Thursday, September 13, 2012

Verbs of utterance

There is some debate among writer types about verbs of utterance. Most people agree that you (and therefore, your characters) can shout or whisper your words. You can say them or scream them or roar them or sing them.

It's when an utterance is mixed with other types of oral expression that things get hazy. There are those who maintain you don't laugh or sigh or sob while speaking, only before or afterward. But I maintain that the following are also verbs of utterance: sob, sigh, laugh, chuckle, giggle, gasp, even burp. That while you can do these things before or after you speak, you can also do them as you speak.

Examples, I have them:

"I can't find him," she sobbed. Here, the person is crying while she speaks: the tears are in her voice; she's struggling for breath; her words are unsteady.

"All right," she sighed. In this example, the sigh is part of the words: a sigh is an exhalation, and so are spoken words. A weary person agreeing to do yet another chore is going to huff out those words while sighing.

"Okay," he laughed/chuckled. Again, both laughter and speech involve exhalation; they can occur simultaneously, with the word "okay" bubbling out, each syllable affected (it might sound like, "oh-ho-ho-kaaay"). Similarly, it's my opinion that, "Stop tickling me" is a sentence that can be giggled. In the throes of being tickled, a person does not stop and utter the words, then resume giggling.

"Oh, no," he gasped. I generally associate gasps with indrawn breath, so this case is more difficult to make. Yet I can hear it in my mind; can't you? A gasp as an utterance is a sort of shocked whisper.

Finally, we can hardly deny burping as a verb of utterance when there are people who can burp the alphabet, or names of all the states, or whatever. I seem to recall some burps-as-utterances in the movie Revenge of the Nerds.

I doubt my contributions here will make it into official style manuals anytime soon (especially the burping). Any copy editor who has ever laid hands on my work* can tell you I am no proofreading expert, my Waterloo being the correct use of commas in all situations.**  But the nice thing about having my own blog is that I can natter on, in my word geekery, about any subject I choose. You're welcome!


* I would like to thank all the copy editors who have caught my mistakes and, in doing so, saved my bacon.
** I have a theory, still unproven, that nobody except copy editors understands all the correct ways to use commas. They might have a secret Comma School in an underground bunker or something. Special handshakes might be involved. But it's only a theory so far.

10 comments:

  1. I like your list of examples! Some verbs of utterance I've read I just can't imagine--but the ones here make sense.

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    1. I don't know if they would pass muster with copy editors--but I have made my case. :)

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  2. I agree with you about Comma School. Special handshakes and seemingly innocuous lapel pins too.

    This is really helpful.

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    1. I wonder if they have Comma Emergencies? ;-)

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  3. This post made me smile. Thanks, Jenn. ^_^

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    1. Doing my best to affect style guides everywhere, or failing that, to draw a few smiles!

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  4. I have trouble with verbs of utterance all the time. As to commas,,,, well, there's another issue I need help with.

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    1. I'm, sure, I, don't, know what you, mean, commas are, simple,,

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  5. This was really helpful as I was doing edits this past week. :)

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    1. I think editors have varying opinions on this, but I'm trying to make my case!

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