人耳目。
Metaphor also involves a comparison between two or more unlike things which share
at least one property or characteristic, but the comparison is not explicitly stated.
Instead, it is implied or condensed.
E.g. The world is a stage.
Similes use ―like‖ or ―as‖ to compare two things. Metaphors imply a comparison
without using ―like‖ or ―as‖.
A comparison is usually implicit; whereas in simile it is explicit.
E.g. : Life is an isthmus between two eternities.
生活是永恒的生死两端之间的峡道。 More examples about metaphor:
All the world's a stage, and all the men and woman merely players.
大千世界是个舞台，所有男男女女不外是个角色。 Money is a bottomless sea, in which honor, conscience, and truth may be drowned.
Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some few to be chewed and
Books are the ever-burning lamps and accumulated wisdom.
It was the age of wisdom; it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief; it
was the epoch of doubtfulness, it was the season of light; it was the season of
darkness; it was the spring of Hope, it was the winter of Despair.
Personification is a figure of speech which is to attribute human qualities and abilities
to inanimate objects, animals, abstractions, and events.
According to Webster's New World Dictionary, personification is a figure of speech
in which a thing, quality, or idea is represented as a person. It can make the
description more vivid and more impressive.
Some examples about personification:
1) Australia is so kind, just tickle her with a hoe, and she laughs with a harvest.
This sentence describes the fertility of Australia by using personification.
2) But the Spring never came , nor the Summer. The Autumn gave golden fruit to
every garden, but to the Giant's garden she gave none. ―He is too selfish,‖ she said.
So it was always Winter there, and the North Wind and the Hail, and the Frost, and
the Snow danced about through the trees. (Oscar Wilde: The Selfish Giant)
The spring, summer, autumn and winter in nature and some natural phenomenon wind,
frost, hail and snow are personified as people.
3) This coffee is strong enough to get up and walk away.
Tips for personification
• a sketch map of personification
human form of feelings inanimate objects
personal attributes abstraction/events
• Personification is a simple enough figure to recognize and to understand. It is easy
enough to use, too, except for one problem---gender, or the grammatical classification
of the thing personified as masculine or feminine. Should it be male or female, he or
she? Here are some customs:
Nature, Earth, Morning, Evening, The moon
The sun, Rivers
In literature, ―she‖ often represents ―sun, peace, beauty, ship, earth, moon, spring,
autumn, and country‖.
• Personification often serves to make an abstraction clearer and more real to the
reader by defining or explaining the concept in terms of everyday human action.
E.g. Man's rejection of reading available wisdom is presented as a woman crying out
to be heard but being ignored. (People often don't value whatever they can easily get).
Exercise in class:
Make five sentences with simile, metaphor and personification.
Metonymy involves the change of name. In other words, this figure of speech
involves the substitution of the name of one thing for that of another. The substituted
name may be an attribute of the other thing or be closely related with it. Usually the
two things are closely associated.
Metonymy comes from Greek, and means ―a change of name‖. In another word, it
means that the name of something is used to represent a more general but
The substitute( 本体 ) the substituted ( 借体 )
The crown the king
The bottle alcohol
The pen words
The sword forces
The cross religion
The church religion
For example, John Bull can be used to stand for England or the English people; the
White House for the U.S. government; the press for newspaper, news reporters or
journalists; the bottle for liquor, wine or alcohol. The following are some more
• He must have been spoilt from the cradle. • Can gray hairs make folly venerable (respectable)?
• He is not a person who lets his heart rule his head.
In these three examples, ―the cradle‖ refers to the childhood, ―gray hairs‖ to old
people, ―heart‖ and ―head‖ to feelings and reasoning power respectively.
Exercises in class:
Underline the words that are used as metonymy in the following sentences.
1) He has a rough tongue. She has a sharp tongue. (language, speech)
2) To read a Shakespeare or a Mark Twain is to eat a food full of protein.
3) Only billionaires （亿万富翁） are able to collect Picasso. 4) Without sweat (labor, work), without bread (food or living)
5) He was an authority on Shakespeare. (A person who is expert in studying the works
6) Death (the bullets) fell in showers
7) In the least-developed regions in our country, there is far more ignorance (the
illiterate) than knowledge. (the educated people)
Synecdoche is a commonly used figure of speech in English. Synecdoche comes from
Greek, means ―taking up together‖ ( 共同担起 ). The definition of synecdoche in Webster's Third International Dictionary is:
A figure of speech by which a part is put for the whole, the whole for the part, species
for genus, the genus for the species or the name of the material for the thing made.
So, in short, synecdoche ， is a substitution of the part for the whole and the whole for the part, e.g.
The farm is short of hands . (=workers, laborers, helpers)
Give us this day our daily bread . (=food, esp. staple food) The poor man had six mouths to feed. (=persons)
China beat Japan at volleyball. ( China =the Chinese volleyball team; Japan =the
Japanese volleyball team)
Generally speaking, synecdoche can be classified into 6 types: the part for the whole,
the whole for the part, the species for the genus, the genus for the species, the material
for the thing made, and the individual for the genus. See the following examples:
1) They were short of hands at harvest time. (laborer, worker)
2) I will count three hundred---that's five minutes---and not one of you is to move a
3) China (the team of China) beat South Korea (the team of South Korea ) 3 to 1 at
badminton, kuala lumpure. 吉隆坡 ( the capital of Malaysia). 4) He manages to earn his bread. 。 Bread stands for food. 5) Have you any coppers ? 你有零钱吗？ 6) Nowadays, more and more people have a liking for cotton. (cotton products 棉织
7) He walked the boards for a living. 他为谋生当演员。 (board for stage 木板代舞
台 ) 。
8) The prisoner was bound in irons for ten years. Tips: the difference and similarity between metonymy, synecdoche
Synecdoche is a special type of metonymy. Some linguists stick to put synecdoche
（提喻） and antonomasia into the scope of metonymy.
• In metonymy, the two objects still belong to two quite different things, there is only
association between them.
E.g. the crown for the king; the pen for the writer; the bottle for the milk. But in
synecdoche, one object is contained by the other or one contains the other.
E.g. sail( 帆 ) for boat/ship. Here sail is the part of a boat or ship.
Euphemism is a figure of speech which is the substitution of an inoffensive, mild or
vague expression for a harsh or unpleasant one. It comes from Greek; ―eu‖ means
―good, sounding good‖ and ―pheme‖ means ―saying a speech‖. So the whole word
means to speak with good words or in a pleasant manner.
The topics most likely to be substituted are illness, death, old age, toilet habits,
poverty and unemployment, menial jobs or professions of low social standing,
political and military activities, and so on, e.g.
His wife is expecting another child. (His wife is pregnant again.) Euphemism in English can be classified into 2 types: traditional euphemisms and
• Traditional euphemism 传统委婉语 Traditional euphemism is connected with taboo. Some existing objects or thought is
not good to speak directly; it is better to speak it in another way. That is the traditional
There are many euphemisms about death. Here are 15 commonly used ways to
express this concept:
Go to the other world 到另一个世界去 Pass away 离去
Be no more 不在了
Breathe one's last 做最后的呼吸 Come to an end 一生结束了
Join the majority 加入大多数的队伍 Go to one's rest 安息了
Sleep the final sleep 最后睡着了 Be gathered to one's father 被先父招去 Join one's ancestor 加入祖先的行列 Be asleep in the Arms of God 安睡在上帝的怀抱
Return to dust 归于尘土
Run one's race 跑完自己的赛程 Be on longer with us 与我们永别了 Go the way of all flesh 走众生之路
On the 14th of March, at a quarter to three in the afternoon, the greatest living thinker
ceased to think . He had been left alone for scarcely two minutes, and when we came
back we found him in his armchair, peacefully gone to sleep but---forever.
Frederick Engels: Speech at the Graveside of Karl Marx
Disease is the thing that people hate to talk about. For the English-speaking educated
people, some diseases are to be used euphemisms. If someone is unhealthy, it is better
to say ― look off colour‖( 气色不好，实指身体有病 ); under the weather( 在恶劣天
气条件下，是之健康欠佳 ); not all there( 神志不清，实指有精神病 ).
Some of the slang words about sex are forbidden to enter the Oxford English
Dictionary. They are also forbidden to be used/spoken by TV announcers and radio
The euphemism of saying ―pregnant‖ is ― in a family way‖ or ―in an interesting
condition‖, ―to join the club‖ 参加俱乐部 , ―in a delicate condition‖. 处于娇气状
态 ―eat for two‖.
• Excretion 排泄
The euphemism of ―go to WC‖ is ― pass water‖, ―go to stool‖, ―see the stars‖, ― get
some fresh air‖, ―see one's aunt‖, ―wash one's hands‖, ―go to the necessary house‖,
―do one's business‖.
• Stylistic euphemism 文体委婉语
The stylistic euphemism is not connected with taboo. They are to express politeness,
advantages of the two sides in communication.
• vacation 职业
It is almost a civilization to make the vacation sound good in western countries. In the
modern society, almost all the jobs have become professions. Therefore, they all have
a beautiful and pleasant name.
Original one uplifting one
garbage collector/dustman 垃圾工人 sanitation engineer 卫生工程师
solid-waste ecologist 固体废物处理生态专家 hairdresser 理发师 beautician 美容师 cosmetologist 美容专家
cosmetician 化妆师 hair stylist 发型设计师 tonsorial artist 削发艺术家
butcher 屠夫 meat technologist 肉类技术专家 housewife housemaker, house executive 家政委员 household executive 家庭执事
domestic manager 家庭经理
domestic engineer 家庭工程师
Some words are used to express poverty: needy, disadvantaged, underprivileged.
Original one uplifting one
First class deluxe class 豪华舱
Second class first class
Third class tourist class/business class
Unemployment between jobs;
To be developing a new project
To be in a consultancy;
To be self-employed
Slum 贫民窟 substandard housing 非标准住房
Unfit house 不宜居住房屋 Depressed areas 不景气地带 Special areas 特殊地带 • The old and the disabled
We will use ―senior citizen‖ to stand for the old people; ―single‖ or ―unmarried‖ to
stand for old maid.
Exercises and homework:
Write 3sentences using metonymy, synecdoche and euphemism
Irony is a figure of speech that achieves emphasis by saying the opposite of what is
meant, the intended meaning of the words being the opposite of their usual sense.
Irony is a figure of speech that achieves emphasis or amusing effect by saying the
opposite of what is meant or intended. For example, you may ironically call a very fat
man ―skinny‖ or a very thin man ―fatty‖. Similarly, people may say ― Oh, how I enjoy
the freezing weather!‖ when actually they hate it.
The definition given by the dictionary is like: a figure of speech in which the intended
meaning is the opposite of that expressed by the words used; usually taking the form
of sarcasm or ridicule in which laudatory expressions are used to imply condemnation
or contempt. It is divided into verbal irony 词义反语 and situation irony 情景反
1.1 Verbal irony
This kind of irony is to express the opposite meaning of the words used. This is the
most common form of irony.
E.g.(1) We are lucky . It's the other side on the thirteenth of December. That makes us feel real good.
The number 13 is an unlucky number for westerners. But on this day, the army were
asked to land on the other side of the Pacific, having war in Vietnam . This is an
unlucky thing, but the author said it was a lucky thing. In fact, they didn't know what
would happen in the future. They were afraid of war, but they felt real good. That is
the irony to ridicule the American government.
E.g.(2) A bronco often becomes so attached to his master that he will lay down his
life if necessary---his master's life, I mean.
In the beginning, it is no doubt that bronco loves his master; but at the end of the
sentence, we know that the way bronco loves his master is so special---to sacrifice his
master. So we can feel the irony in the sentence, very humous.