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Rhetorically speaking…
Speechwriters Blog on Speechwriting

Actively Passive

At this time of year, my time is usually filled up with helping FTSE companies prepare their interim statements. This year has been no different, but times are tougher than usual and this has thrown up some interesting linguistic dilemmas.

When I first became a Cabinet speechwriter ten years ago, I was told that I should always write in the active voice and never write in the passive - EVER.

This advice remains prevalent - but it is complete tosh. Yes, the active voice is appropriate when the speaker wants to clearly identify the main protagonist and what they have done… but such clarity is not always helpful, in business or politics.

Take Nixon’s, ‘Mistakes were made’. Or Bush’s, ‘Collateral damage has occurred.’ The expedient use of the passive voice neatly side-stepped the issue of culpability.

Likewise, in the recent interim results. The more abominable the results, the greater the use of the passive voice.

Hence, this morning we heard the following glorious passive statement from Michael Grade at ITV’s: ‘Our financial results for the half year reflect the impact of the unprecedented downturn in television advertising…’ It makes ITV sound helpless. A victim of events. ‘Not our fault, guv!’

Has it worked? Well, the share prices is up 3.5% on trading and still climbing… We should never under-estimate the power of the passive.

Posted by Simon Lancaster on August 6th, 2009 :: Filed under Random
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