Thursday, October 22, 2009

Said who?

Is this a new tic of New Yorker style, or have I just begun noticing it?

“Horton, you’re one of the few people New York seems to agree with,” Tennessee Williams, another regional Young Turk who dreamed of changing the shape of commercial theatre, said.

I know that there is a longstanding journalistic resistance to inverting subject and verb in attribution, and indeed the “said he” construction would quickly grow tedious. But still, in a quotation followed by an attribution succeeded by an appositive phrase, do you really want to end the sentence with an anticlimactic said? Would it kill you to write, said Tennessee Williams and allow the sentence to end with a little more weight? Can’t you see that you are driving me into a series of rhetorical questions? Will you please stop?


  1. This fault isn't actually called out in Wolcott Gibbs's 1937 opus, "Theory and Practice of Editing New Yorker Articles" (PDF), but it's clearly related to point 14:

    'I suffer myself very seriously from writers who divide quotes for some kind of ladies club rhythm. "I am going," he said, "downtown" is a horror, and unless a quote is pretty long I think it ought to stay on one side of the verb. Anyway, it ought to be divided logically, where there would be pause or something in the sentence.'

    What isn't clear is whether this sentence is a violation or a misguided attempt to avoid a violation....

  2. You've just begun noticing it, John. The annoying tic has been in The New Yorker for a long time. The Times did much the same thing, but I don't notice it as much lately.

  3. I've been a newspaper reporter or editor (mostly the former) for more than 30 years and have never paid any attention to this "resistance," of which I was only vaguely aware. What is the origin/justification for it?

  4. There's discussion on Language Log (going back to the earliest days of the blog) of this quirk of New Yorker style. I'll post references there in a little while.

  5. Now posted as "Quotative inversion again", here.

  6. an amazing example I just read in a Bloomberg story:

    "The water could have come from a comet or from the solar wind, Greg Delory, a senior fellow at the Space Sciences Laboratory and Center for Integrative Planetary Sciences at the University of California, Berkeley, said at the press conference."