You don’t say!

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Perhaps you should. Say say, that is. Many a well-intentioned writer has derailed his readers or listeners by trying to add luster to a lackluster fishing report with synonyms for say.
All these examples appeared in print, but the names — of people, places and fish — have been changed to protect the innocent. In most of these cases, substituting the word said for the original verb actually improves the sentence.
Said is invisible, a word a reader doesn’t register. It’s very useful for objective reporting.

  • “Anglers fishing from the bank are nailing good numbers of stripers,” informed Bob.

If, however, you’re striving to make a point, let your verb make it. “Good numbers of stripers,” bragged Bob is far and away better than “Good numbers of stripers,” said Bob proudly.

  • “Our last trip produced four salmon to 17 pounds,” Shirley related.

Only four salmon …” moaned Shirley tells us not only the fish report but hints at her hopes for more.

  • Jake fished the north side of the point. “We landed limits of blues and blacks,” he explained.

If those limits of blues and blacks were the reason Jake fished where he did, explained fails to explain that, because more information is required to explain to the reader that the fish moved from the south side of the point after a recent storm.

  • “Close to a million anglers descended on the Eastern Sierra for Opening Day,” revealed Dan.

If multitudes congregated on the Eastern Sierra for the trout opener, someone will have noticed. Those too far away to notice are too far away to care. Dan doesn’t need to reveal it, although he is welcome to say it.

  • “The weather was the best we’ve seen,” quipped Mason.

A quip is an attempt — whether successful or not — to be clever. If the speaker is saying something mundane, your dressing it up as a quip does nothing to add interest to his comment or to your story.

  • “We will probably drop the water level four inches down,” the agency official claimed.

Be cautious when using the verb claimed, especially when quoting an official, more so if you wish to interview the official again. Might as well call him a liar as to claim that he claimed something when all he did was say so.

  • “Angling pressure is light now,” Craig tipped.

A generous tip about tipping: Don’t do it! Not as a synonym for say, anyway. Without going into all that tedious stuff about transitive and intransitive verbs, I’ll just say that to use tip is inevitably to misuse it. Just say nope — and say say.

  • “Early morning, top-water action has warmed up,” Jason told.

Another commonly misused transitive verb is tell. When used properly, tell is a lovely substitute for say, being just as invisible. But you must remember that tell needs an indirect object, someone to be told to. “I told you so” may be a regrettable comment, but it is at least grammatical. “I told the fishing report” is not.
Look on the bright side. If you get paid by the word or have a certain size space to fill, adding that indirect object here and there is invisible padding.
Tell also has the virtue of adding intimacy to your story, when it is used correctly. “Nixon knew far more than he admitted,” Deep Throat told me is more interesting than if Deep Throat simply said it, because it reminds the reader that the interviewer was actually conversing with the subject and not hearing him speak to a vast crowd.

  • Also, a frequent error that drives me up a wall is when a reporter sums up everything the interviewee had to say, then quotes the chap saying practically the same thing.

“I hate it when a reporter gives the gist of the story and then quotes his source without adding anything of interest,” the author said. “Why would they do that?”

  • Finally, shun the urge to quote the mundane. Don’t quote long lines of verbiage, like this: “We switched over to trolling with night crawlers at 11 a.m. By 2 p.m., the two anglers fishing with me caught and released three trout. They ranged in size from 12 to 22 inches. Only one boat had a salmon that I know of.”

Be careful when your subject experiences grammar lapses. Quoting his exact words may seem like good fun — until you need a follow-up interview.
Summarize quotations as much as possible. Quote only the colorful and the controversial. And when in doubt, say say. ♦
—A member since 1986, Kathie Morgan is from Santa Rosa, Calif. Morgan is a special features editor for Fish Sniffer and research editor for Stienstra Outdoor Books. She is also a freelance writer. Contact her at

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