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Said Bookism

"Are you lost, Daddy?" I asked tenderly.
"Shut up," he explained.
Ring Lardner, The Young Immigrants

A Said Bookism is a variety of Purple Prose in which the writer goes out of their way to avoid the word "said". It was quite the fashion at one point; there were even 'said books' (hence the name, "said book-ism") you could buy with lists of verbs that can be used instead of "said", like "exclaimed", "emoted", "whispered", "sighed", "rumbled", "hissed", "pontificated", "enquired", etc.note 

Said Bookisms are often considered lazy writing by readers and critics who want dialogue to speak for itself without the use of fancy tags to carry its meaning and intention for it; in many cases, the dialogue tags effectively repeat what the dialogue is already telling us.

Some said bookisms - particularly "asked", and to a lesser extent "replied" - are widely considered as acceptable when used properly (i.e. when a character is asking a question, and then the other character replies). The primary danger of other said bookisms lies in the fact that repeated use makes them lose their effectiveness; if every character growls, snarls, or hisses with every line of dialogue, then the unusual dialogue tags lose all of their impact and the writing looks ridiculous. Verbs which aren't a form of speech are especially frowned upon; using "laughed" or "sighed" as a dialogue tag (as opposed to noting that a character did one of those things) can be distracting, while using "smiled" or "shrugged" as a said bookism is right out - you cannot smile or shrug a line. Some other dialogue tags, such as "ejaculated", have come to gain connotations which render them unusable in serious text.

Experienced writers avoid extensive repetition of "said" by describing the speaker's actions, posture, or body language; through the word choice in what's being said; and by sprinkling in said bookisms where they actually enhance the delivery of the text. Sub Text is often used to give the reader an idea of how dialogue is delivered, even when it is not stated outright. Less experienced writers would be better of just sticking with "said"; it's one of those invisible words that most people who aren't writers don't think about.

A subtrope of Purple Prose; supertrope to a Tom Swiftie; similar to Delusions of Eloquence and Author Vocabulary Calendar; often accompanies (or is accompanied by) Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness.


Examples:

Comic Books
  • In one Tomorrow Stories special, Splash Brannigan decides to act like a Film Noir-slash-dime novel hero, and narrates everything that happens to him. So this is how conversations go with him:
    Splash: "Take it easy, toots!", I screamed. "I'm simply considering a career as a 1930's film noir detective!"
    Daisy: But it's 2005! You'll never find suitable premises!
    Splash: ...she moaned, seductively.
At one point Daisy specifically tells him not to say "she said". Throughout the story he basically uses every other word that could possibly mean "spoke", and a couple that couldn't, paired with increasingly ridiculous adverbs.

Fanfic

Literature
  • The trope name comes from the Turkey City Lexicon, which lists it as a common mistake made by beginning writers.
  • The Tom Swift books were notorious for this, leading to the invention of the Tom Swifty.
  • Biggles does this all the time. Algy and Ginger might be guilty of saying things, but Biggles and Von Stalhein never are.
  • The Harry Potter series had a few notorious examples:
    "We're not going to use magic?" Ron ejaculated loudly.
    "Snape!" Slughorn ejaculated.
  • "Don't use this trope," How NOT to Write a Novel advised repeatedly.
  • Twilight is most definitely guilty of this, as skewered expertly here.
  • The Host is just as bad.
  • Dave Barry's Twilight parody Fangs of Endearment does it on every single dialogue tag.
  • Stephen King voiced his disgust for this in On Writing: "Don't do these things. Please oh please. The best form of dialogue attribution is said, as in he said, she said, Bill said, Monica said." He also provides the best example of doing it wrong: "'You fucking tease!', Bill jerked out."
  • Defended by Lawrence Block in Telling Lies For Fun and Profit, in which he says that replacements for "said" can enliven a story, so long as they're not used with a heavy hand:
    I do feel that any number of alternate verbs have their uses from time to time. They can be good accent points in dialogue, and the less frequently you employ them the more effective they will be.
  • In the Inheritance Cycle, the infamous: "'Sorry,' apologized Brom."
  • Occasionally, Timothy Zahn's otherwise excellent Dragonback Trilogy falls prey to this. This actually crops up in pretty much all of his work. Choices of One follows the Eragon example above: "'Sorry,' Luke apologized."
  • Warrior Cats falls into this sometimes, though this mostly is becuase the authors replace every instance of the word "said" with "meowed", which can get a little weird sometimes and the authors want to avoid that. Apart from that, there are still a lot of said bookisms, like "ventured."
  • The fantasy author Robert Lynn Asprin is another who sometimes had problems with this. Characters in the Myth Adventures will often "retort" to something "argued" to them.
  • Elmore Leonard includes in his Rules of Writing "Never use a verb other than 'said' to carry dialogue." Another rule expands on that slightly: "Never use an adverb to modify the verb 'said.'"
  • The Eye of Argon. Nothing is ever "said" - instead it is "husked" or "ejaculated" or "stated whimsicoracally".
  • Atlanta Nights uses this quite a bit, as one of many deliberately bad writing techniques.
  • "The word said is to prose what the arrow of a word balloon is to comics", Neil Gaiman blogged.
  • The Great Gatsby is not only full of these, it's full of redundant ones, like "snorted contemptuously."
  • Fifty Shades of Grey is very fond of 'murmur', even using it four times on one page. People are also fond of whispering things. Also, dialogue often gets tagged with actions, in some cases not by the actual speaker. This can make it quite hard to tell who's talking at any given time.
    Dave Barry: Thatís right: This is the kind of a book where, instead of saying things, characters muse them, and they are somehow able to muse them matter-of-factly.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, there is a character called Hodor, who has a Verbal Tic Name: the only word he can speak is "Hodor". The prose is fond of sentences like: "Hodor, Hodor agreed." or "Hodor, Hodor protested.", to convey the emotion of the character's speech. Also reinsubverted or something on at least one occasion in which the word "hodor" is used as a Said Bookism in-universe.
  • Darren Shan, most famous for The Saga of Darren Shan, likes to use these regardless of whether they're needed or not. He once used the word "tsked." No, really.
  • Classic science fiction writer Stanley Weinbaum's most famous short story is "A Martian Odyssey," which he followed with a sequel, "The Valley of Dreams." They involve a team of astronauts who have traveled to Mars, including a German named Putz as a minor character. Both stories give him a chance to "ejaculate" a line of dialogue.
  • Robert B. Parker had an apparent version to using any other word than "said" to tag dialogue, at least in the Spenser series. Listening to the audiobook really drives the point home.
  • Tamora Pierce tended to do this early on; it's most noticeable in the Alanna books.
  • Walter Kerr's How Not to Write a Play cautions playwrights against the theatrical equivalent of this trope, which is to lead every significant line of dialogue with an adverb in parentheses.
  • In The Phantom Tollbooth, the members of King Azaz's cabinet talk like this all the time.
  • This is really prevalent throughout Strength & Justice. Nearly every line of dialogue will have this.

Music
  • Played for laughs in Flight of the Conchords Fractured Fairy Tale "Albi the Racist Dragon";
    Just at that moment, he felt a tiny little hand rest upon his tail. And who should that little hand belong to, but the badly burnt Albanian boy from the day before.
    "What are you doing here? I thought I killed you yesterday," grumbled Albi, quite racistly.
    "No Albi, you didn't kill me with your dragon flames — I crawled to safety. But you did leave me very badly disfigured," laughed the boy.

Web Animation

Web Original

Real Life
  • Many English classes in both British and American schools specifically require students to write this way as well as proscribing all use of "be" verbs (am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been). It can almost seem as if they are trying to sabotage future writers.
  • Completely averted in Russian - if you don't use Said Bookism, you will be considered an okay writer at best.