My high school years wee the golden age of word processing. Personal computers were commonplace enough that the majority of us could submit home-typed essays, but it was still novel enough that we got excited about the spell checker, some of us even taking lessons from the grammar checker. I was always dinged for the same infraction by the grammar checker: passive voice.
I don’t remember it ever being addressed in school, but that could be because of my truncated lessons due to the dual language instruction, or because I wasn’t always attentive, or perhaps it was never taught. It didn’t sound wrong to me because it was the way that grown ups often spoke, distancing themselves from the subject of the sentence, and the situation.
Learn the lesson I did, and I would say that for the most part I’m successful at avoiding the passive voice in my writing. I’ve even come to expect better out of the speech and writing of the grown ups, myself included.
Now I cringe when I hear (or read) what had once been common enough that I considered it to be a proper pattern. I find the abstinence of a proper subject to be a bit of a cop out. (As hard as it is to avoid being judgmental I lump those people in with those who use “I” even when they should use “me” because they think it makes them sound smart and really it is the reverse.) Using the passive voice is just as common as ever, so perhaps I’m in the minority of people who selected “grammar check” in addition to spell check. I certainly can’t place all the blame on the word processor, however, because I don’t remember it ever taking a stand in the debate regarding the Oxford comma. (If you were wondering I am in the “pro” camp, punctuation saves lives, people.)
This pedantic tirade should not be a surprise to anyone who remembers that I would correct the spelling on my friends’ notes before responding and passing them back in class.