What's said is said
You never know what is going to engage people’s attention. The other day, I put this question up on Twitter and Facebook: “Who the hell is teaching young writers to use ‘stated’ instead of ‘said?’ ” That provoked quite a response from my long-suffering colleagues in the paragraph trade,* which makes me think that it’s worth the trouble to summarize and codify some of the responses.
The starting point: In attribution, certainly in journalism and probably in fiction as well, said is a neutral word and acceptable and even preferable in nearly all instances. The impulse to use synonyms for it is misguided, leading to what H.W. Fowler disparaged as “elegant variation.” Said suffices.
Now let’s look at the less-attractive options.
Stated: Probably the ear of the corruptible young writer has been influenced by police and court jargon. Stated implies formality and official proceedings, and you are not likely to have much use of it unless you become a cop or a court recorder.
Noted: Are there notes when you speak? If so, are they footnotes or end notes? When you note, do you raise a finger to indicate a superscript?
Added: Added comes in when the writer breaks a chunk of discourse into more digestible parts. That’s fine, but what a speaker says is usually continuous. If she finishes talking, leaves the room, turns and comes back through the door to say something further, then you can write added. Same with continued.
Claimed: Claimed indicates that the speaker has made an assertion that you are not prepared to endorse. If you don’t want to suggest skepticism, don’t use it. Admitted suggests consciousness of guilt.
Explained: Only if a subsequent statement attempts to make clear something obscure in a previous one. And even then, said suffices. Most people can recognize an explanation when they see one.
Declared: Like stated, it suggests a formality that may or may not be relevant in context. Or necessary.
Revealed: Like divulged and disclosed, revealed suggests that something hidden and surprising has been brought to light. Usually there is little or no drama, but a perfectly prosaic utterance for which—you guessed it—said is better.
Exclaimed: Instead use one of the three exclamation points you are permitted in your entire career. Same for blurted.
Related: Suggests that the speaker is a windbag.
Drawled: Damn Yankee.
Averred, avowed, declaimed, declared, opined retorted, sniveled: Now you’re just being silly, or reading Franklin W. Dixon’s Hardy Boys books as a child has had an unhealthy influence on you.
Barked, burbled, chirped, chortled, gasped, screeched, snapped, spluttered, wheezed, whined: Put down the thesaurus and nobody gets hurt.
*One correspondent said he met in 1972 a stringer who “showed me her list of 120 synonyms for ‘said’ that her Arizona community college j-teacher wanted her to memorize.” At this late date, that teacher is presumably beyond the reach of a malpractice suit but has instead faced divine judgment.