On Passive Voice

by Van W.

This is one of those stories that starts out as an email, then turns out to be something you want to say to two or three, and then, Bam, something happens. The outcome of this took some twists and turns I did not anticipate. That makes it a story.


I have been reflecting on the use of passive voice in my writing. M/S Word complains about it. One friend complains about it. Another says he likes the way I write. I wonder what the origin of the usage is? Is it the way I am wired? A statement that is itself in passive voice. Neurologically there are at least two kinds of interesting people: Connection rich, and neuron rich. This oversimplifies the more important question of, "What are one's neurons bathed in?", but I will defer the neurotransmitter-bath-is-everything-issue for a moment.


I am constantly asking myself questions.


In a recent book I asked,

What is the lowest frequency that a given process can reproduce?

The technical details are not important, but the structure of the question is.


When I found the answer, I encoded it as:

The lowest frequency is determined by the frame rate.

There's that passive voice again, referring from the caboose to the locomotive, making the train go backwards…


Why? Because my hook is the three word term, "The lowest frequency", not the blank stare placeholder, "what".

(I am a living sea of three word hooks, and wrote a system intended to reflect that way of thinking.)


Restating the answer provides active voice.

Frame rate determines the lowest frequency that a given process can reproduce.

In this latter edition, the term "what" (from the original question) is replaced by The Answer, in this case, "frame rate".


I do not decode by the obvious hook of "what". I decode by the three word term, "The lowest frequency."


So Bam there it is. I encode and decode in a manner that favors passive voice.


This produces a serious twist.

This confers certain advantages and disadvantages.


Was it the French I took before my language centers were completely pruned?


Perhaps the problem is similar to the adjectival one, to wit:

There is no coffee table in France. Only the table upon which coffee may be placed.


I will end with an even more bizarre perspective.


I had a dream I was in the army. In it received a "section four". Someone told me, "You can get thirty days if you do that again". I woke up and thought about it. Twice would be a "section eight". I checked with a friend. A "section eight" is what Klinger was trying to get on M*A*S*H to get out of the Army.


My point. I have "wobble" in my thinking. Wobble is defined in a footnote.. Loose vacuous holes in which the wrong term or idea can slip in, mutating into a new one. Does this make me connection rich, neuron rich, or simply a food product, like Swiss cheese? Example. Was Klinger trying to get out the Army or out of the television series? This may be obvious, clear and certain to you. What a gift. I have to take a fleeting moment to construct a set of possible realities and examine them for the correct interpretation. Then I say, "Of course. It was a story." pretending to be just like everyone else in the audience, even though I am a click behind, laughing after the studio has gotten very quiet. In the reality of the story, Klinger was trying to "escape". The result of that escape has three possible outcomes, suggested by language:


Klinger can escape from the Army, but keeps his job in the TV series.

Klinger can escape from the Army, but if he does, he won't be on the series any more.

Klinger can escape from the Army, appear in my living room, and ask for a place to stay.


Then I remember.


Klinger is not in the Army, he is on a TV show.

Klinger is an actor.

Klinger does not really exist. And yet there he is. I'm watching him do some fine work.


What were we talking about? Oh yeah.


Language is an amazing thing, requiring us, yet seeming to exist independently of us. I will use it as I see fit, with respectful deference to those with whom I am attempting to communicate. Those remain at best, "attempts". This reminds me yet again, that we are, in our totality, merely expressions, in the Handwriting of G-d on this runaway freight train existence called planet Earth.

I would have been done, but it turns out there flash cards, explicitly written in the passive voice, for people with people who speak English as a second language, for autistics, and for situations where the passive voice is more natural like, "How does it work?" •


To make us, 64 RNA triplets code non-uniquely for 20 amino acids. The most significant bit is the first member of the triplet, followed by the second and third. The uncertainty in the coding has to do with a tolerance problem termed, "wobble" in the ribosomal translation machinery.