Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Ah, that passive voice....

Among increasingly damning evidence that the government knew what it was doing far more than it let on regarding the fired US District Attorneys, Alberto Gonzales admits today that "Mistakes were made." Note he didn't say he (or Miers, or Sampson, or Rove, or anybody) made mistakes, but that "mistakes were made".

This is a ploy often used by sports stars when they are busted for improper behavior ("I'm sorry it had happened"), and there are definitely people out there who absolutely hate this refusing-responsibility-while-trying-to-appear-responsible (strangely enough, Michael Wilbon, of the Washington Post sports section and of ESPN's "Pardon the Interruption", is one of the most vocal opponents of this linguistic dodge of responsibility). I, like Wilbon, absolutely hate this linguistic turn - it gives the speaker credit in the public eye for being recalcitrant even while he/she refuses to acknowledge his/her personal responsibility in wrongdoings.

THIS is why professors teach active voice to students who are amazed to see there IS a difference between saying "3000 were killed in Chile between 1973 and 1990" and "The Pinochet-led state killed 3000 Chileans between 1973 and 1990".