Passive Aggression

Blowout party with cake

The Supreme Court hearings in Washington have primed me for a rant. No, not a political rant. You can find those everywhere you look on the internet.

What I have in mind to rant about, instead, is the passive voice. It brings out the aggressiveness in me. Not passive aggression, but an aggressive attitude toward certain common expressions that provide perfect examples of why the passive voice needs renaming.

We should call it the Wimpy Voice.

Most of those who opine on the subject — and show me a writing expert who hasn’t! — offer examples like these to demonstrate why the active voice enlivens writing while the passive voice just deadens it:

PASSIVE: The candles on the cake were blown out by Mary Jane.


ACTIVE: Mary Jane blew out the candles on the cake.

Or …

PASSIVE: A blowout party was thrown by Mary Jane.


ACTIVE: Mary Jane threw a blowout party.

Far be it from me to consider these examples inadequate. The point made by them — Oops! The point they make — is crystal clear.

But the expressions that really rattle my eardrums are those that have insidiously wormed their way into our everyday speech. For instance …

A fun time was had by all at Mary Jane’s party.


We all had a fun time at Mary Jane’s party.

Or …

On the music at Mary Jane’s party: Tom’s toe-tapping tunes were appreciated by all.


We just loved Tom’s toe-tapping tunes!

Or …

At a retirement party: That old sonuvagun will really be missed.


We’re gonna really miss that old sonuvagun!


Had by all … appreciated by all … be really missed! Ugh!

Let’s just say, “We loved it, dammit! We hate to see him go! And we’ll never miss the Wimpy Voice!”

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