We have seen the future, and it sucks.

The Elements of Bureaucratic Style

14th April 2017

Read it.

What became clear to me in this exchange is that the passive voice is itself unsuited for the lexical landscape of United’s email, which itself is part of a larger world we now find ourselves in, where corporate and government bureaucracies rely heavily on language to shape our perception. Munoz’s email relies heavily on the passive voice to evade culpability, but he also employs a host of other rhetorical moves that collude to put the blame on the man who was assaulted and carried out on a stretcher. Like a well-trained bureaucrat, Munoz used an array of syntactical choices in a predictable, quantifiable, and deliberate manner, and it’s time we recognize it for what it is.

Cue mandatory derogatory references to the Left’s boogeymen Nigel Farage and Donald Trump.

As I’ve written elsewhere, the thrust of these style guides falls back to a weird kind of masculine virility. The terms themselves—“passive” and “active”—rely heavily on received tropes of gendered norms, and for that reason alone we should be suspicious of them.

Just lookin’ for phobes, man, just lookin’ for phobes.

The term “officer-involved shooting” is a perfect example of bureaucratic speech: It invariably is paired with an active verb (“an officer-involved shooting occurred”) and yet the entire purpose of the construction is to imbue the scene with passivity. Police did not kill anyone; a shooting just occurred and it happened to involve officers. There is no actor in an officer-involved shooting, and not even any real actions. We don’t even technically know who was shot, only that an officer was somehow involved. An entire syntactical arrangement consisting of a subject (“police”), a verb (“shot”), and an object (“a civilian”) are transmuted into a noun (“shooting”) with a compound adjective (“officer-involved”) attached. It’s almost as if nothing took place at all.

This is even more obvious in the Politically Correct phrase used for partial-birth abortion: ‘intact dilation and extraction’, which could be something involving a car crash and the Jaws of Life.

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