“You words are dead to me,” I [something besides ‘said’].

I apparently don’t agree with the North Carolina school systems.

Deciding to give stumbleupon a try, I searched for “writing” and found a link to the Iredell-Stateseville school system website’s list of other words for “said.” The list includes words like “acknowledged,” “lectured,” “reassured,” “emphasized,” and “grinned.” Grinned? “Grinned” isn’t a synonym for “said,” it’s a synonym for “smiled.” How does the act of grinning describe how someone speaks? Iredell-Statesville (go, you Staties!) presents a long, clunky list of long, clunky words. I’m a proponent of “said,” and I’m not alone: Stephen King loves it (Eric Bakovic quoted a bit on “said” from King’s On Writing at the Language Log), Neil Gaiman is a fan of “said,” Elmore Leonard uses it exclusively (it’s his fourth of Ten Rules for Writing).

A few clicks on the Iredell-Statesville (go, you Irdies!) website brought me to the concept of “dead words” – words that are too common and have plenty of synonyms which, apparently, are better than those peasant-like commoner words. It suggests not using “awesome” or “cool,” but trying “fine,” “wonderful,” and “marvelous.” You know, as in “Man, Jimmy, that double ollie kickflip you popped on your board was wonderful! That move was so sick, uh, I mean, indisposed!” I’ve never heard of “dead words” so I Googled it and found another North Carolina education website called LearnNC with K-12 instructor resources that actually encourages instructors to make art-project tombstones for “dead words.” Those other words flying out of the tombstone must be the root word’s ghost children.

The merit behind eliminating dead words is well-intended, but I disagree with this methodology. If an instructor wants their students to improve their vocabulary, have them read more, both in and out of class. Then talk about the reading; make them participate in the discussion. Talk about the words; find out what stood out to them and why. Have them underline words they don’t know and actually look them up on their own. Now, this is the part when people talk about how hard it is to get students to read. They don’t want to read? They don’t want to do the work? They don’t want to do what school is supposed to have them do? Too bad. Do you honestly think they’ll want to gluestick and glitterglue some construction paper with the word “innumerable” on it, instead?


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