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Old 22nd November 2012, 12:05 AM   #41
appalling
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This is not fair to Strunk and White.

As you have pointed out they say,
Quote:
This rule does not, of course, mean that the writer should entirely discard the passive voice, which is frequently convenient and sometimes necessary.
We can all agree that S&W are explicitly supporting the continued use of the passive voice here and not advocating its extinction.

The section promotes favouring the active voice and is not about eliminating the passive voice. (I believe that if it were about eliminating the passive voice, the heading would have been "Stop using the passive voice." You also can't support that interpretation with the inconvenient word "usually" as the fifth word in the section.)

The examples at the end of the section that you (and Pullum) use to support the idea that they "don't even seem to know what the passive is" are not listed as examples of the passive voice in need of correction. They aren't. The examples are introduced in order to show how substitution of an active transitive verb is better than the use of weak or cliched phrasing. It says so, right before the examples. The choice of examples only seem error-ridden if you are trying to read it as advice to find-and-eliminate-all-passive-voice-structures. It is not. Any argument that relies on the idea that Strunk and White are trying to correct all instances of the "frequently convenient and sometimes necessary" passive voice are not helpful.

The section is a broader attempt to convince the reader to use active transitive verbs more habitually. Confusion might have been avoided with a sub-head reading [Weaker vs. Stronger Constructions] to head off people who read it as [Here's Where We Destroy Instances of the Passive Voice] but it's hardly fair or supportable to go from moment of non-clarity to "both authors were grammatical incompetents."

And, as far as blaming authors for the actions of their readers, as Pullam says...

Quote:
Sadly, writing tutors tend to ignore this moderation,
I don't know how you can reconcile this admission that readers ignore moderation in the book with the idea that that book is somehow irresponsibly lacking that moderation. This is blaming the authors for the actions of the readers they are clearly and explicitly seeking to help. Your additional Pullum quote, where he cites "writing instructors" having a faulty understanding of the passive tense, is still not evidence of what the authors of Section 14 of The Elements of Style knew.

I like a lot of Pullum's work, he's quite enjoyable, and I will certainly look forward to reading his future work. Here he was using Strunk and White as a fun punching bag and it discounts the bulk that is worthwhile there. It's certainly been written elsewhere that he was overly harsh here, but it was within the realms of an opinion piece. Fortunately, I'd suggest that more people continue to improve their writing with these pithy tips than are "degraded" by them.
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Old 22nd November 2012, 12:35 AM   #42
Baylor
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Originally Posted by Foolmewunz View Post
If someone's looking to write a composition for Colonial History 101, it's perfectly adequate as some thumbnail advice, but it's certainly not the go to source for professional writers. Like the Pirate Code, "it's more a set of guidelines".
I don't think anyone is saying it should be. I'd hope a professional writer would have more skill than to rely on an outdated English 101 rule book. Just like I'd hope a modern day composer would have more tools in his toolchest than having to rely on Walter Piston's Harmony. It was the definitive source on the subject some 50 years ago. Now, it's outdated but could still serve as a useful starting point.
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Old 22nd November 2012, 08:25 AM   #43
angrysoba
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Originally Posted by appalling View Post
We can all agree that S&W are explicitly supporting the continued use of the passive voice here and not advocating its extinction.
Yet you said:

Originally Posted by appalling View Post
Pullum seems to be arguing with a kind of mythical S&W who said "Never ever do this".
You seem to be arguing with a mythical Pullum. I have already pointed out that Pullum doesn't say that Strunk and White argue for the elimination of the passive. In fact, he makes it very explicit that that is not what he is saying. That is a strawman of your making.
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Old 22nd November 2012, 09:50 AM   #44
vtbub
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Write, write, write.

Start a blog and read your comments.

I write for Bleacher Report and was hired to cover the World Series this year.

Learning online style is important.
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Old 22nd November 2012, 12:23 PM   #45
Anerystos
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Originally Posted by DallasDad View Post
It depends entirely upon the amount of aspiration. The rule for using "an" doesn't speak of succeeding vowels, but succeeding vowel sounds. If your dialect has a very soft or non-existent aspiration, it's perfectly fine to use "an."

Then, too, some combinations of words have become the norm over time in contradiction to the rules. One often hears "an historical novel" but seldom hears "an history."
OK DD, I agree: I should have emphasised “vowel sounds” rather than “vowels”.

Originally Posted by angrysoba View Post
The one usually cited is carrot's 10p, sent up by Stewart Lee in a tongue-in-cheek way as in, "Oh really? This is a 10p piece that belongs to a carrot, is it? Are you saying that carrots are capable of accruing wealth?"

Oh really? Are you a honest man? Have you been to an university?
We have in the UK a comedian called Jasper Carrot. It could have been his 10p.

I’m definitely not an onest man

Originally Posted by Cynic View Post
The point, of course, which Paul W has already alluded to ("an istorical") is that it isn't about how you spell it, it's about how you say it. The construction "an historical" probably doesn't sound nearly as stupid in Britain as it does in America. But it does sound stupid in America and for good reason.

One size fits all grammar rules fail. IMO, when in doubt, trust your ear. If it sounds wrong, it probably is -- even if it use to be right..
Precisely.
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Old 22nd November 2012, 12:26 PM   #46
appalling
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Originally Posted by angrysoba View Post
You seem to be arguing with a mythical Pullum. I have already pointed out that Pullum doesn't say that Strunk and White argue for the elimination of the passive. In fact, he makes it very explicit that that is not what he is saying. That is a strawman of your making.
Don't mix things up, now. I wasn't referring to his criticism of Section 14 when I disagreed with his complaint that they weren't consistent in their unholy demands.

That point was about sentiments such as,

Quote:
What's wrong is that the grammatical advice proffered in Elements is so misplaced and inaccurate that counterexamples often show up in the authors' own prose on the very same page.
and

Quote:
It is much too important to be reduced to a bunch of trivial don't-do-this prescriptions by a pair of idiosyncratic bumblers who can't even tell when they've broken their own misbegotten rules.
(Tell me, how it is a straw man argument to say that he seems to be arguing against something like "Never ever do this" when his own words are "don't-do-this prescriptions"? Are the phrases too dissimilar?)

Hunting down hypocrisies in a book that frequently advocates that there is no one true way to do things is immature at best. It weakens his better arguments. In someone of Pullum's stature it's amusing and provocative, like hearing Eric Clapton trashing David Bowie as an imposter. But he's not being fair to the text.

You have to ignore every "usually", every "prefer", every "unless", in truth, you have to strip it of every qualifier to see it as the bossy and didactic book Pullum characterizes it as here. You have to misread the word "avoid" to mean "never use".

As far as his views on Section 14, he wishes the book to be a more complete primer on grammar, as a career linguist would, I suppose. But it's not. Pullum, himself, takes 2500 excellent words to begin to explain the passive to his satisfaction. He should not expect that level of exposition from The Elements of Style, a book that doesn't claim to be a comprehensive tour of grammar, but a book of tips and principles to make adequate writing better. But he does expect it, and then attacks it for not achieving it. He attacks it not being the book he wants it to be, and ignores why it's been useful, why it's endured even as no writer should use it as their only support.

Elements is simply a set of principles to sometimes apply to sharpen your otherwise adequate writing, and while it has faults, it's worth more than a hatchet job.

Last edited by appalling; 22nd November 2012 at 02:01 PM.
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Old 26th November 2012, 10:11 AM   #47
Anerystos
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My comment in #23 about PG Wodehouse triggered off a long suspended desire to try to find his wartime “Broadcasts from Berlin”. For those not familiar with them he was interned by the Nazis during WW2, shortly after he had been released from internment as he agreed to do a series of five broadcasts about his experiences as an internee – not a POW.

Banging into Mr Google something like “PG Wodehouse wartime broadcasts” chucked them up immediately.

They are worth reading, not just for the content (which is basically extracting the urine from the whole situation as an internee), but for the non-conventional language. He was and still is widely regarded for the elegance of his writing. I particularly like his description of several characters in his books as "mentally negligible". I can think of a number of my acquaintances to whom this applies: I will use it when appropriate!

For anyone who wants to read unconventional English at its elegantly best, try these broadcasts..

As a matter of interest he was ostracised after WW2 because of these broadcasts, although near the end of his life he received a Knighthood. Essentially, the underlying humour was missed in the wartime and postwar hysteria.

The Wikipedia biography (qv) seems to be reasonably accurate.
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Old 26th November 2012, 12:20 PM   #48
Anerystos
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Further to #23 and #47, I'm halfway through Wodehouse's Berlin Broadcasts and the grammar checker in Word seems to be having trouble. It doesn't seem to understand English.

Perhaps someone should be told.

But the English is elegant!

Last edited by Anerystos; 26th November 2012 at 12:21 PM.
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Old 27th November 2012, 12:37 PM   #49
dudalb
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Originally Posted by UNLoVedRebel View Post
You should know that Strunk & White is controversial in this forum. Some pretentious ass holes claim it's dumbed down American English. In reality, it was originally written for an entry level college English class where students have a tendency to overwrite. It's a good starting point, but should never be used as an absolute gospel. The theme of the book is "you have to know the rules before you can break them." Why would you use the passive voice over the active? Strunk saw that most students gratuitously used the passive voice, so he insisted on using the active voice. English is an active language, after all.
Strunk himself in "The Elements Of Style" stated that his book was not to be considered an absolute set of rules.
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