She Said Sarcastically

While reading a book the other day, I came across this exchange:

“I’m back! Did you miss me?” she cooed in an almost childlike tone.
“Like the Sahara misses the rain,” he said sarcastically, hand on heart.

It was supposed to be a flirtatious moment in an otherwise serious story, but the author completely lost me there. Not only did she destroy the flirtatious aspect of the comment with “sarcastically,” the writing is atrocious. Cooing (if you have to use the word, which I do not recommend) presupposes “an almost childlike tone.” And why modify “childlike tone” with almost? Why not have the courage to say childlike tone? Or why say anything? Why not have her give him a flirtatious look? Or have her smile? (It’s been pointed out to me that I have my characters smiling at each other way too often, but at least they aren’t cooing at each other.) Or leave “I’m back! Did you miss me?” plain and unadorned without a dialogue tag. We get the point.

As for sarcastically — well, for one, it adds nothing to the exchange. For another, it doesn’t mean what the author seems to think it means. Sarcasm is a cutting, hostile, or contemptuous remark. The word originally came from the Greek word sarkazein, which means tearing flesh, biting the lips in rage, sneering. Very flirtatious! (She said sarcastically.)

 The secondary definition of sarcasm is “the use of a caustic or ironic remark,” but sarcasm connotes contempt even when used ironically. If she meant ironic, she should have said ironic, though ironically, irony is not exactly what she wanted, either. Irony is the use of words to express something other than (usually the opposite of)  the literal meaning. The character in the exchange above might be exaggerating what he meant, but he had missed her, so he didn’t say the words ironically, either.

He could have said the words sardonically, but sardonic means bitter and mocking. Perhaps he could have said his words wryly, facetiously, flirtatiously or expansively, but why use any adverb? The melodramatic gesture of the hand to the heart showed exactly what he meant to say, that yes, he did miss her but that his words were overblown.

One of the rules for writing is to cut down on ly adverbs. Now you know why. People like me get caught up in the foolishness of the word and forget to read the rest of the book.

2 Responses to “She Said Sarcastically”

  1. James Rafferty Says:

    Pat, your analysis of the writing is an example of why one’s reading changes once you’ve become a writer. Current styles in writing frown upon “saidisms” like cooed and modifying the verb with an additional clause causes the reader to focus less on the dialogue. Your examination of why “sarcastically” misses the mark is also on target.

  2. lvgaudet Says:

    I definately would not have taken sarcastic for flirting. Then again, I have a hard time finding the funny in sitcom scenes with people insulting and being nasty to each other to canned laughter.

    I have seen so many things in books that I thought were just so awful that I couldn’t understand how it passed the author, editor, publisher, and anyone else who might have read it before being published.

    One book that I finally gave up trying to make myself finish reading (I hate to leave a book unfinished, it seriously drives me to madness) didn’t actually have a bad base story. The story itself was interesting. It was just impossible to follow. The transitions from one scene to another were jumpy and confusing. Worst of all, the writer put so much into making up wierd names that it completely distracted me from the story. Wierd names are fine, but this was so over top that I was embarassed for the writer.

    And this book made it to be sold at Walmart.

    But then again, there is one thing this writer and others with shake your head writing moments have done that I haven’t – had a book published by a publisher of some sort.

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