passive voice & other correctness issues

Subject: passive voice & other correctness issues
From: Mark I Halpern <Mark_Halpern -at- SMTPGATE -dot- TESSERACT -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 7 Nov 1996 13:20:09 PST

Colleagues,

Today's postings have been educational even beyond the usual standards
of this discussion group.

First, I learned that there are technical writers and editors who
presume to correct the work of others by changing all passive
constructions to active ones, without regard to the appropriateness of
voice to the meaning of the particular sentence in question.

Then I learned that some of these remarkably self-confident writers
and editors don't know the difference between voice and tense.

Then I learned that some writers -- I assume Kim Shaw is not alone
-- think that "few writers or readers understand the difference in
meaning between past perfect and simple past tense," and deal with
this situation by simply changing the past perfect to the simple past
"just to get rid of a few extra words."

Then I learned from a message from John Ahlstrom that one Dennis
Baron, in a book called "Guide to Home Language Repair," had said


When a language critic complains about a word or
construction, you can be fairly certain that the target
expression has already become common enough to be
considered standard and correct, and that if you read or
listen long enough, you will find the offending bit of
language in the language critic's speech or writing,



This quotation was offered to show (presumably) that all criticism of
language usage is foolish or worse. I think the passage needs a little
rewriting to make its meaning clear, and I offer such a rewriting here:


When a medical researcher issues a warning about a
microbe or virus, you can be fairly certain that the
target organism has already become common enough to be
considered nearly ubiquitous, and that if you observe
and test long enough, you will find the offending
pathogen in the medical researcher's blood or solid
tissues.


I'm not sure I have the mental capacity to learn any more such
lessons today, so I may take a little holiday from TECHWR-L, and give
myself a chance to digest all these new ideas.

Mark Halpern
mark_halpern -at- tesseract -dot- com


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