Don’t Write Said, Use Synonyms Instead

Think back. Do you remember a high school teacher or university professor whose lessons stuck with you? One of my most influential teachers was Mrs. Carol Murray. She taught me both English and Journalism classes in Grades 11 and 12. She was kind, thoughtful, encouraging and didn’t let us get away with anything. Much to my Mum’s delight, Mrs. Murray assigned Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice as winter break reading and was the catalyst to my lifelong love affair with the novels of Austen, the Brontës, Dickens and their contemporaries.

Mrs. Murray, like me, found grammar lessons to be a necessary evil and worked with us to do a grammar intensive once each semester. While we both understood the importance of grammar, months long discussions didn’t inspire either of us. Those two weeks were a “swallow the frog” moment for sure!

One of the lessons I most remember is Mrs. Murray’s ban on the word “said”. Said. Say. Says. Saying. All were verboten. Characters in our stories and people in our articles never “said” anything. Instead, we had to use more descriptive synonyms.

At some point in those classes, I started a list of alternatives in the margins of my notebooks. Some came from examples in our text books, others from articles or novels I read. I’ve continually added to that list and here, for the first time, I’ve typed them all out in one master list. A Resource for Writers I hope other writers will find useful over and over again.

What “not said” words would you add?

  • accused
  • acknowledged
  • added
  • admitted
  • admonished
  • advocated
  • affirmed
  • agreed
  • alleged
  • announced
  • answered
  • apologized
  • approved
  • argued
  • asked
  • assented
  • asserted
  • assumed
  • assured
  • avowed
  • began
  • begged
  • belittled
  • blurted
  • boasted
  • bragged
  • broke in
  • cautioned
  • challenged
  • charged
  • chided
  • chuckled
  • cited
  • claimed
  • commented
  • complained
  • conceded
  • concluded
  • concurred
  • confessed
  • confided
  • confirmed
  • contended
  • contested
  • continued
  • contradicted
  • contributed
  • countered
  • cried
  • criticized
  • cursed
  • debated
  • declared
  • decreed
  • defended
  • delivered
  • demanded
  • denied
  • denounced
  • directed
  • disclosed
  • discussed
  • divulged
  • elaborated
  • emphasized
  • enumerated
  • estimated
  • exclaimed
  • explained
  • exploded
  • expressed
  • faltered
  • frowned
  • fumed
  • gasped
  • giggled
  • gloated
  • groaned
  • guessed
  • hastened to add
  • hastened to say
  • held
  • hinted
  • implied
  • implored
  • indicated
  • inquired
  • insinuated
  • insisted
  • instructed
  • interjected
  • interrupted
  • intimated
  • jeered
  • jested
  • joked
  • lamented
  • laughed
  • maintained
  • mentioned
  • mumbled
  • murmured
  • mused
  • muttered
  • narrated
  • noted
  • objected
  • observed
  • offered
  • ordered
  • persisted
  • persuaded
  • piped up
  • pleaded
  • pledged
  • pointed out
  • posited
  • postulated
  • praised
  • predicted
  • presumed
  • proceeded
  • promised
  • pronounced
  • prophesized
  • proposed
  • protested
  • proved
  • queried
  • questioned
  • quibbled
  • quipped
  • quoted
  • ranted
  • reaffirmed
  • reassured
  • recalled
  • recited
  • recommended
  • recounted
  • reiterated
  • rejoiced
  • rejoined
  • related
  • remarked
  • remembered
  • reminded
  • repeated
  • replied
  • reported
  • reprimanded
  • requested
  • responded
  • restated
  • retorted
  • resumed
  • revealed
  • said (Remember Mrs. Murray’s rule!)
  • scoffeed
  • scolded
  • shouted
  • shrugged
  • sighed
  • smiled
  • snapped
  • sneered
  • speculated
  • stammered
  • stated
  • stipulated
  • stressed
  • suggested
  • swore
  • teased
  • testified
  • thought
  • threatened
  • told
  • urged
  • uttered
  • ventured
  • volunteered
  • vowed
  • warned
  • wavered
  • went on
  • wept
  • whispered
  • yelled

Write on!

Swallow the Frog: Overcome Procrastination

For everyone, including writers, there are always necessary tasks that we don’t really want to do. We may procrastinate or never accomplish these “to do” list items.

What’s your nemesis?

  • Have you delayed writing a first draft?
  • Are you behind in your self-editing?
  • Have you got an abundance of neglected ideas?
  • Do you put off updating your biography?
  • Neglect your blog?

I’m certainly guilty of this last one.

Research* suggests we waste time and energy keeping these items on our to do list, and rescheduling reminders and, maybe even, worrying about what’s not done. Somehow we have to find the motivation or, maybe, overcome our impulse control. How can we overcome procrastination?

* See Association of Psychology ScienceForbesThe New Yorker and many others.

In my opinion, the best thing to do is just do it. Get it over with and move on to other things. Finding the motivation to take action isn’t always easy but I’ve never regretted taking care of the distasteful task first.

Woman holding a toy frogI first heard this about this approach at a Canadian Women in Communications luncheon in Vancouver back in 1990-something. I wish I could remember the speaker’s name because he was compelling and dynamic. He described a mindset to tackle procrastinated tasks as moments to “swallow the frog” and that description has stuck with me. The phrase is now so commonly used that most don’t know its origin. It’s often attributed to Mark Twain but has its origin with French politician M. Gambetta circa 1872.

Swallow the frog. If you have to do something distasteful, just do it and be done. By making it the first item you accomplish for the day, you can get on with enjoying the rest of the day. No need to waste energy and time, wondering what the frog will taste like or how it will feel sliding down your gullet. Once you’ve done it, you know the answers to all these questions first hand.

Have you swallowed your frog today?