Monday, September 25, 2006

Protesting too much ...

... at the Language Log: Passive aggression. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)
I tend to agree with Robertson Davies about Strunk & White: "This is a wonderful book, if you want to write like a White or a Strunk. But do you? I should hate to read a novel written in Strunkese. As for Mr. White, his style is a perfect instrument for what he has to say, but for my taste that sounds too often like a few wise, weary words written by a man who is on the point of retiring to bed with a heavy cold."
Orwell is something else again - and I suspect his point has been missed in this post, though it is hard to say since only a negative judgment is registered, and no precise objections for such judgment ever elaborated. The point, I think, of Orwell's admonition to "never use the passive where you can use the active" is that the passive voice too easily lends itself to obfuscation by those who wish to obfuscate.
It's also worth remembering that the last of Orwell's rules was "Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous."


  1. Anonymous8:41 PM

    Frank, I have to ask you something. You get so much great stuff from one "Dave Lull" that I am beginning to wonder if he is a real person or a NASA computer with some time (a lull, if you will) on his hard drive.

    How can a mere human find so much interesting material in the course of any given day?

    Grateful, but baffled, I remain. (My kids forced me to watch two Star Wars movies over the weekend-- suddenly I find myself talking like Yoda. Sorry.)

  2. Dave is real, I assure you. He is respectfully known among the cognoscenti as OWL - Omnipresent Wisconsin Librarian. He is also, not surprisingly, a hell of an interesting guy.