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Passive Time

First, I'm going to Liverpool later today. Chucking a few things in a bag and jollying off to see aarondb and Johnny "No, my real name is Ryan" Blaze, who is over from the untamed wilds of the colonies. I'll be back Sunday. If you have anything to say, shove it in an e-mail or a comment. I'll be taking my semi-functional internet organ along with me, for photos and to make small posts (though I can't make photo-posts direct from it), so really urgent stuff can go through that. The contest a few posts down looking at this current one (sue me, I like long links) will run until midnight on Sunday at which point I work out which words I'm writing a sequel to.

Story ideas in my head. You may see tiny fragments from stories come up in SMS-posts. All depends if I can get anything written on the train and put through to the phone. I want it to, moblogging is the sort of thing I want to be able to do.

And finally, I rant:

The passive voice is perhaps the most insidious yet telling sign of bad English in our age. It proliferates in technical writing where (it seems) the idea of an actor is anathema, and this putrid seed has spread to the works of fiction despite the best works of editors to combat them.

Passive phrases are of the style: "$foo was done", "$bar is required", "$baz is to be based on $frotz" and so on. A passive phrase has no acting object, an action happens without anything instantiating the action: "the gun was fired", as opposed to "he fired the gun". These phrases read like shit. They're boring, they are vague and hand-wavy and ridiculous. They are the über-airy-fairy phrasing, the grammatical equivalent of giving no child a failing grade in case it hurts their feelings or referring to anyone under the mean height as a "statistically vertically challenged person". People who write passive phrases need to learn some real fucking grammar.

My problem with passive phrasing is simple: At work I have to read lots of technical documentation. If there is a single active sentence in said documentation I stand amazed. These documents are painful to read. Seriously, it really does break my brain to look upon them with a writer's eyes. Such phrasing does not make things more accurate and it certainly doesn't make such a doc read better. The only advantage is the simple lie that a doc can be written without a person, in some vague future tense. Fuck that. A doc without a person is badly written, it doesn't matter if this document is a novel or a manual. It does not scan properly and any sense of phony authority conveyed by the author's overly-passive writing styleis immediately trashed by their own inability to write with any kind of style.

A small amount of passive phrasing is almost inevitable, especially when the author uses it for dramatic flair or description -- but even then, it is possible for someone to write entirely without passivity. When passive phrasing is over-used in order to sound technical or authoritive or just because the hack writing it doesn't know any better is when people need their fingers breaking and their keyboards confiscating.

Comments

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arist_one_eye
Jun. 4th, 2004 11:22 am (UTC)
Beyond being insanely jealous that three such important ex-members of the Forum are hanging out together, I hope the three of you have a good time. Take many pictures and stuff.
innocent_man
Jun. 5th, 2004 10:28 am (UTC)
I did some proofing for scientific-type documents back in the day, and I, too, felt like retching at all the passivity. And yet, sooo many of my writer lapse into it like a native tongue if I don't keep the collars nice and tight...
aarondb
Jun. 6th, 2004 10:45 am (UTC)
Hey.

Shut up.

I slide into it whenever I start to feel as though I'm trying to explain something carefully. As it happens, that keeps happening a lot lately.

And I think there's a lot to be said for the passive tone. Not a lot of *good* things, but not all bad. There are at least sixteen bathousandillion worse crimes in the English language, such as when people bifrankulate and madoober, thereby incomulating new words for no reason.

Bindiglior.
brettdanger
Jun. 7th, 2004 06:30 am (UTC)
Are you poking fun at the word "bindiglior?" I can't imagine why, it's a perfectly cromulent word.
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