RE: Hocus Pocus (was "appears" vs. "is displayed")

Subject: RE: Hocus Pocus (was "appears" vs. "is displayed")
From: "Thomas Quine" <quinet -at- home -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 15 Nov 2000 10:18:44 -0800

[Thom Quine writes] Sorry to belabour a point, and not wanting to squabble,
but I meant it when I said this problem confuses me, and I do believe that
some mistaken constructions end up confusing the reader, or at least giving
the reader pause. So I'm driving on in the hope of achieving clarity...
Sandra Charker writes:

Oh Good Grief!!!!

>An earlier poster was correct in stating that "The New Customer window
>appears" is a passive construction, since one hallmark of the passive voice
>is difficulty in identifying the subject. Who or what made the New Customer
>window appear? In the above sentence, on the face of it, the New Customer
>window appeared, wraithlike, by itself!

I don't know where this superstitious fear of the passive voice comes from,
but I do wish those who panic at a legitimate and widely-used language
construction at least learn to identify it properly. In sentences written
in active voice, the subject of the sentence and the actor in the sentence
are the same. In sentences written in passive voice, the subject of the
sentence is acted upon by something else that might or might not be
[Thom Quine writes] In the sentence, "The New Customer window appears", the
apparent subject and actor are the same - New Customer window itself. If
this sentence is actually in the active voice, as Sandra argues, the New
Customer window is a self-animated wraith.
I felt the construction was passive because, in Sandra's own words, "the
subject of the sentence is acted upon by something else that might or might
not be identified." Perhaps I was wrong, but the confusion is there because
the true actor is missing from the sentence. If I had time, I'm sure I could
find an example of instructions that are confusing because the true actor
cannot be identified.
Sandra wrote: Actually, I have a superstitious belief that Strunk & White
are responsible (no that's NOT a passive construction) for this inane taboo.
[Thom Quine writes] Being able to clearly identify the actor is at the heart
of technical writing, which is why the form is not well suited to the
passive voice. Of course the passive voice is an essential and valuable part
of writing, it just can lead to confusion when writing instructions. Thus,
avoiding it in technical writing is hardly an "inane taboo".
[Thom Quine writes] Thanks for earlier posts - I think I'm just going to
switch over to "opens" and be done with it! I'm sure the readers can figure
it out from there...

- Thom

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