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Said Bookisms

Posted in Writing

I came across the term said bookism quite a while ago which caused me to re-examine my dialogue-tags and the prose that populated my work. A said bookism is a form of Purple Prose (prose that is too elaborate or ornate) where the writer goes out of his way to avoid the word said.  A person could even purchase ‘said-books’ which contained lists of verbs that one could use instead of the word ‘said’ – hence the moniker Said Bookism or Said Books. Said bookisms were quite fashionable at one point with the result that ‘said’ would be replaced by words like exclaimed, replied, retorted,  inquired, pontificated and so forth.  J.K. Rowling’s infamous use of the word ‘ejaculated’ (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, see page 242) – “Ron ejaculated loudly” has undoubtedly been taken out of context numerous times and is of course the butt of many an internet joke.  In this instance, the word ‘ejaculated’ was meant to portray something said quickly or suddenly as opposed to the image every reader older than 10 would have conjured up in their minds.

Needless to say, I was once an offender of said bookism myself, believing in fact, that I needed to supplement ‘said’ for more complicated, flowery wording to ensure that my writing didn’t become tedious. Ironically, the over usage of said bookisms contributes to tedium and actually detracts from the literature as the reader becomes overly aware of the magniloquent (couldn’t resist) words instead of focusing on the actual exchange of dialogue.

This is where the beauty of the word said comes in.  ‘Said’ is an invisible word, one which is often skimmed over when read, and that’s why it’s so important.  It allows the reader to follow the dialogue without getting caught up with complicated words that require one to pause reading in order to Google the meaning of the word in question.  So while a lot of writers who are just starting out or trying to make a name for themselves may want to try to spruce things up by using more ‘exciting’ verbs or verbose wording, this practice tends to make the writing look amateurish, especially when you consider that by using said bookisms at every opportunity, you are removing the impact of a well-placed verb that would have otherwise contributed to the story instead of detracting from it. People read books for escapism and enjoyment, not to see how well you know the thesaurus.

In closing, of course not all said bookisms are bad, and there are a few which are considered acceptable, namely ‘asked’ and ‘replied’ – which I will use when deemed necessary, but remember, the dialogue should speak for itself without the need for over-embellished dialogue tags.  Some experienced writers will avoid repetition of ‘said’ by describing the speaker’s actions and emotions through the spoken words and insert said bookisms only when they serve to enhance the delivery of the dialogue.  You will learn the do’s and don’ts as you go along – I myself, am still learning and will continue to share my findings in the hopes that these rules, tips and so forth contribute to improving that story or novel you’ve been working on.

Should you have any queries or criticisms, please feel free to leave a comment below.

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