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Is there a technical term for the parts displayed in italics here?

He closed his eyes again, "XXXXXXX", he mumbled.

The XXXXX was YYYYYY, she noticed exasperated.

They don't really describe much, and they don't move the plot along. Most of the time these fragments are inserted between dialogue as to avoid the typical variations of "he said".

Do these snippets of narrative padding have their own name?

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    These variations are called inquits or inquit tags or phrases (after latin inquit: she/he says). Jan 16, 2023 at 10:52
  • Also asked on reddit. Jan 16, 2023 at 13:57
  • Are you excluding "he said", "she said" from your inquiry, and referring only to longer, more florid variations?
    – Stuart F
    Jan 17, 2023 at 12:30
  • You may be interested in Tom Swifties: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Swifty . From there "A stylistic idiosyncrasy of [some Tom Swift books] was that the author, "Victor Appleton, 'went to great trouble to avoid repetition of the unadorned word "said", using a different quotative verb, or modifying adverbial words or phrases in a kind of elegant variation'. And a 'Tom Swifty' is a parody of that style. Jan 30, 2023 at 23:36

1 Answer 1

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Both quotes contain examples of direct speech (as opposed to indirect speech). This is a grammatical term rather than a literary one.

The phrases "he mumbled" and "she noticed exasperated" are examples of a reporting clause.

henryflower suggested the term inquit or inquit tag, which is not a commonly used literary term. According to the Algemeen letterkundig lexicon (in Dutch), inquit refers to a more convoluted way of introducing a speaker that states explicitly

  1. that someone is going to speak,
  2. the person who is going to speak,
  3. that their words will follow next.

The lexicon gives an example from Middle Dutch literature, but examples can also be found in the King James Version of the Bible (emphasis mine):

  • “Then spake the priests and the prophets unto the princes and to all the people, saying, This man is worthy to die; for he hath prophesied against this city, as ye have heard with your ears.” (Jeremiah 26:11)
  • “Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

The phrase "He closed his eyes again" is an ordinary description of an action.

None of the phrases described above are "padding" but perfectly normal ways of reporting speech and describing actions. The plot is not the only part of a text that matters. In fact, it is possible to write literary texts without a plot.

References

  • Carter, Ronald; McCarthy, Michael: Cambridge Grammar of English: A Comprehensive Guide. Cambridge University Press, 2006. Especially pages 808-809.
  • Algemeen letterkundig lexicon (This is in Dutch but more comprehensive than any other dictionary of literary terms I have access to.)

For online alternatives to the grammar listed above, see

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