Bad Substitutes for “Said”




Take a look at that list, and you’ll probably notice several ‘substitutes for said’ that seem… off, not right, weird.  How can anyone shudder a sentence (or even a single word)?  How can spoken words be leered?

Consider these other so-called substitutes for said:  miffed, quivered, trembled, accepted, struggled, wearied, degraded, scorned.

“This is why we can’t have nice things,” he wearied.

Looks kinda silly, doesn’t it?  So don’t be that writer…

Even if you believe that “said is dead” (according to whom?), please limit the words you use in its place to ones that convey speaking in some form, and make sure they work with what is spoken.

Yes:  “No,” she snorted.

No:  “Of course I don’t like broccoli without cheese,” she snorted.

Yes:  “Get out!’ he snapped.

No:  “Go away and never come back, you three-eyed, dog-faced toad demon!” he snapped.

Using an uncommon substitute for said is a lot like using adverbs in the dialogue tag (attribution).  Under most circumstances, you shouldn’t even need it; what the characters say, and any actions they perform while talking, should be enough to convey meaning.  If adverbs are a sign of weak and lazy verbs, and adjectives are a sign of weak and lazy nouns (I believe neither of these, but some people do), what are “said” book-ist* substitutes for said?

I’ll leave you with a quote and an image from a blog post you ought to read: 

“Getting creative with synonyms for said will not make the dialogue better. In fact, it will probably distract the reader. Try improving the actual dialogue, not the attribution.”


*From the famous Turkey City Lexicon:

“Said” Bookism

An artificial verb used to avoid the word “said.” “Said” is one of the few invisible words in the English language and is almost impossible to overuse. It is much less distracting than “he retorted,” “she inquired,” “he ejaculated,” and other oddities. The term “said-book” comes from certain pamphlets, containing hundreds of purple-prose synonyms for the word “said,” which were sold to aspiring authors from tiny ads in American magazines of the pre-WWII era.


10 Responses to Bad Substitutes for “Said”

  1. Ellen Hawley says:

    …and then there are the good folks who have to add adjectives to “said,” as in ” ‘Fuck you,’ she said rudely.”

    Ah, yes, it just wouldn’t have the same impact with out “rudely.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Um… “Rudely” is an adverb, not an adjective. I know it’s confusing these days, with so many writers chosing to use the adjective forms of some words in order to “cheat” and have an adverb without actually using an adverb (because they’ve been told that All Adverbs Are Bad and Must Be Avoided), but the truth is, if it modifies a verb, it’s functioning as an adverb.

      If the dialogue were, “‘Fuck you,’ she said sweetly,” THEN the adverb would serve a purpose, because the tone is at odds with how those words are normally spoken.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. My error — in an attempt to simplify things so as not to be confusing… I OVER-simplified and caused some confusion anyway.

    Of course non-vocalized words (thoughts or words read) are still words and ought to be attributed as such.


  3. Sheron says:

    John Scalzi believes that “said” is invisible and uses it extensively in his last two books. Actually. it’s not invisible but very annoying. STOP it I say, stop please. Go ahead and flaunt the law. Use another tag once in a while for my sanity’s sake.


    • Please note I’m not suggesting that ALL substitutes for “said” are bad ones. I simply think it’s not even possible for someone to “shrug” a sentence — or “smile” it, or “smirk” it, or anything else that has nothing to do with vocalization — and that such verbs sought to be reserved for associated actions (“beats”) instead.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sheron says:

        You’re absolutely right.
        It must get tiring.
        I agree, but have you read Scalzi’s Redshirts that won a Hugo? He only uses the said tag, well annoyingly so.
        Why haven’t I gotten recent post from you? Has my follow malfunctioned? Or are you on a sabbatical?


        • I am sometimes a fan of Scalzi’s blog, but of his fiction… not at all.

          I agree that using ONLY “said” in dialogue tag, especially if the word order is never varied (always “X said,” for example, and never “said X”), can become tedious.

          (Dear WordPress, it would be really nice if you’d allow us to use italics in comments so we don’t have to make inappropriate use of quotation marks instead…)

          I have at least one post per week, if only because I reblog the Authors Answer posts from I Read Encyclopedias for Fun every Friday. I’m sort of “on sabbatical” at least until the end of next week, though.


        • …And, for the record, I’m wrong about almost everything, even the things I’d be right about if I were someone else, because my brain doesn’t work correctly, or something like that.


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