An English Teacher's Plea to Keep "Said" Alive

Please stop teaching "Said is dead"  Read more: http://www.traceeorman.com/2012/10/an-english-teachers-plea-to-keep-said.html

You've probably seen the pictures on Pinterest proclaiming that "Said is Dead!" with columns of alternative attributions to use for more descriptive writing. I've never understood this. "Said" serves a useful purpose in writing and quoting dialogue.

I wondered why students were being taught not to use it? This certainly was not anything I had learned in any of my writing courses.

I was informed that students are encouraged to use alternatives to make their writing more descriptive. "Show, don't tell!" Hmmm... I encourage my students to "show, don't tell" as well, but I've never focused on the attribution.

Should I? Does it really enhance your writing by using alternative synonyms?

I don't think it does. In fact, I think it can make your writing worse.

I know this may upset many teachers out there who insist that getting rid of "said" makes for better writing, so here are my reasons why you should keep "said" alive:

Please stop teaching "Said is dead"  Read more: http://www.traceeorman.com/2012/10/an-english-teachers-plea-to-keep-said.html

1. Expository/Informative writing must be unbiased, therefore using anything but "said" would be creating a connotation or bias. This is my #1 problem with "said is dead." Many of my journalism students will want to use other words beside "said" (or "says") in their articles. This is a big no-no in journalism.
  Look at the front page of a newspaper and read any of the latest news stories. For every quote the writer will use "said" or "says." (See example, below.) It would be unethical for the writer of a news story to create bias by using words like "demanded," "argued," "gloated," or "whined." If you do see these words in a "news" story, I wouldn't trust the writer or the publication. This is a technique that pundits will use to twist or distort a quote to promote their own opinion. It's also the quickest way to see if a news source is reliable and unbiased: if their writers or newscasters use attributions other than "said," then they are, indeed, biased. It is wrong for someone claiming to be a journalist--whether in print or broadcast--to use biased terminology when reporting the news.

Mrs. Orman's Classroom Using Said in Journalism

Please stop teaching "Said is dead"  Read more: http://www.traceeorman.com/2012/10/an-english-teachers-plea-to-keep-said.html

2. "Said," like any other word, shouldn't be overused; but that doesn't mean it should be replaced. If you find yourself overusing the word "said," instead of replacing it with other words, see if it is even needed at all. For example, author Suzanne Collins demonstrates in The Hunger Games the technique (or rule?) of starting a new paragraph with each new speaker. While in some cases it may be necessary to attribute the quote to a certain speaker, in many cases an attribution can be left off:
The Hunger Games Quote page 160
An example when attribution is not necessary in lines of dialogue.
Another example is one of my all-time favorite quotes from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee:
Atticus quote To Kill a Mockingbird

Please stop teaching "Said is dead"  Read more: http://www.traceeorman.com/2012/10/an-english-teachers-plea-to-keep-said.html

3. If your line of dialogue needs improving, changing the attribution isn't the answer. Your quotes should speak for themselves. 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:
Improving dialogue - Mrs. Orman's Classroom

Please stop teaching "Said is dead"  Read more: http://www.traceeorman.com/2012/10/an-english-teachers-plea-to-keep-said.html

4. There's a reason why "said" works in writing: we tend to skip over the word when we're reading it. And that's OK! That is what makes the piece flow. If we begin to muck-up our writing with alternatives to "said," it disrupts that natural flow.

It IS OK to use alternatives to "said" with younger students.
Many children's books will use creative attributions in dialogue, and that's fine. The audience for those works are children who have very short attention spans and crave dramatic effects; using "exclaimed" and "growled" and "whimpered" will work perfectly for that audience. But unless you are having your students only write for their peers aged 2-8, please do their future English teachers a favor and keep "said" alive. Thank you.

Please stop teaching "Said is dead"  Read more: http://www.traceeorman.com/2012/10/an-english-teachers-plea-to-keep-said.html

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  1. Love this, Tracee! I will be sharing!! Thank you!

  2. Yay! I couldn't agree more. A published author once gave a talk at a writing institute I attended. She said the same thing and I couldn't believe how much sense it made. Her rationale was that "said" should be used because it becomes invisible letting the actual dialogue stand out.

    Love your infographic. Pinning it now! :)
    Sunny Days In Second Grade

  3. Thank you Kristen & Denise! I waited a bit before I hit the "publish" button because I wasn't sure how people would react. But I agree with your instructor: it does become invisible and helps with the flow of the writing. Whew...I feel better! Thanks for commenting! :)

  4. love it, so true and so important we teach "good writing" not just "word replacement"!

  5. I've never really thought about it, but I agree. Word replacement should make the writing stronger. Said is often the most appropriate word and if you need to convey tone or emotion then you can use a word that implies the desired message.

  6. I had never thought about said in this way before (becoming invisible to make the flow better). I am going to share this post with my counterpart in the high school. We are looking for ways to help our teachers teach their students to be analytical thinkers and I believe this post will help in our weekly teachers' meeting.

    Thinking Out Loud

  7. Great post. For awhile I was a killer of said. But you are right. There are places it is essential and places where it isn't needed at all.

  8. Well 'said'!! You have put into words something I've been thinking for a long time but haven't been able to articulate. Good writing is good writing, not about individual word choices in isolation. Will definitely be sharing this - thanks!

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