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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Politicians should avoid the passive tense - it can damage your health.

As the Liam Fox affair unravels there is at least one upside. It has highlighted the inadequacy of the passive tense. It is something we should all avoid. It does us no favours and makes us look shabby. Budding politicians should make sure it is not in their toolkits, when they are addressing media and voters or designing their leaflets.

“Mistakes were made…” and “….it was a mistake to allow distinctions to be blurred.” were euphemisms and snowing at its worst. This passive language isolated the speaker from awkward and uncomfortable realities.

The speaker is detached from events. We all became outside observers of situations which seemed to evolve on autopilot. It is academic and sterile language.

The rest of us have to listen to this ducking and weaving. We feel angry that we are being spoken to in a manner beyond our normal conversation. Ordinary language is messy, erratic and personal. The passive: legalistic, objective and anodyne. It gives wiggle room and avoids responsibility for what is being said.

The debacle over military policy and funding in Iraq and Afghanistan lead to phrases such as “We are where we are…” and “It is time to move on.” They were attempts to avoid explaining difficult resourcing and strategy decisions. We felt annoyed that our timetables for making sense of things were being hi-jacked by others who wanted to avoid scrutiny.

The current explanations given to us are doing exactly the same. We want a new type of politics where, for better or worse, we converse actively, precisely and personally.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, the passive is very useful for avoiding responsibility. So, "a mistake has been made..."

    ReplyDelete

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