Tuesday, January 06, 2004

I was going to go on a long rant about language after an essay by Fred Reed inspired me, but I don't have the time. I will just rant about one current English language topic, namely my unremitting hatred of the passive voice.

There's nothing substandard about the passive voice. Using it does not constitute bad grammar. I just don't like it.

I have my reasons, mostly aesthetic: The passive voice deadens narrative and generally lowers the IQ in any piece of writing. It just looks awkward. Worse, its modern usage is often deliberately deceptive, and I will give two examples:

Evading reponsibility, as in the now-infamous locution "Mistakes were made." The active voice forces you to say who actually committed the act, and sometimes people would rather not. Who made the damn mistakes?

Disguising culpability. Here I'm thinking of the recent Daily Mirror article which tried to say, essentially, that George Bush personally ruined the gardens at Buckingham Palace during his visit. The article manages to avoid the question of who actually committed all of the damage with the careful use of the passive voice:

[H]er perfectly-mantained lawns had been churned up...The historic fabric of the Palace was also damaged as high-tech links were fitted for the US leader....some of those areas have been damaged.

Yes, I hate the passive voice.

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