Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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My goodness gracious, she said.

Take a look at this:

English teachers were once satisfied if they could prevent their pupils from splitting infinitives. Now some also want to stop them from using words like “good,” “bad,” “fun” and “said.”

“We call them dead words,” said (or declared) Leilen Shelton, a middle school teacher in Costa Mesa, Calif. She and many others strive to purge pupils’ compositions of words deemed vague or dull. . . . As Ms. Shelton put it, “ ‘Said’ doesn’t have any emotion. You might use barked. Maybe howled. Demanded. Cackled. I have a list.”

I don’t know whether to laugh or sob. Students get quite creative, though, as we see here:

One of Megan’s schoolmates, looking for a permissible way to say “big,” came up with “anti-microscopic.”

Good for that kid. Anti-microscopic. I like it. Perhaps it will catch on.

A couple of students kinda got into this little exercise in improving writing according to these teachers’ dislike of “boring” words. Here’s my favorite bit:

One recent afternoon after school, Josie and Josh agreed to take a stab at editing famous authors, starting with the closing words of James Joyce’s “Ulysses”: “….yes I said yes I will Yes.”

Head down, her pigtails brushing the paper, Josie examined the phrase and then suggested a small amendment: “…yes I hollered yes I will Definitely.”

Josh decided to let “said” stand, given Joyce’s reputation. He did, however, insert the commas neglected by Joyce.

No comment on whether the kids also corrected Joyce’s capitalization.

I’m not sure I’d hold Ulysses up as the apex of all English literature ever, but I wonder if these teachers have quiiiite thought through their war on boring words like “said.”

The sole tidbit from this article that I would support . . . under the right circumstances . . . is banning the word “it” from student papers. In fact, taking out the pronoun “it” and putting in the noun you actually wanted might be a handy exercise in teaching students about proper pronoun reference. On the other hand, I have personally seen cases (plural) where, when an instructor banned pronouns like “I” and “my” and “it,” the student simply took out all the pronouns and replaced them with . . . nothing at all. Pretty sure that will never lead to anything good.

In general, I must say, I would not want my child (if I had one) taught by any of the teachers who are so ignorant of good writing as to be susceptible to this murder of the word “said.”

The Powell River Board of Education in British Columbia … provides a list of 397 alternatives to the dreaded “said.” They include “emitted,” “beseeched,” “continued,” “sniveled,” and “spewed.”

Do any of them actually read? I’ll go out on a limb here and declare that no one who loves books and reading can possibly think that it’s better to replace “said” with all the possible alternatives.

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3 Comments My goodness gracious, she said.

  1. Elaine T

    I remember that article – read it in the dead tree edition. Appalling. They are going about improving the students’ writing in possibly the worst way. I nearly wrote to the paper about it, but sat down till the impulse passed. Others already had, after all.

    I wonder if something like this is behind the recent *in pro-published books* misuse of ‘myself’ as in “he and myself went outside”. (metal on blackboard time!) All of a sudden I’m seeing a lot of it like copy editors all came down with mis-taught grammar, such as this effort

  2. Rachel

    Interesting, Elaine. I haven’t noticed an uptick in the misuse of “myself,” but I haven’t read a lot of recently published books, either. I hope it is merely a statistical fluke that you’re suddenly seeing that problem everywhere.

  3. mona

    Anti-microscopic, hah! That’s a nice exercise every now and then, but…

    I still hear (and see) people use “him/her/them and I” everywhere. Shudder.

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