10 Dialogue Verbs that Only Work in Parodies

After finishing my previous post about said bookisms, I was suddenly overwhelmed with ideas for further said-bookism-related writings. Thus, I determined to set out another, lighter list. The verbs here are bad, but they are in a special category of bad, one where the only response to such ridiculous wording is to burst out laughing.

When used seriously, these words kill the mood. But if used in a parody, they could be hilarious.

#10: Questioned

I put this one on the bottom of the list because it seems a bit subjective, but I do think it could be very funny if handled correctly. The thing about this word as a dialogue tag is that even though it’s technically a valid grammatical option, it reads like the author didn’t know any interrogative verbs and thus turned “question” into a verb to compensate. I know that that is in no way what it is, but for some reason that interpretation has stuck with me, and it makes me giggle a little every time I see this word in a dialogue tag. It could be pretty funny if someone wrote a parody of poor writing where they pretended it was the case by adding some bizarre malapropisms like “exclamationed” and “speeched.”

#9: Cajoled

I wasn’t really sure whether to include this one at first, because I thought it might be possible to use it effectively. Then I remembered that every time I’ve seen it used and not winced, it was in the prose rather than the dialogue tags. Even people with chronic cases of Thesaurus Syndrome seem to avoid having characters “cajole” their lines. Combined with the funny sound of the word, it makes for good parody material. Ideally, the writer would completely ignore all connotations of the word and just use it as a synonym for “said,” alongside several other bizarre and obscure words with funny phonemes.

#8: Verbalized

In contrast to the “it just sounds kind of funny” feel of the previous two entries, this one has more of a “so stilted and clinical that it’s funny” appeal to it. I can just imagine someone writing a parody of overly-technical styles where characters “verbalize,” “vocalize,” “communicate,” and “pronounce” their lines. For best results, combine with overly-verbose and bizarrely specific descriptions, such as calling puzzle pieces “interlocking cardboard chips” and giving a precise measurement of each character’s hair length.

#7: Dribbled

I have never seen this word in a dialogue tag, but thinking about it makes me picture the character melting. Perhaps it’s a mark of how strange my mind is that I find that funny. Since the connotations of the word are rather sappy, I think it would work well in a romance pastiche, mocking the drippy dialogue between the main couple. Just make sure to only apply it to really, really saccharine lines.

#6: Yakked

Oddly enough, I have seen this word used in a dialogue tag… in the infamously bad fanfic My Immortal. This may be a very strong argument for the “troll” side of the “real vs. trollfic” debate, because “yakked” is a silly verb, and I’m pretty sure that not even an incompetent fanfiction writer would use it seriously. It does have a really funny sound to it, though. Yakked. Yak yak yak! Say it with me, guys: yak! Yak yak yak! Yak yak yakkity yak yak yakked! Yak! Yak yak yak! You have now lost the ability to register “yak” as a legitimate word.

#5: Blubbered

In a bizarre twist of language, a great number of crying-related verbs sound kind of funny to me, largely because of their present-tense homonyms or homophones. “Bawl” sounds like “ball,” “wail” sounds like “whale,” and “blubber” is, of course… blubber. I think this one stands out to me because I register the noun “blubber” as a “sortamatopoeia”; that is, if whale blubber made a sound, “blubber” would be it.

#4: Exploded

In my previous post, I mentioned how the dialogue tag “burst out” made me picture the words bursting gruesomely from the character’s chest. This word is similar. Whenever a character “explodes” a line, I picture them literally exploding, often to hilarious effect. Seeing that effect used consciously in a parody would make me laugh my ass off.

#3: Enunciated

Though similar to “verbalized,” this word has a particular feel to it that I find inexplicably humorous. Just sit back from your computer for a moment and enunciate the word “enunciated.” For best results, make sure to overemphasize the stress a little more than strictly necessary. It sounds funny, right? Come on, this cannot be just me.

#2: Ululated

Ululation was a favorite joke of Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman in How NOT to Write a Novel, though even there it never ended up in a dialogue tag. Personally, I think this would be a great parody of the “sound” tags, e.g. “hissed” and “snarled.” While it is technically possible to hiss, snarl, moan, or sigh a line if the wording and length are suitable, I’m pretty sure it would be impossible to ululate a line… and since both the act of ululation and the word “ululate” seem to be funny in and of themselves, well, bonus!

#1: Ejaculated

Admit it: you knew this one was coming. Oddly enough, I’ve seen “ejaculated” in dialogue tags more than any other word on this list, except perhaps “questioned.” This is probably because some works can actually get away with it; that is, older ones, written before the word “ejaculated” was associated with, er, penile emission. However, despite its drop in commonality in the present day, it does make its way into modern stories; for example, I recall one particularly hilarious example from Harry Potter, where Professor Slughorn “ejaculated” Snape’s name. I love J. K. Rowling, but that was ridiculous. I suppose it just goes to show that even great writers can make the occasional goof. Really, the only place you should see “ejaculated” in the modern day is in a parody, especially a parody sex scene. Of course, if you aren’t writing parody, never use this verb anywhere close to the sex scene if you value your reader’s immersion.

10 of My Least Favorite Dialogue Verbs

Allow me to set a scene. A young aspiring novelist sits in their single-digit-grade classroom, listening intently to their teacher’s advice on writing effectively. One thing in particular stands out to them: the idea that they should vary their word choices. After all, who wants to read a piece full of generic terms like “really big” or “very bad?” Better by far to use interesting, attention-grabbing descriptions, like “enormous” or “terrible.”

Some time later, our young writer sits down to write a story. Eventually, they get to a section of dialogue and notice that the word “said” occurs pretty much every line. “This will not do!” they think, and begin coming up with ways to weed out the “said”s. By the end of the night, their dialogue looks something like this:

“But what if they catch us?” Amanda wondered.

Todd shrugged. “I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” he remarked.

“That’s just like you to say,” groaned Izzy. She twiddled her thumbs for a second, then added, “Amanda’s right. If the monitors catch us in the secret passage, we need a plan.”

Todd rolled his eyes, but mumbled, “Okay.”

“I think we should split up,” Amanda stated. “They’ll have a harder time following more than one —”

“Bad idea,” interrupted Kevin, looking up briefly from his Rubik’s cube. “That just gives them more chances to catch one of us.”

This, of course, is poor writing. Dialogue tags are not meant to draw the reader’s attention, but to point out who is speaking. The word “said,” which goes largely unnoticed by most readers, performs this job admirably, and its replacement often has unpleasant results. By placing attention-grabbing words in their dialogue tags, the writer essentially takes the reader’s focus away from their characters and puts them on the writing, and by extension themselves. Eventually, this adds up to make the writing look overwrought and the author pretentious.

In literary circles, such verbs are known as “said bookisms,” and generally regarded as a red flag for an amateur writer. Of course, the presence of said bookisms doesn’t mean a work is bad, but it usually indicates that the text is in need of an editor. There are, of course, places where unconventional verbs can be used effectively, but they should still be used sparingly… and some particular verbs should never be used at all.

So here, I present ten of my least favorite verbs to see in a dialogue tag. While the category of said bookisms also delves into adverbs and the occasional accompanying action, the verbs are usually the ones that slap me in the face.

#10:  Uttered

Hello, pretension. I seriously cannot read this word in a dialogue tag without rolling my eyes. I think the problem with it is that it’s always used to make whatever a character says IMPORTANT or DRAMATIC, which in turn makes me picture the characters chewing the scenery and milking the giant cow. If an author needs to force drama by putting “uttered” in the dialogue tags, they clearly aren’t doing their job right; and if the dialogue would be dramatic without the “uttered,” then there’s no reason for it to be there. “Stated” is similarly unnecessary, but somewhat less pretentious, as are “spoke” and “told.”

#9: Grunted

It was difficult to figure out which “noise” dialogue tag to put here. “Hissed” is a common example of a much-abused dialogue tag, but there are at least cases of it being used appropriately. “Snorted” is roughly the same, although it is much more difficult to find its good instances. “Grunted,” on the other hand, is one that I don’t think I’ve ever seen used well, because how exactly does one “grunt” a line? Like “gasped,” “grunted” could only really work on a monosyllable; however, the act of grunting seems like it would drown out pretty much anything.

#8: Burst Out

I actually read this in a published work once. The resulting facepalm left my forehead aching for several minutes. “Blurted out” and “forced out” are bad enough, but they at least sound like something you could do with dialogue, and could be okay in the right circumstances. “Burst out,” on the other hand, makes me picture the words erupting from the character’s chest in a shower of gore, like the xenomorph in Alien. It’s pretty much impossible to take it seriously.

#7: Proclaimed

Pop quiz: is your character a political figure enacting a new law or making an important announcement? If not, don’t use “proclaimed,” and if so, no, the answer is still “don’t use ‘proclaimed.'” This fits in with “uttered” as a word often used to force drama, but has the added benefit of making your dialogue sound like a legal brief. Other words with the same effect include “disclosed,” “alleged,” “attested,” and “notified.” “Announced” is in a similar category, but as much as I hate it, there is very occasionally at least some excuse for that one.

#6: Trilled

This particular bookism may be somewhat subjective, because for me, it comes with an association. I have almost always seen this verb used for dialogue from a character type I absolutely despise: the annoyingly perky girl whose author was aiming for The Pollyanna or a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but missed the mark and created a caricature straight out of the Valley of Saccharine Hell. Trilling one’s lines seems to be a symptom. Other verbs to watch out for include “chirped,” “chimed,” and “lilted.”

#5: Chortled

I considered several “laughing your lines” verbs for this slot. I’m not entirely sure how one goes about laughing, chuckling, chortling, giggling, cackling, or snickering a line, especially if said line is longer than a few words and still easily understood by the surrounding characters. I think the factor that made “chortled” stand out is the fact that it’s just a weird, unappealing word. This is the kind of word that won’t just pull a reader out of the scene to roll their eyes at the over-embellished dialogue tags; this is the kind of word that will make a reader cringe.

#4: Realized

If your character realizes things out loud, that’s fine, but please don’t state it outright like this. Using “realized” as a line of dialogue is basically a sneaky way of telling rather than showing. Give us a facial expression or a character tic: a flash of the eyes, a sudden smile, or a wave of one hand as the realization hits. The same goes for tags like “remembered” or “recalled.”

#3: Averred

This one represents the category of “words that at least 90% of your readers will have to look up in the dictionary.” It’s annoying enough when an author uses such words in their prose; using them in the dialogue tags as well is just crass. Other words in this category include “demurred,” “asseverated,” “expostulated,” “descanted,” “promulgated,” “hectored,” “expatiated,” “adduced,” “propounded,” and “remonstrated.”

#2: Smirked

Nobody can smirk a line of dialogue. They also cannot sneer, grin, flutter, smile, frown, cringe, grimace, or shrug said line. If you’re going to use an unconventional verb in your dialogue tag, it should at least be a verb that can be used for speech. At least “chortled” and “grunted” are sounds.

#1: Hesitated

At this point, I wish to make a statement: while not all of the “other examples” I have mentioned are things I have seen in published works, the headliners are. So yes, I have seen this dialogue tag “in the wild,” and not just in a published novel, but in a bestselling one. I suppose that goes to show that “bestselling” does not mean “best quality,” because I’m pretty sure that this became a dialogue tag on account of a typo… or at least, I would like to think it did. The fact that it happened more than once might throw a wrench in that theory. Regardless, I don’t think anyone reading this has to be told why “hesitated” is a terrible dialogue tag. To add to the horror, I have seen this same mistake made with “paused.”