You readers are not going to like this, because you've heard too much on the topic already, and you are begging for relief; but I am going to report it anyway. My job is not to be merciful; my job is to get stuff out there, on the record. Charles Krauthammer, whom the Financial Times in 2006 described as the most influential commentator in America, is yet one more major figure who doesn't know his passive from a hole in the ground. His June 12 column in the Washington Post, "Obama Hovers From On High", says:
"On religious tolerance, he gently referenced the Christians of Lebanon and Egypt, then lamented that the 'divisions between Sunni and Shia have led to tragic violence' (note the use of the passive voice)."
No, Mr Krauthammer, we do not note the use of the passive voice: clauses of the form X has/have/had led to Y are in the active voice. Now, your defenders, I know, are going to say that all you meant was that Obama did not specify the agents of the tragic violence. But tragic violence is simply a noun phrase, like mythic affluence or comic indolence. The passive has nothing to do with it. If you are noting a reluctance to come out and say who commits violence, then say that. Don't lurk behind a putative linguistic observation because you think it will sound more like someone who went to college. Did you want Obama to make the agent fully explicit? Did you want him to stand there in Cairo and say, "divisions between Sunni and Shia have led you dogma-crazed towelheads to unloose brutal violence and large-scale war on each other, killing millions of your own people, you insane bastards"? Then just say so. (And recommend a comparable-sized bit that he could have cut: this version is about 20 words longer.) Because I am getting really tired of these mealy-mouthed, misinformed, pseudo-syntactic grumblings about the passive voice. And Language Log readers, I know, are getting really sick of me saying so.
[Thanks to Geoff Nunberg for the tip-off.]