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Chapter 23. Diction: Find the Right Word... > Ten Distinctions Worth Making (or at... - Pg. 233

Diction: Find the Right Word, Not Its First Cousin 233 Tone-on-Tone When you write, you'll often find yourself shifting between levels of diction, as you look for the word, phrase, or expression that fits your writing situation and creates the tone you want. The tone of a document is the writer's attitude toward his or her subject and audience. For example, the tone may be formal or informal, friendly or distant, personal or pompous. Danger, Will Robinson Don't discount the importance of context and connotation. Words carry different connotations depending on how they are used, especially where gender is concerned. For example, an aggressive man and an aggressive woman are often perceived as two different animals: the former as an achiever; the latter as a word that rhymes with witch and rich. Tone is not a constant, like death and taxes. The tone of a business letter, for example, varies as much as people and companies do. Letters that represent the opinions of companies and govern- ments, for example, are often extremely formal. Letters between friends or longtime colleagues, in contrast, may have a casual tone--even though they are in the form of a business letter. Ten Distinctions Worth Making (or at Least Worth Being Able to Make!) 1. Affect and effect Swear to get this one down and I promise to spare you lie and lay. (I lie, but no matter.) Most of the time, affect is the verb, implying influence. For example: "A nice big chunk of imported Swiss chocolate can affect your mood." Effect is the equivalent noun: "Chocolate has had an effect on my mood." But life in Grammarland is not that simple. Sometimes, effect can be a verb. Here's where the situation gets so ugly it can run a bulldog off a meat wagon. When used as a verb, effect means impact and purpose: "I must effect my plan to stop eating so much chocolate"; "By not eating so much chocolate, I have succeeded in effecting my plan." Of course, not eating chocolate may also have affected your plan (may have contributed to it), but here you're claiming that stopping eating chocolate was what really turned things around. 2. Anxious and eager Here's one of the famous language bulwarks: You're not anxious to spend an evening with old friends, you're eager to spend it. (Unless, of course, you've been sleeping with one of them for the past six months. Then you probably are anxious.) Danger, Will Robinson There's also the so-called affect (watch that noun) in psychology; all that emotional stuff about a par- ticular state. But don't let it affect you too much. 3. Assure, ensure, insure