Tuesday, April 03, 2007

It must be Tuesday...PC's on her soapbox again.

Here’s one of my favorite sayings: “Better to say nothing and be thought an idiot than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” I think we need to get to work spreading that thought around, because it seems half of the internet community doesn’t realize the truth inherent in that statement.

I’ve ranted before on the importance of evaluating any source you find—especially those on the internet. Anyone can post anything. Wanna hear my thoughts on how cell phones work? It involves trolls and long pieces of string. I could go post that on my web page and call myself a Cell Phone Scholar while I’m at it. I’d be completely full of crap, but I’m sure somebody would believe me.

Have you seen this website? It’s all about the dangers of Dihydrogen Monoxide. A quick glance at the page shows the stuff is obviously dangerous as hell. However, the only reason I even found this website was because someone on another page was railing at the government for not banning it. SAVE OUR CHILDREN!! WHY IS NOTHING BEING DONE?!?!?!

Umm, dihydrogen monoxide is H2O. This hysterical person had a whole webpage rant about the dangers of water and the need to ban it. Open mouth; hang up idiot sign.


The life of the English teacher (as if it wasn’t bad enough) took a horrible turn in 1995 when Alanis Morrissette released her song “Ironic.” I now spend inordinate amounts of class time explaining that no, a black fly in your Chardonnay is not ironic. Nor is rain on your wedding day. Or spoons when you need a knife. Yet classroom upon classroom of students wish to argue with me about it. Let’s see, whom shall we believe when it comes to literary terminology and its application? A rock star or our English teacher? Hmmm… Let me think about that… Sadly, I lose every single time. (Please, trust me on this—when Alanis asks, “Isn’t it ironic?” JUST SAY NO!)

Yet, it can be even worse.

Marilyn sent me a link the other day, probably just for the grins of watching my head explode. I read in horror an article all about avoiding the passive voice in your fiction. This poor child could not be any farther away from knowing what passive voice is or how to avoid it if I sent her to Pluto. (I say “child” because it only took me two clicks to find her bio and see that’s she’s 18. Not that an 18-year-old won’t know how to avoid the passive, but I wouldn’t take that advice as the be-all-end-all.) Yet, her article has received an astounding 4.5 out of 5 rating for its usefulness. Great; a whole lot of people, who upon reading the phrase,

Well, it’s kindda hard to explain… read the Wikipedia article on it and you’ll be left scratching your head. So, instead of trying to describe what the passive voice is, instead I’m just going to explain what it does, why it’s bad, and how to avoid it,”
still figured *this* person was a trustworthy source for information.

The Wikipedia article isn’t the best, but it’s Wikipedia (hel-lo, make my case for me, would you?). However, if you type “passive voice” into Google, the very first entry is for the Online Writing Lab at Purdue University. There, you’ll get a pretty good explanation about passive voice, and the Purdue English Department is pretty smart when it comes to all that grammar stuff. They just might be right.

Hmmm…18-year-old who admits she doesn’t have a clue, yet tells you what to do anyway OR an entire site full of information, explanations, and helpful hints designed by people whom you know have about 500 years of collective experience. (It even has little pictures with arrows and everything!)

(Then, just as my head starts to recuperate, Marilyn sends me to another article. This time, the person putting forth the information is a pretty well-known author. Yet, she’s 100% wrong. Five minutes with a grammar book or an English teacher and she’d have a clue. Sadly, because of who she is, many folks are going to believe what she has to say. And because she’s published and I’m not, I’m going to have a hard time convincing people that she’s wrong in her understanding of passive voice (and several other grammar items).

Yes, Marilyn is evil. And I’m an easy mark when it comes to this stuff.)

I don’t claim to be the sharpest knife in the drawer—not by a long shot. When DG and his friends want a good laugh, they’ll ask me to explain how my cell phone works or where electricity comes from. (I know exactly where electricity comes from. It comes from those holes in the wall and that switch over by the door. I know it exists because Huntsville Utilities sends me a bill for it every month. I’m not alone in this belief either.)

You know what? I don’t expect every person in the world to understand irony and passive voice and pronoun antecedents and subject compliments—if everyone did, I wouldn’t have a job. I went to school for a heck of a long time (and I have the student loans to show for it) just to learn all those fancy names for stuff. Therefore, I think I have a right to be a wee bit huffy when someone just sticks erroneous information out on the internet about it because they’re too lazy to actually go learn it. Just as I would expect the people who design cell phones to get huffy if I put up a web page entitled “How To Keep Your Cell Phone in Top Operating Condition.

I think I’ll open with “I don’t know how they fit the trolls in there, but the ones in my phone do a pretty good job with that long piece of string. I don’t know where the string comes from either, but here’s how I keep it from getting tangled.”

Or, I could just keep my mouth shut about things I know nothing about. Novel idea, huh?


Playground Monitor said...


Shall we tackle "head hopping" next?


Rhonda said...

Oh, goody!!! I love it when you drag out your soapbox!!!

And, you know, I'm going to go out on a limb here and say something I probably shouldn't. When I first started writing I heard all about the evil "was" and passive voice. Here's the thing. If you have a great story, a strong voice, sparkling dialogue and a good sense of pacing...the editor who is looking at your work isn't going to say, "Well darn. There's just too much passive voice in here." Work on making the writing stronger, but don't freak over every "was."

Just my .02...

Maven LJ said...

PC, you're pushing my buttons this morning.

When that "Ironic" song was popular and played on the radio often, you could often see me driving down the road screaming at my radio. It's a miracle I didn't have a wreck. I still hear it now and then, though not as often, thank goodness. "Isn't it ironic?" Picture me leaning toward the radio, screaming "NO, it is NOT!" at the top of my lungs.

Of course, I also laughed hysterically a couple of Christmases ago when a local animal group, The Ark, had an angel tree. It was a noble and worthy effort, but every time the news anchor said "Ark Angel Tree" I laughed. Ark Angel, Arch Angel -- my husband thought the holiday season had finally driven me mad. No one else found it at all amusing.

There is a very select group of people who take this sort of thing seriously. I am among them.


Smarty Pants said...

It's just so fun to get you spun up! :) Just wind her up and let her go for hours of entertainment.

On the subject of passive voice... well, since my 10th grade English teacher gave me a plastic tiara and told me I was the queen of passive voice, I don't think I have any authority to even mention it. I just know Instigator's red pen is a flurry marking out 'was' from my documents. And it does make my writing better, I just wish I knew how to eliminate it from my original flow of words on paper so I didn't have to go back and fix it over and over.

And you mean there aren't trolls in my cell phone?

Rhonda said...

SP, I write the story all the way through, then when I'm done I go back and do a search on words I know I use too ofen--was, smile, etc...--and every place that I can fix it, I do.

I've never heard the "Isn't It Ironic" song. Sounds like I should probably avoid it. :-)

Instigator said...

Oh goody! PC's on her soapbox. I love to watch the fireworks :-)

And I'll be the first to admit that I am grammar challenged. I don't know the rules (but I swear I do have a couple grammar books that I will consult - or I just go to PC and Angel :-) Of course, that assumes I realize something isn't right.) All I know is what sounds right in my head and reads right (to me) on the page. However, I would not even think about writing an article or posting a web page on the subject. That would seriously be the stupid leading the stupid.

I do have to agree with something PM said a few days ago though - passive and weak are often confused. I'm guilty of it! We hear the word passive bandied about so often that it slips into our vocabulary, unfortunately incorrectly.

I really do appreciate your grammar lessons, PC because without them I'd be a heck of a lot more lost than I am.


Kathy said...

Woooooe, dudette! You mean, the song is wrong? Isn't that ironic?

Maybe she is saying something else here. "Don't you think?" Perhaps that is a stab at the millions who listen to songs and don't really understand the words but sing them anyway, believe them anyway. Woooe, it's too early in the morning for this. Way over my head, man.

I do have to say I enjoy your rants, PC. Very interesting! The good news is you make me think about things I take for granted. I think too many of us live blindly, do things because our parents did, say things without thinking because those around us do. Where's the thought? Where's the effort?

Isn't that ironic? Don't you think?

Problem Child said...

Yes, the irony in "Ironic" is that it's not in the least.

I don't see head hopping as a venial sin. Unless someone is out there spreading false info...

Ignorance doesn't bother me--it's easy to fix with knowledge. Now stupidity, THAT bugs me.

catslady said...

Loved your rant. I pride myself on being "open-minded" and refuse to just take everyone's word for it or because it's always been that way. I'm always at snopes.com for all those untrue urban myths. All those emails on politics etc. that are so totally wrong and are so totally believed. Hopefully, I've taught my two daughters to think for themselves. I wanted to raise caring, thinking children and not clones of myself. Of course I have to remind myself of that when they disagree with me lol. Hope this fit what you were talking about.

Maven Linda Howard said...

I'm a day late on posting here, but sometimes a passive "was" is absolutely the only word that will work in a particular sentence.

I finally figured out why electricity stops at the little holes and doesn't jump out until something is plugged into it (hah!) and, okay, the geeks were right. HOWEVER -- they're wrong about the Internet. When we type in the words, all the little letters go rushing down the lines (or through the air, if they're the ones that can fly), and when they get where they're supposed to go they stand in a packed huddle until the door is opened, then they go spilling out onto the screen. When the message is garbled, it's because some of them loitered along the way and had to stand at the back of the pack, so they were out of their correct order.

So there. Let the Geeks refute THAT!

Bronwyn Jameson said...

Wonderful post, Kimberley. I am in danger of developing a girl crush on you!