Inexperienced and poorly trained writers have developed an aversion to the word “said”—as in: “Good morning,” he said.

According to this school of of thought, you can state, claim, note, add, yell, shout, exclaim, bleat, bellow, belch and even yodel—but you must never say anything.

Nonsense, I say. You are allowed to use the word said twice in a lifetime of writing. In fact, you can write that someone said something many times in an article.

The origins of the illiterate myth that you must avoid the word said at all costs—this red flag that tells the reader that a writer is both illiterate and pretentious—appears to have its origins in one of the basic rules of good writing: Don’t be redundant.

It is a good to avoid being redundant. However, that fine rule can be taken to an insane extreme. If you can’t use any word or phrase more than once, you can’t write more than two or three sentences before you run into trouble. Imagine the work it would take if you couldn’t use the words “he,” “she” or “the” more than once. You couldn’t use a source’s first or last name more than once or use a source’s gender or job title more than once.

Unfortunately, bad writers will go to insane lengths to avoid “said.” Here are some tips from a guy who has worked as a professional writer for more than six years.

Wrong: “I respectfully disagree,” he noted.

Don’t write that someone “noted” words unless they sang those words or wrote a note. If I write a profile of a man who answers questions by singing, I’m going to write that he sang the words—and make it clear I’m being literal when I write that fact. If someone responds to a verbal conversation by writing a note, I’m going to share that detail with readers—because it is a mighty strange thing for a man or woman to do during a conversation.

Right: “I like this restaurant,” she said.

Wrong: “I like this restaurant, too,” he added.

Reporters are supposed to interview as many sources as they can before they write a story. However, when you quote source B as adding information to something source A said, you create the impression that you sat at a table with those two people and the three of you had a conversation. “Added” is a lie told by a writer who claims to be purveying the truth because the writer wants to avoid using the word said. That makes the writer both illiterate and dishonest.

I’ll respect the use of the word “added” after a quote the day I accept the word “subtracted” after a quote. Hey, let’s try it and see if it works.

“I like you,” he subtracted.

Nope, “subtracted” doesn’t make sense at the end of a quote—and neither does “added.”

Right: “I am running for mayor,” she said.

Wrong: “I am running for mayor,” she stated.

The word stated implies that there might be a fact that contradicts that statement. It is a subtle way of calling someone a liar. As a rule, this word is used by amateurs who have no intention of accusing someone of being dishonest. Use “said” instead—you’re far less likely to end up on the wrong end of a libel suit. “Stated” is also jargon—it reads and sounds like a word a lawyer would use. Writers are people, they should write and speak as people.

Worse than wrong: “I’m a good person,” she claimed.

I wouldn’t use this word unless someone made an outlandish statement without any evidence to back it up. Even then, I probably wouldn’t use it. The word “claimed” bluntly implies someone is a liar. Sometimes journalists use it when someone makes an outlandish claim, but I won’t. If I have evidence someone is lying, I’m going to talk to my editor and publisher about when and how to use that evidence. I’m not going to use code words and hope the general public speaks mainstream media code.

The word said simply relates a fact: a human being opened his or her mouth and spoke words.

Worse than illiterate: “I’m excited!” he exclaimed.

Yes, I’ve actually seen “writers” combine an exclamation point with the word “exclaimed.” First, that really is redundant. Second, it is an insult to the reader’s intelligence. (The sentence implies the reader is too stupid to recognize a punctuation mark.)

The correct version of the sentence ought to be: “I am excited,” he said.

Or: “I am excited,” he said with a yawn.

I’ll sometimes report that a source “wrote” something rather than “said” something  if I can identify the author of the document. Otherwise, I use the word said. PDF files and printed pages cannot speak, but they can say important things—just ask anyone who has read the Bible or the Torah. Yet documents cannot write. So when quoting a document with a known author, I tell readers that so-and-so wrote the quoted words.

Said. It is a perfectly good word. Please use it as often as you need it when writing. You won’t have to tie yourself in knots trying to find an alternative world. Your reader will know what you are writing about. Your poor abused editor will be grateful for saving him the bother of replacing every “added,” “noted” and “stated” with “said.”

Incidentally, the more work you make an editor do, the less likely you are to get your submission published.

Please say said.

And having said that—I’ll see you next week.

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