Thursday, December 01, 2011

A step in the right direction

In this month's Q&A on the Chicago Manual of Style website:

Q. I was told this was passive voice and therefore “avoidant”: “If your suspension from this section was not lifted on time, then that was a mistake and I’m sorry that happened.” Is this so?

A. “Was not lifted” is indeed passive, and it is “avoidant” in this sentence because it allows the writer to avoid identifying who failed to lift the suspension on time. This use of the passive deserves its bad reputation, but in good writing a mix of active and passive is essential for variation and eloquence, as you will find in any classic of English literature. (Strunk and White use the passive throughout The Elements of Style after famously recommending against it.) The idea that the passive must be avoided is a superstition that language professionals long ago abandoned, although the prohibition remains popular

.Although the CMOS rightly (hurrah!) decries the notion that the passive should be avoided, they fail to note that the writer of this sentence could be just as "avoidant" in the active:

If your suspension from this section remained beyond its term ...
If your suspension from this section was in effect longer than it should have been ...
(no, that's not passive) or even
If no one lifted your suspension from this section on time ...
The passive is not the only thing that allows you to avoid naming names. Counsel people to avoid that, rather than the passive.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post

Links to this post:

Create a Link

     <-- Older Post                     ^ Home                    Newer Post -->