Yesterday, Eve Silver spoke to the members of the TRW about writing dialogue. One of the things she mentioned was the danger of overusing dialogue tags like ‘groaned, bit out, spat’, etc. (When she demonstrated how hard it really is to ‘groan’ while you’re speaking, it made sense. I’d never thought of it before.

While she was speaking, I remembered a term frequently used in books written in the 1800s, but in today’s books it would have a whole different meaning. So I shouted it out, and apparently Amy couldn’t get it out of her head for a while.

What was the tag?

‘He ejaculated.’

I got the impression Amy thought I was making it up, so I did a quick search over on the Gutenberg site (an excellent resource for books that are no longer protected by copyright) and sent some examples to her and Wylie in an email.

I thought I’d share some of the examples with you here:

From Emma by Jane Austen:

“Ah!” said Mr. Woodhouse, shaking his head and fixing his eyes on her with tender concern.–The ejaculation in Emma’s ear expressed, “Ah! there is no end of the sad consequences of your going to South End. It does not bear talking of.”

From Sense and Sensibility (also by Austen)

Astonished and shocked at so unlover-like a speech, she was almost ready to cry out, “Lord! what shouldhinder it?”–but checking her desire, confined herself to this silent ejaculation.

From Mansfield Park .. yeah yeah, you’ve got the pattern now, don’t you? (And my critique partners complain about me writing LONG sentences!)

She went, however, and they sauntered about together many an half-hour in Mrs. Grant’s shrubbery, the weather being unusually mild for the time of year, and venturing sometimes even to sit down on one of the benches now comparatively unsheltered, remaining there perhaps till, in the midst of some tender ejaculation of Fanny’s on the sweets of so protracted an autumn, they were forced, by the sudden swell of a cold gust shaking down the last few yellow leaves about them, to jump up and walk for warmth.

Charles Dicken’s Bleak House:

Sir Leicester leans back in his chair, and breathlessly ejaculates, “Good heaven!”

and further down …

Here Mr. Smallweed, seized with a fit of coughing in the midst of his triumph, breaks off to ejaculate, “Oh, dear me! Oh, Lord! I’m shaken all to pieces!”

…from Nicholas Nickleby!

In rejoinder to this sally, old Arthur again raised his hands, again chuckled, and again ejaculated ‘What a man it is!’ which done, he dragged the low chair a little nearer to Ralph’s high stool…

Dickens work is riddled with the term …from David Copperfield:

“It’s a boy.” A boy! Yah, the imbecility of the whole set of ’em!’

The heartiness of the ejaculation startled Mr. Dick exceedingly; and me, too, if I am to tell the truth.

and further on in David Copperfield…and probably my favourite:

‘Oh, go-roo!’ (it is really impossible to express how he twisted this ejaculation out of himself, as he peeped round the door-post at me, showing nothing but his craft old head); ‘will you go for fourpence?’

That last one really gets me – what an image it brings to mind. And not a clean one at that!

Yup, they really used to say that …
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4 thoughts on “Yup, they really used to say that …

  • October 14, 2007 at 3:54 pm


    um. … no additional comments 😉

  • October 14, 2007 at 4:24 pm

    I believed you, I just couldn’t stop freaking laughing.

    I had some INTEREStiNG pictures in my head after that point.

  • October 15, 2007 at 5:05 am

    OMG That is awesome! I try so hard not to use these tags, but I still find myself slipping. Major wrist slapping going on.

  • October 18, 2007 at 5:18 am

    I am a member of Hearts Through History as well, and I admit I use ejaculated.

    Though very infrequently. And I agree, that last example provides very interesting images.


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