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Suddenly the inmates break into singing. A prison guard tries to bark them to silence -

Prison guard: SILENCE!

I have seen "bark" used with people to describe that someone yells angrily, but how common is it? Would it seem odd to you to use "bark" here?

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  • He yelled / screamed / shouted them into silence? I don't think so. There's the fairly common He shouted them down (shouted louder than them and made them shut up), but He barked them down certainly doesn't work for me. Maybe from a known-to-be-native speaker in the context of literature / poetry. Not otherwise. Feb 18 at 12:06
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    I don't think bark necessarily implies anger. "He turned and barked an order at a passing orderly," yes, it's abrupt and maybe a bit aggressive, but it has a feeling of 'control' that "yelled angrily" misses. Feb 18 at 12:37
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    I think it does make sense in the context, but I think you can only 'bark at' somebody. "Bark them into silence" sounds very peculiar to me. Feb 18 at 12:38
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    You might say or write "Silence!" barked the guards, or maybe the guards barked at them to be silent but never "the guard barked them into silence". Feb 18 at 13:13
  • @MichaelHarvey Totally disagree, I see virtually no difference between "the guards barked at them" and "the guard barked them into silence". Unusual perhaps, but completely valid. Feb 18 at 17:46
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If we look at the definitions of "bark" as a verb, we find that the transitive sense of the verb is to say something quickly in a loud voice. We can't "bark people to do something". We can "bark at people to do something" or "bark out orders for people to do something".

So, in the original example, we might write:

"QUIET!" barked the prison guard, trying to force the inmates into silence.

Another way to use "bark" is to "bark a X" or "bark out a X" where "X" is something that can be vocalized, like "laugh", "curse", "order", etc.

Sirius barked a laugh, earning a surprised glanced from the two younger men. (Example sentence from Oxford's definition of bark)

When I looked at the Google NGram starting from 1800 for * them into silence, I did find "frown them into silence" which seemed like it might be similar to "shout them into silence", but the references were from the 1850s and not the same sort of construction:

...although the leaders of their party in this country ... will be obliged nevertheless to change their plan...from the effervescence which is appearing in all quarters and the desertion of their followers which must frown them into silence. (The Works of Alexander Hamilton)

I included that sentence here just to show that you might find constructions that seem to match "bark them into silence" but they are probably very old-fashioned or not saying exactly the same thing as "x barks y into silence".

Here are the most common words in the modern English corpus that occur before "them into silence" according to Google's NGram viewer.

List of most common results from Google NGram of * them into silence starting at 1950: menaced, of, stunned, shocked, waved, intimidate, awed, frighten, frightened, force

The "of them into silence" in that list is usually "most of them", "both of them" or something similar.

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This seems totally normal to me - the guard is a person in a position of authority, giving an order, and as such the simile "bark" is probably going to be the most commonly used one, though more frequently used about soldiers.

"Shout" is probably used slightly more commonly, but/and is more formal.

The comparison, of course is with a dog barking - loud and harsh.

I would make one slight adjustment though: "A prison guard tries to bark them INTO silence."

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  • But bark is usually used with reference to speech (see @MichaelHarvey's comment above) - otherwise it would sound as though the speaker was literally barking like a dog. Feb 18 at 13:31
  • @KateBunting I don't follow - the guard in this case is indeed speaking/shouting at the inmates? Feb 18 at 17:44
  • I was going to say 'direct speech' (as in Michael's "Silence!" barked the guards), then realised that you can say he barked an order - but barked them into silence sounds decidedly odd to me. Feb 18 at 17:55
  • @KateBunting I guess we are applying different weights to the OP's core question: "Would it seem odd?" - his example is unusual, but not 'wrong' so to me that's NOT odd. I don't think we fundamentally disagree overall Feb 18 at 18:00
  • I've never heard of this verb being used this way -- thus, I can't accept this as an answer. Feb 18 at 19:26

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