Someone linked to this Onion story today on Twitter, and while I thought it was funny, it also brought up one of my biggest writing pet peeves—misusing verbs of utterance.
Now, I know English is a rapidly changing thing, the rules are fluid, etc. But can I tell you the quickest way to make me roll my eyes and make me get out my red pen is to write something like this:
“I agree,” he nodded.
Oh. It makes me cringe just to type it! People. You can’t nod a sentence. You say it. You yell it. You cry it, maybe, or even whimper it. And you can nod at the same time. But you can’t nod speech. You can’t shrug it, or smile it, or frown it. You can speak and move at the same time, of course, but then it’s a different sentence:
“I agree.” He nodded.
“I agree,” he said, nodding.
He nodded. "I agree," he said.
I realize this is largely a nitpicky grammar thing, but to me, it smacks of something careless—not paying attention to how people move? Not knowing the limits of what certain verbs can do? When I read the first sentence, the "nodded" stops me. I can't see or hear it anymore, which is the opposite of its intention. And if you're the offending writer, you can't tell me it's in the service of the writing.
I also realize that many a famous author does this, but it drives me nuts, and I edit it out of books with wild abandon. Do other people have annoyances like this when they’re reading? Or is it mostly limited to those of us who are paid to wield our red pens?
Gosh, this post makes me sound crabby! Really, I'm not the kind of person who goes around correcting the improper use of the subjunctive, or anything like that. Some things just really get me going.
Thanks for letting me vent!