You Don't Say John E. McIntyre writes about language, usage, journalism & arbitrarily chosen subjects.

Because I said so

The Baltimore Sun

Nothing is more fundamental in journalism than attribution; every reporter has an obligation to disclose the sources of information. The basic tool for attribution is the simple and handy word said. You would think that it would be well-nigh impossible for a journalist to manage that tool ineptly.

You would be mistaken.

Said is neutral and unobtrusive. It’s just there for the record. You do not want it to call attention to itself.*

Normal word order in English is subject-verb: “Trump said.” “The president said.” “The report said.” Inverting the word order—verb-subject—is a standard variant: “said Trump,” “said the president.”

But impressionable young people are being taught in some journalism classes that the inverted word order is WRONG. So, to preserve subject-verb order in attribution that includes a parenthetical phrase, we wind up with constructions like this: “McIntyre, the night content production manager at The Baltimore Sun, said.” You do not want that parenthetical phrase keeping the reader in suspension until landing on that anticlimactic said. There is nothing at all objectionable about “said McIntyre, the night content production manager at The Baltimore Sun” (apart from the absurdity of the title).

Some journalists can accept the inversion but produce minor monstrosities of this sort: “said McIntyre, the night content production manager at The Baltimore Sun, in a memo,” leaving that sad little prepositional phrase dangling in the wind. Better in that case to make the conclusion of the sentence a little more substantial: “McIntyre, the night content production manager at The Baltimore Sun, said in a memo.”

Attribution is simple. It doesn’t have to be made clumsy.

 

*You do not want any attribution to call attention to itself, which is why The Old Editor Says advises against added, affirmed, announced, asseverated, averred, avouched, avowed, barked, blurted, burbled, chirped, chortled, chuckled, contended, declaimed, declared, disclosed, divulged, drawled, exclaimed, expatiated, explained, expounded, gasped, imparted, insisted, intoned, maintained, mumbled, murmured, muttered, noted, observed, opined, orated, professed, quipped, recounted, related, remarked, retorted, related, remarked, revealed, screeched, smiled, snapped, sniffed, sniveled, snorted, spluttered, stated, tittered, wheezed, whined, or whispered.

Copyright © 2017, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
79°