Category Archives: the state of the art

Against Gobbledygook

Alfred Kahn’s 1977 memo to the Civil Aeronautics Board, instructing members to avoid “the artificial and hyper-legal language that is sometimes known as bureaucratese or gobbledygook,” is not just a comic orthogon to the history of paperwork (about which, more here) but also a font of still-useful writing tips. The wonderful Letters of Note blog has the full letter. Here’s Kahn on the passive voice:

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 “I hit him with a stone.” The active voice is far more forthright, direct, and human. (There are, of course, some circumstances in which the use of the passive is unavoidable; please try to confine it to those situations.)

The “Big Bang Theory” Theory

A theory is, my dictionary says, a supposition intended to explain something. In the Wall Street Journal today, Virginia Postrel offers a supposition intended to explain this:

… “The Big Bang Theory,” the CBS sitcom featuring Sheldon [a theoretical physicist] and his three almost-as-elite geeky friends, is among the most popular shows on TV. Kicking off the network’s now-dominant Thursday-night lineup, it attracts about 15 million viewers a week. Now in its fourth season, it’s the top-rated Thursday-night program among adults 18 to 49 years old and those 25 to 54.

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