Getting Back to Active (Voice)

volcano“It’s back to work that I want to go,” Grammar Smith said.

“Lieutenant, you are still suffering the effects of your deep undercover assignment,” Dr. Query said.  “You helped save the world but at great personal cost. You just don’t come back from that very quickly.”

“I’ve been working really hard at it, though. I really think I’m ready.”

“Yes, you’ve made great progress. However, I think you need a little more time.”

“But we just stopped a major passive voice outbreak. There’s still work to be done,” Grammar pleaded.

“I’m sorry, Lieutenant,” Dr.Query said. “You’re just not quite ready.”

Will Grammar Smith be able to detox from passive voice? Will she be able to get back to actively fight against English language abuses? Will Dis Connect ever stop eating doughnuts?

Stay tuned…


Act Now to Save the Sun

eclipse gifDetective Dis Connect was worried. He hadn’t heard from Lieutenant Grammar Smith in two weeks. Smith was deep undercover pursuing Peter Passive  and his group of energy sappers.

Things were getting dire. Passive’s network of followers had grown to critical mass. Their ennui was starting to affect the world, maybe even the universe. Experts reported that the lack of active voice was starting to influence the sun. Things were going to turn dark, very dark. People needed to avoid the passive voice.

Grammar was supposed to contact Dis with the location of Passive’s largest group of disciples. The Department of English Language Offenses could then take action.

Dis hadn’t heard a peep from her.

Riinnnnng! Riinnnggg!

This was it.

“Hello,” Dis answered.

“Peter Passive’s group was infiltrated by me,” Grammar said.

“Where are you?”

“The location is unknown by me.”

“Grammar, why are you talking so funny?”

“It is the sun that is the target. Light will be blocked by the group’s inertia.”

“Grammar, come in from the cold!” Dis was desperately concerned. “You’re starting to become one of them!”

“Texts, tweets, and posts in active voice must be sent out immediately by grammar geeks everywhere. Saving our world can only be done this way.”

“Grammar! Where are you? I’ll come get you.”

“The forces of active voice must be sent out today by grammar geeks. You must unite them!”

The line suddenly went dead.

As worried as he was about Grammar, Dis had more important things to do.

Sergeant Metaphor came running into the squad room as Dis hung up on his first call to Grammar Geeks of the World.

“Det. Connect! Look out the window. The sun! It’s starting to go dark.”

Would Dis’s efforts be too late? Will Grammar be able to escape the lethargy Peter Passive had trapped her in? Would the Grammar Geeks of the world be able to pump out enough active voice sentences to save the planet?

Do your bit. Bring back the sun.

Bluntness and the Art of Empathy

Grumpy Cat meme - Hurt your feelings? Too Bad!We all know at least one of them; one person who is, to put it politely, continually blunt.

That’s the type of person who has no problem saying exactly what she thinks, no matter the fallout. Often they’re surprised when people get offended by what and how they say things. Usually, they are the nicest people. It’s just that their mouths engage before their minds can stop them.

I was related to someone like that. It took a long, long time for me to understand that what he was saying wasn’t malicious; it was just unfiltered. And it’s not like I haven’t said some things at times in ways I wish I hadn’t.

It’s hard to revise in the middle of a conversation, especially when emotions run high. We often lose our empathy when we’re hurrying to slip something into the conversation. In the heat of verbal battle, we forget that words can sting – for a long time.

When we write, we have the luxury of time to revise. We have strategies and techniques to give bad news without too much offense. Although I’m not a big fan of passive voice, it is a perfect way to depersonalize a situation to make it more palatable.

Revision is vital – vital, I say – when writing sensitive things, especially in business. We need to put things aside for a while and come back pretending to be the reader.

We have to ask, “How would I feel if I received this?”

Now, I’m not advocating lying or putting too much “spin” on a situation. That just makes people distrust you. What I’m saying is, present sensitive information as if you and the reader, two reasonable people, are examining the circumstances like amoebas under a microscope. Show the reader.

“There you are,” you say. “This is the way it is.”

It’s hard to argue with that.

Is there a place for bluntness? Yes, there are times when people have to be shaken out of their apathy. However, we need to use it judiciously. We can’t swing bluntness around like a club, or a lot people will get hurt unnecessarily. And it can demolish our chances to maintain a fruitful relationship.

I was talking with someone and said how mystified I was at the meteoric rise of a certain presidential candidate because of the verbiage he was spouting.

“People want honesty,” she said.

“You can be honest without being offensive,” I replied.

That’s my policy, and I’m sticking with it.

Editors Against Passive Voice

I’m prejudiced. Yes, I admit that I hate passive voice.Passive Voice Boot

Unfortunately, so many people out there just love passive voice. Leading the charge are academics and government workers. (I’m leaving out lawyers; that’s a totally hopeless verbal morass best ignored.)

Let me explain. Passive voice occurs when the thing or person a verb acts upon becomes the subject. We can usually tell it’s happening because a form of the verb to be with the past participle pops up:

The long, boring text in passive voice was read by the editor.

As an editor, I am obligated to try to convert writers to the active side. It’s a struggle. I tend to collapse in a heap after a long ordeal with passive voice, large clumps of my own hair peeking out through my clenched fingers, tears of frustration building in my eyes. (Is it possible for woman to end up looking like Perry White from the ’60s show Superman? I sure hope not!)

The problem is, we’re all programmed to think that writing in passive voice makes us sound “smart” since that is how all the mucky-mucks in academia write. If passive voice really were the “smart” way to write, we’d all read college textbooks for pleasure. (“The abnormal psychology book was read by me, and excitement was generated!”)

So many fall into the passive voice trap. One area is business writing where convoluted writing, along with jargon and trendy phrases (topics for another day and another tirade) can actually hurt the bottom line. No one in business has the time to decipher writing that seems to have stepped out of the 1700s where folks wrote in a form equivalent to a bad Latin translation.Time is money, and muddy, unclear writing causes confusion and mistakes.

Sure, sometimes we need to write in passive voice but only when the noun or pronoun taking the action is the important piece in the puzzle:

John F. Kennedy was shot in 1963.

How insidious is passive voice? When I was managing editor for a newspaper chain, I had one writer (who had a graduate degree, mind you) who consistently wrote in passive voice – for news stories! I constantly had to rewrite all that writer’s stories. Ticked me off big time!

“What’s the big deal?” you ask. “What’s so terribly wrong with sounding smart?”

It’s wrong because it’s selfish writing. People who are more concerned with sounding intelligent are full of themselves. We should write to clearly convey a message or a meaning. We write for the audience, not for ourselves. We should use passive voice only when necessary, not as the prevailing tone for all our writing.

Folks, use the active voice! It is so much more interesting and effective.