Beware the Jabberwock, my son!

One of the annoying aspects of writing for a government is that usually there are plots, but no characters, main or otherwise. In fact, there are often no subjects in the sentences. Things happen, events unfold spontaneously. Objects are acted upon by mysterious forces, perhaps deployed by black helicopters. The passive voice is used excessively. Government has agencies, but no apparent agents.

Passive voice is constructed by literally removing the subject from the sentence. Compare and contrast:

“I swung my vorpal blade in a powerful snicker-snack, and left the Jabberwock for dead.

“The vorpal blade was swung in a powerful snicker-snack, and the Jabberwock was left for dead.”

Who killed the Jabberwock, again? What was his name? What color is his hair? Could you pick him out of a crowd? Can we give him a medal, or cite him for cruelty to Jabberwocks? Who is to take credit? Who is to take blame?

Passive voice removes the humanity from writing, which is why it should never ever be used, and why it will never be eradicated. It’s the “I didn’t do it,” of literary convention, which is why it probably crept into the government styleguide, there to spread as inexorably as kudzu, and as difficult to eradicate.

Do yourself a favor. Don’t ever use passive voice. It’s a bad habit, like picking your toes in a good restaurant.

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