Mysterious deaths and obfuscation
Posted: 17 May 2018 04:33 AM   [ Ignore ]
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An article about how some language choices can hide responsibility.

Mysterious deaths

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Posted: 17 May 2018 06:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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That is way too political for this forum.

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Posted: 17 May 2018 06:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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languagehat - 17 May 2018 06:51 AM

That is way too political for this forum.

I agree in principle. Still, the use of the passive voice is interesting in political discourse and worthy of our attention. Orwell and his warnings are worthy.

When I was deployed into DC on the occasion of ML King’s assassination. we were given no ammunition. Perhaps those were more innocent days.

Some months later, the National Guard at Kent State were “locked and loaded.” Certain students were killed.

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Posted: 17 May 2018 09:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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languagehat - 17 May 2018 06:51 AM

That is way too political for this forum.

As soon as I saw the piece, it reminded me of the “past exonerative tense” mentioned in a piece that Dave presented on this forum in 2015:

McSweeney’s Internet Tendency: An Interactive Guide to Ambiguous Grammar

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Posted: 18 May 2018 03:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Orwell and his warnings are worthy.

Orwell was a great writer, but he knew crap about linguistics. His “Politics and the English Language” is just wrong.

Anyone who complains that in bad writing “the passive voice is wherever possible used in preference to the active” and then goes on to use the passive voice in twice as many clauses than the average has no business opining on proper English.

(Typically in edited prose, around 10% of the clauses are passive. In Orwell’s “Politics,” it’s 20%.)

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Posted: 18 May 2018 08:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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From what I’ve been taught and from what I’ve read the passive voice has never been discarded or discouraged entirely. The only difference that’s been inculcated by many grammarians is that the active voice is just more forceful and direct, but in other descriptions the passive voice can be more convenient and necessary.  Personally I will sometimes use the passive based on esthetics, but not if it obscures the meaning of a sentence, which can be a problem with the passive.

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Posted: 18 May 2018 06:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Dave Wilton - 18 May 2018 03:49 AM

Orwell and his warnings are worthy.

Orwell was a great writer, but he knew crap about linguistics. His “Politics and the English Language” is just wrong.

Anyone who complains that in bad writing “the passive voice is wherever possible used in preference to the active” and then goes on to use the passive voice in twice as many clauses than the average has no business opining on proper English.

(Typically in edited prose, around 10% of the clauses are passive. In Orwell’s “Politics,” it’s 20%.)

I was not referring to the whole corpus of Orwell’s linguistic writing about which I know nothing. and Dave, your note is very enlightening.. But rather this:

Orwell wrote that modern political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectableā€¯

“Rendition” is one of those pieces of obfuscation. As is “enhanced interrogation techniques”.
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Posted: 18 May 2018 06:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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languagehat - 17 May 2018 06:51 AM

That is way too political for this forum.

Agreed. Style of writing notwithstanding, it is a piece of journalism with a very odious axe to grind.

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