Grammar Rant 10/18/2018

October 18, 2018 2 By jaywhistler

“Be quiet!” she hissed.

“I hate you!” he hissed.

“You’re evil!” she hissed.

“Stop whispering, Susan,” he hissed in my ear as we hid in the closet from the knife-wielding psycho-killer.

Today on my blog, allow me to introduce a weekly feature, “Grammar Rant,” wherein I discuss some of my pet peeves in grammar, things I see in repeated in novels all too often, including, to my sadness, in titles from highly respected authors, publishers, and editors.

For example, only one of the above speech tags is correct. The others simply make you look like a hack. But which one? Is it the use of the exclamation point, which Elmore Leonard says should be limited to a total of two per novel? Is it that I forgot to capitalize after the exclamation points? Have I missed a comma, period, or apostrophe somewhere?

Time’s up. Michael Myers has just sliced Susan to smithereens. The answer is that the last example is the only correct one. Why? Because ‘hiss’ is an onomatopoeia, or a word that represents a sound.

In other words, when something hisses, is must have a sibilant s-sound in it. Snakes hiss. Steaming radiators hiss. Certain species of cockroaches hiss. A person yelling, “I hate you!” does not hiss.

So for the sake of your writing, play it safe and eliminate the hissing speech tag. If your character is using a lot of s-sounds, we’ll hear the hiss; you don’t need to tell us. Let us focus on what the character is saying, rather than on the speech tags.

Follow Elmore Leonard’s advice and use “said” every time.