Sunday, January 09, 2011

far more forthright, direct, humane

Image: The Kahn Memo via The Best American Poetry

The passive voice is wildly overused in government writing. Typically its purpose is to conceal information — one is less likely to be jailed if one says, ‘He was hit by a stone,’ than if he says, ‘I hit him with a stone.’ The active voice is far more forthright, direct, humane.

Economist Alfred E. Kahn in a memo to his Civil Aeronautics Board staff in 1977, cited by his friend Robert Frank in today's New York Times.

Stacey Harwood also wrote about the memo in The Best American Poetry shortly after Kahn's death, and posted image copies online if you'd like to give it a read.

I have heard it said that style is not substance, but without style what is substance? — Kahn

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