Friday, July 11, 2008

Five worst said-bookisms

I once read that the term "said-bookism" comes from little books containing lists of synonyms for the verb "said". While "said" often comes off as plain and simple beside exotic euphemisms, in general it's a better choice. Nearly invisible to the reading eye, it focuses attention on the dialogue rather than how it's delivered. It's also far less likely to have as many amusing connotations as some of the said-bookisms in this list...

1. barked

“What the hell are you doing?” Luc barked.
Shayla Black, Decadent

The word "barked" makes me think of the character doing a dog impression. Unfortunately, the above line is from a sex scene, which is really the last place I needed to imagine a dog.

2. husked

I don't have an example for this, but it enjoyed a brief honeymoon in romance novels from the eighties. It's probably meant to indicate that the hero (or more rarely, the heroine) is speaking in a husky voice, but it's more often applied to ears of corn. Thank goodness it didn't catch on; otherwise the next logical said-bookism might have been "he hoarsed" or "he throated".

3. whinnied

"Oh, Lucius Cornelius!" whinnied Gaius Lusius.
Colleen McCullough, The First Man in Rome

Gaius Lusius is supposed to be a stereotypical gay man in a very heterosexual army (don't ask, don't tell), but the narrative was doing more than a good enough job of portraying him as such before this speech tag. I'm not even sure how one whinnies dialogue. It makes me wonder if Black Beauty ever whinnied anything.

4. ejaculated

"Snape!" ejaculated Slughorn.
J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Ah, the word that launched at least one piece of slash art I'm aware of - and no, I didn't save the link.

5. half-whispered

I read this in a review by James Blish (writing as William Atheling, Jr.). The word "whispered" is one of the few that I wouldn't hesitate to use instead of "said", but I'm not sure whether a half-whisper is an even more quiet whisper or if it's describing a voice that begins quietly but rises to a normal pitch at the end. What's the other half of a half-whisper, anyway? I feel as though I need algebra to work it out.


Becky Mushko said...

Even worse are the substitutes for said with an added adverb: "I love you madly," he husked huskily.

Too many pseudo-writing sites promote bad writing by suggesting synonyms for said. Even worse, some schools teach students to use alternatives to said, like this UK site (which doesn't seem to use correct punctuation):

kiwi said...

GRRM: 'A Feast of Crows'

"You fought against the Kingswood Brotherhood together," sniffed Lady Amerei. "Father used to tell me stories."

Big fan of dialogue tags that denote action on the speaker's part. Definitely an exception to the rule, at least in my book. :)

Chimchar said...

Ejaculate is the most awkward dialogue tag there. And when readers see that word in a book, they'll probably give you a funny look.

Marian Perera said...

Thanks for mentioning that one, kiwi, it made me think of possible candidates for another List of Five.

"And that's how I became addicted to cocaine," she sniffed.

Becky Mushko said...

Or, "And that's how I became addicted to cocaine," she snorted.