Boneheaded advice about the hand of God

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A web page about songs referring to God, pointed out to me by James Kabala, makes a critical remark about the grammar or style of one of the song titles:

11. New Order – 'Touched by the Hand of God'
Though it's guilty of one of the most heinous journalistic crimes – that of 'passive voice' (it should technically be "Touched by God's Hand," although it wouldn't be nearly as catchy) – this song is one of New Order's finest.

I have been collecting boneheaded usage advice on passives for a long time, but I am truly staggered at this one. The writer thinks touched by the hand of God is a passive clause, and is correct about that, but also thinks that "technically" it should be changed to touched by God's hand, which is not!

Both are, of course, passive clauses. There is nothing wrong with either of them, and the catchiness suggestion is nonsense: the two phrases have different metrical structure, but the catchiness would depend on the tune that was melded to the lyrics.

The only difference between them lies in the structure of the noun phrase in the internalized passive complement (the by-phrase). The hand of God is a noun phrase with a possessor-expressing complement preposition phrase after the head noun hand; whereas God's hand has a genitive determiner (God's) instead, to express the same meaning.

The ignorance of what makes a clause passive is quite extreme. The writer must think that "passive" means "longer or clunkier than it could have been". One sees why at one point Mark Liberman decided that the term passive was now dead (it had "died after a long illness"), and wrote an obituary for it. People use this term, and use it when pontificating about other people's prose, but they tend to have absolutely no idea what it means.

The appallingly ignorant web page quoted above, by the way, was on, a Hearst Corporation company that "creates quality lifestyle content for the coveted 18-34 male audience". If you are part of that coveted audience (and we do covet you), clearly thinks you should not be reading Language Log: you should have more video games, rock music journalism, and pictures of female film stars in your life. So get with it. But don't take your grammar or style advice from over there, come back to Language Log for that, OK?

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