Friday, May 10, 2013

Still not the passive

Over at Slacktivist, Fred says, in the latest of his "Left Behind" posts:
Jenkins muffles the message a bit here with an evasive passive voice — “he became a marked man,” “he would suffer for it,” “he had so far eluded mortal harm.” He’s careful to avoid mentioning any explicit subject or actor. They are intent on killing Ben-Judah because he has become a Christian. But who are they?
Fred's on the money about LaHaye and Jenkins muffling their antisemitism. But he's wrong about their using "an evasive passive voice". Wrong, wrong, and wrong - all three times.

He became a marked man does have a passive participle lurking in it - "marked". But "become" can't be used passively; it's not a transitive verb. It doesn't take a direct object that could be turned into the subject of a recast sentence; it takes a predicative nominative.

He would suffer for it doesn't even have a passive participle. "Suffer" here is simply intransitive. "Would" is a modal auxiliary, the form of "will" used to talk about the future in the past - sequencing of tenses, where event X is in the past from the speaker's point of view, but in the future of the time being described, for example in a narrative structure. Here, Ben-Judah's suffering is in the future of Cameron's visit to Israel, but in the past of the person telling the story. "Would suffer", then, is just a tense of "suffer". It could be used passively, if they provided the object - "he would suffer agonies for it" could be, awkwardly, turned into "agonies would be suffered by him for it". But here it's nice and active.

He had so far eluded mortal harm does have a transitive verb. But the passive version of this sentence would be "mortal harm had so far been eluded by him". And as for "no explicit subject"? He, dammit. He is the explicit subject in every one of these sentences.

Now, as I said, Fred's dead right when he says Jenkins "avoids mentioning any explicit ... actor" in the sense that we don't know who's marked him, who's going to make him suffer, or who's threatening him with mortal harm. (Spoiler: it's the Jews!!). But this just goes to show that you can indeed be vague about agency, and can avoid naming someone, using the active voice.

This - this - is the "sin". It's not using the passive voice; it's refusing to lay the responsibility where it belongs.

Labels: , ,


At 5:27 AM, May 11, 2013 Anonymous KMK Real Estates had this to say...

Wonderful information, I had come to know about your blog from my friend nandu , hyderabad,i have read at least 7 posts of yours by now, and let me tell you, your website gives the best and the most interesting information. This is just the kind of information that i had been looking for, i'm already your rss reader now and i would regularly watch out for the new posts, once again hats off to you! Thanks a ton once again, Regards,

Fully Furnished Office Space for rent in Begumpet

At 9:59 AM, May 11, 2013 Blogger Kevin Wade Johnson had this to say...

You are right on the money! Nothing passive there. Evasive, yes; passive, no!

A lot of style manuals object to passive voice, but it's the evasiveness that's the issue a lot of the time. The rest? Indirectness. If you can say somebody did something to somebody else, that's usually the best way to go.

The ultimate answer, of course, is to craft your sentences so they say just what you mean them to. Evasiveness to create tension is fine. Passive voice to focus on the do-ee instead of the do-er, likewise. Evasiveness or passiveness used unthinkingly is as big a mistake as...choosing any word or usage unthinkingly.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post

Links to this post:

Create a Link

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