Comments on: Monday links sound a bit funny A slice of lime in the soda Sun, 26 Oct 2014 19:05:02 +0000 hourly 1 By: dsquared Tue, 30 Jun 2009 11:30:29 +0000 oh lor, are we going to have “Nukeman Of The Week” as a regular feature? The one you link to this week is claiming that France is building breeder reactors, when all they’ve actually done is plan to have the design features of one decided on by 2012. He also seems to claim that a commercial-scale pyroprocessing plant could be built for $1bn. That’s really hilarious. There needs to be at least some quality control over this stuff.

By: Acharn Tue, 30 Jun 2009 05:14:33 +0000 The biggest problem with the passive construction is that it’s often used as a way to avoid naming the agent. “Deregulation was often favored.” “Fraud was often overlooked.” In other words, the active voice is usually recommended because it forces the naming of who it was that performed the action.

By: Don the libertarian Democrat Tue, 30 Jun 2009 05:04:51 +0000 “Some of the senator’s tweets make him sound like a peasant. On May 19th he said: “Meeting with Dr Kissinger – the smartest man in the world.”

Can people still sound like peasants? I understand what John Lennon was getting at in “Working Class Hero”:

“Keep you doped with religion and sex and tv
And you think youre so clever and classless and free
But youre still f—–g peasants as far as I can see
A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be”

But sounding like a peasant doesn’t work for me. Calling Henry Kissinger the smartest man in the world sounds more like poor judgment or a misunderstanding of the word “smartest”.

As for the passive in English, my understanding is that it is a construction. In other words, any transitive active sentence can be made into a passive construction with the same meaning.

John read the book.

The book was read by John.

In Biblical Hebrew and Classical Arabic, for example, this construction rarely occurs. Instead, you have incomplete passives:

John read the book.

The book was read.

But not:

The book was read by John.

In Biblical Hebrew, the Niphal, a passive construction in many cases, is often used with God, where his agency is implied.

God created the earth.

The earth was created.

So, saying that someone uses the passive in English doesn’t signify anything but a stylistic choice. It does not change the meaning. The chance from agent to object doesn’t imply being powerless or lack of responsibility. However, I’m no expert.