Wednesday, September 13, 2023

What he said

 Journalists, ever citing people's speech and documents, are rightfully fond of the word said. It is plain, straightforward, unobtrusive. It gets the job done without resort to the thesaurus and pretension. 

But journalists are unaccountably unwilling to invert subject and verb in these citations. Perhaps they feel the construction arch and dated, something one would find in Gilbert and Sullivan, as one indeed can in one of my favorite passages in Trial by Jury, the judge's recommendation of his daughter in marriage: "You'll soon get used to her looks," said he, / "And a very nice girl you'll find her! / She may very well pass for forty-three / In the dusk, with the light behind her!"

But this aversion can lead to strained and awkward constructions, of a kind I see daily. Here's a synthetic example (so as not to embarrass anyone publicly): "Said suffices," John McIntyre, a retired editor of The Baltimore Sun, said. 

You see the problem. The delay between the subject and the verb creates a suspensive effect, dropping you at the end of the sentence at the prosaic and anticlimactic said. Much better to render it said John McIntyre, a retired editor of The Baltimore Sun. 

That keeps the subject and verb nestled close together, where they are happy, while also maintaining the connection between the noun and the appositive phrase.  

Go, and sin no more.