Content Strategy

Pinker and the passive voice: what does science have to do with it? (Part A)

Posted by Richard Howard on Dec 3, 2014 7:18:00 AM

A long-time Microsoft editor recently posted the following link to the company’s main distribution list for editors:

Science Says You Can Split Infinitives and Use the Passive Voice

What initially caught my eye was the Steven Pinker reference in the URL. Pinker, a one-time Noam Chomsky acolyte, is well-regarded across a wide range of language-studies schools of thought, and I’ve had a generally positive impression of him. So, that headline gave me pause—could Pinker really be taking issue with Richard Lanham’s advocacy of the active voice as a way of cutting through the gibberish of The Official Style, the self-serving spin of the government or corporate bureaucrat? (Example: “Mistakes were made.”)

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Topics: technical writing, writing, writing style, Noam Chomsky, passive voice, Microsoft, Steven Pinker, Richard Lanham, active voice