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Peace-lovers love using the passive voice

Soon after Hamas attacked Israel, Jeremy Corbyn made a speech. Kyle Orton noticed something odd about it:

“young people who died in the Negev desert”
“young people who’ve been killed by Israeli forces in Gaza”

Telling how he thinks.

So sad about those young people who “died in the desert”. What happened, did they forget water bottles and sun cream? Tut, tut, young people are so imprudent.

All languages have their irregularities. For instance, in Modern Journalese Jews can kill, where “to kill” is a transitive verb, but they die intransitively. Their allotted span of years happens to come to an end that day. The nearest the grammar of Journalese gets to expressing the idea that someone might have – uh, whatchamacallit, done that thing to a Jew so that they end up dying – is to tentatively mention an event that preceded it:

“Jewish man in California dies after confrontation during Israel-Hamas War protests”Time magazine.

But remember, folks, correlation is not causation. Though in this case, it was. The Community Notes to that tweet by Time magazine state “The medical examiner ruled Paul Kessler’s death a homicide.” He was – I’m speaking normal English, not Journalese, so this sentence is grammatical despite Mr Kessler having been a Jew – killed. The definitional question that remains open is whether his killing was murder.

That question is not open when it comes to the young Israelis who were murdered by Hamas at a music festival in the Negev Desert.

Edit: In the comments, AFT points out that the distinction between transitive and intransitive verbs is not the same as the distinction between active and passive voice. An example of the latter distinction would be “The Israelis killed the Palestinians” versus “The Israelis were killed by the Palestinians”. I have seen enough evidence of the journalistic preference for headlines in which Israelis actively, dynamically, kill specified people versus those in which Israelis are killed by unspecified people, and vice versa for Palestinians, that I think I can leave the double meaning of “passive” in my post title unchanged. If you have seen a particularly egregious example of either distinction, add it to the comments.

This is the hierarchy:

1. A killed B.
2. B was killed by A.
3. B was killed. (No killer specified.)
4. B died after some event. (Whether or not their death was a result of that event is left unspecified.)
5. B died at a given location or time, such as “in the Negev desert”, from which the reader who keeps up with the news might be able to deduce that the death was not natural.

A related strategy for avoiding naming murderers from a protected group is to blame it all on the instrument. This might be called the “killer car” strategy, as perfected by the Washington Post’s infamous reference to “the Waukesha tragedy caused by a SUV”.

21 comments to Peace-lovers love using the passive voice

  • So sad about those young people who “died in the desert”. What happened, did they forget water bottles and sun cream? Tut, tut, young people are so imprudent.

    Clearly it “Just Happened”, in the sense that getting pregnant, just happens. Like some mysterious act of God.

    Can’t say “They were murdered by Hamas terrorists”. That sort of statement might upset certain people.

  • AFT

    Maybe I’m missing an ironic tone but ‘died in the desert’ is the active voice, while ‘who’ve been killed by Israeli forces’ is the passive voice. I’m one of those weird people who not only learned English grammar but actually remembers what I learned and it irritates me enormously when the term ‘passive voice’ is used to mean ‘expressed in a way that doesn’t make clear who caused something to happen’.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker) Gray

    I think you mean “Peace-lovers love being used by the passive voice.”

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Jeremy Corbyn is an anti-semite and he is also a total, decrepit old monster. To think that we came in the UK to a few thousand votes (2017) of putting this guttersnipe into 10 Downing Street. Even now, that chills the blood.

    On a related note, check out this speech to the Federalist Society by Bari Weiss. Absolutely superb, and deeply important.

  • John

    That question is not open when it comes to the young Israelis who were murdered by Hamas at a music festival in the Negev Desert.

    Except in the mind of a not atypical Uber driver who informed some friends of mine at the weekend that it probably never happened, where was the proof and the Jews have always been moneylenders anyway.

    They are among us and they are legion – not that anyone seeing Saturdays events will need to be told that.

  • Kirk

    They’re among us, and they’re legion, but…

    Where do those beliefs come from, and just how strong are they?

    I once worked around a guy who was reflexively anti-Semitic. He’d likely gotten it with his mother’s milk, from family. He’d never really thought about it, at all… He did not reason his way into anti-Semitism; it was always something that just was, for him.

    In the way of the US Army, we were only around each other for a year or two, and then we parted ways due to changes in assignment. I ran into him about… Five years later? Something like that. The striking thing to me? I found him sitting at a desk with several items of Israeli swag, little flags, etc.

    My internal response to that was “WTF, man…?”

    Now, what had happened? He’d run into an actual Israeli chick, not knowing she was Jewish. Had no idea, picked her up at a club, spent a weekend knocking around with her, fell in love with her… When she mentioned “Jew” for the first time (have no idea how that hadn’t come up in conversation, already…) he was like “Oh… Wow. OK, fine…”

    His family loved her, not least because she knew how to drive a tractor, and was willing to put up with his bullshit. They’d despaired of him every marrying, and she was like the perfect chick for him… Former IDF, kibbutz farm girl, all that jazz.

    Anti-Semitism can sometimes be a very shallow thing, and purely reflexive. Upon encountering an actual, y’know… Jew? It sometimes evaporates. Sometimes.

    It’s like the deal with some of the Yugoslav expats I grew up around… Jew this, Jew that, and there was that other guy they actually knew, who happened to be a Jew. Only Jew they knew… He wasn’t like the other ones, salt of the earth, great guy, love him to death…

    I spent a lot of time as a kid looking at the adults around me like that dog in the old RCA Victrola ads. Much of what they said and did was inconsistent and purely insane, like that whole Jew thing… You tell me you have never actually been “exploited”, personally, yet you hate the Jew for… Exploiting you? WTF? Where did the imaginary bad man touch you? Can you show me, on this doll…?

  • jgh

    It’s like the modern usage mentioned in an earlier thread of transient verbs like “unhoused” instead of neutral adjectives like “homeless”. Using the verb pushes it into the reader’s/listener’s subconcious that something was done to them, and an implication that somebody did it to them.

    Subtle shift to using “dehoused” in three…. two….. 😉

  • Kirk

    The whole thing comes out of the obsession the capital-L Left has with language, which they think controls everything. They’re people of the Word, and they think that the Word is magic, or something…

    Which, to a degree, is a truth.

    However… There’s a bit of a reality-check due them. They think that by changing the traditional terms “vagrant” and “bum” to “homeless” that they’re actually redefining them as something other than what they are, which would be “failed human beings” that can’t cope with society.

    Witness the linguistic progression vis-a-vis the terms for the “mentally challenged”, itself now a pejorative term you’re not supposed to use. Once upon a time, they hit on the idea that calling people with such problems something like “simpleton” was insulting, derogatory, so they came up with three “clinical terms” for their condition: Idiot. Imbecile. Moron.

    Those didn’t carry any weight of opprobrium in the beginning, but as the public caught on to the fact of what they represented…? They began to. And, Hey!! Presto!!!, those words are now “hurtful and oppressive”, and shouldn’t be used in polite company. First it was “mentally retarded”, and then that became pejorative, ‘cos that’s what it ‘effing well represented symbolically.

    The words are meaningless noises until connected with something in the real world. Period.

    And, once those connections are made? You’re not going to change squat by changing the words you use to assign to them as symbols.

    Homeless? That’s no longer inoffensive, ‘cos we all know that if you’re homeless, you’re likely to be a drug addicted shoplifting arsonist. Because, that’s what that symbolic label is now attached to… Just like “cretin” is attached to someone behaving in a mentally-deficient manner.

    You can’t change the facts of things via language. Language, instead, actually reflects fact. You may camouflage things for a bit, make them sound somewhat better than they are, but in the end? You’re never, ever going to get around the fact that a term represents something, and that something is always going to wind up making your new, “nicer-sounding” term for it reflect the reality of what it is.

    Don’t bother trying to change the language, fools. It doesn’t actually work; all you wind up doing is effectively setting yourself on a linguistic treadmill, having to constantly come up with new euphemisms that are only momentarily more acceptable than the nasty old ones you don’t like.

    Far more productive to actually, y’know… Address the actual root problem. Like, maybe, perish the thought, get the “homeless” off the streets and back into caregiving institutional situations?

  • Ben David

    “Mostly Peaceful” – keep this link on speed-dial, and watch to the end:


  • Johnathan Pearce

    It is also dawning on critics of Israel’s defence forces that much of the death toll from the current fighting in Gaza sits on the shoulders of Hamas.

    Marc Champion, in Bloomberg (which tends to be very much a voice of “Davos Man”), says this:

    There is no question that the Israel Defense Forces could and should be doing more to avoid civilian casualties. Yet the fact that the anger of so many is directed only at Israel is disturbing, because there are two armed forces responsible for the deaths of Palestinians in Gaza. The other is Hamas.

    Well, he underplays it. It isn’t just “disturbing”. It is morally imbecilic and a form of evasion of the truth. The selective moral outrage is, by definition, no morality at all.

    To be honest, whenever I bring myself to watch BBC footage of the fighting in Gaza, I ask myself how many of the dead and injured are the direct cause of the Hamas machine, rather than the IDF.

    Also, let’s not forget that any of the deaths in Gaza are ultimately the moral responsibility of the monsters who inflicted the pogrom of 7 October, and their financial backers such as Iran. The attempt to pin blame for this on the IDF is a classic bait and switch technique. No one should fall for it if they pay a bit of attention.


  • Ben

    “Canadian peace activist Vivian Silver, who went missing after Hamas attack, has died.”

    Courtesy of Canadian TV


  • Ben David

    “Canadian peace activist Vivian Silver, who went missing after Hamas attack, has died.”
    Well she would probably want it reported that way, after a lifetime of identity apologetics.

    One of the reasons the October 7 attack got traction (besides the scope and daring of the assault) was the fact that “correct thinking” Lefties got whacked this time… This isn’t the first time Pali terrorists executed entire families at point-blank range: that has happened several times in the West Bank – they’ve also targeted schools – but like most Left-leaning Israelis, the Kibbutzniks now in the spotlight ignored those attacks, shrugged them off as “sacrifices for peace”, or blamed the victims.

    They were actively antagonistic to the “religious fanatic settlers” of Gaza, and applauded their expulsion from their homes… Those “fanatical” settlements would have been a bulwark against this attack – and the world would have ignored the killing of those wrong-thinking, icky, religious Jews… but an open-air rave and non-religious kibbutzniks??!! How could it be???!!!

    Now these kibbutzniks are displaced to the same hostels and trailer camps as the “settlers” were.

    It is most telling that attempts by Left wingers here in Israel to leverage the hostage situation to attack Bibi have not just fallen flat, but been blown out of the water – directly from comments sections, and by many media pundits. The Israeli public has no patience for the pity-mongering that turned previous hostage situations into morale-eroding Leftist street theater.

    In fact all their attempts to blame Bibi have boomeranged. Everyone knows that this war is the result of Oslo – the Left’s pet project/delusion for decades.

  • anon

    Marc Champion, in Bloomberg (which tends to be very much a voice of “Davos Man”), says this:

    There is no question that the Israel Defense Forces could and should be doing more to avoid civilian casualties.

    No question? If they pursue their mission to the fullest to destroy Hamas, then I absolutely do question whether they could do that while doing anything more to avoid civilian casualties. If they do not pursue their mission to its fullest…then they are not going to avoid civilian casualties. It’s just that the casualties in question will be Israelis murdered by Hamas the next time, rather than civilians in Gaza now.

  • NickM

    I think I stated here it was only a matter of time before the October 7th pogrom was chalked-up as a “false flag”.


    Yup Piers Corbyn. I mean his brother is a cunt but Piers is…

  • Paul Marks

    No one is surprised by Mr Corbyn behaving in this despicable way.

    But some people are still surprised by the “mainstream media”, such as Time magazine and the BBC, behaving in this way – and people should NOT be surprised.

    If inequality is “injustice” (a violation of “equity”) then the Jews are automatically “guilty of exploitation and oppression” against “Palestinians”.

    The late Tom Wolfe argued, against Mark Steyn, that the Marxist domination of the education system does not matter as students “forget all this stuff as soon as they graduate and go out into the real world” – but Mr Wolfe was WRONG, people do not forget everything that they are force fed at school and university – they may not know that what they have been taught is Marxism (actually it would be better if the DID know it was Marxism – if the word “Marxism” was used young people might be put on their guard) – but they are influenced by these Marxist doctrines when they go off into the government and Corporate bureaucracy – indeed there is little difference between the government bureaucracy and the Corporate bureaucracy (sorry – but the late Milton Friedman was mistaken about the Corporations, they could not care less about “Aunt Agatha” shareholders, the Corporations push a cultural and political agenda, funded by Credit Money created from NOTHING).

    Watching the conferences these people (for example the people from BlackRock – ironically they are often from Jewish families) attend, the “Critical Theory” Marxist (DEI) influence is obvious – even if these incredibly rich people (who, basically, control Western economies) are also pig-ignorant (no apology for the harsh language) – pushing Marxist doctrines without even knowing they are Marxist.

    “I love Israel” says some billionaire moron who has just given lots of money to BLM and the Legion of Marxist organisations who want to wipe Israel off the map.

    Recap – if “inequality is injustice” (“inequity”) then Israel is guilty-by-definition, as an advanced country surrounded by poorer countries – so it must be “exploiting and oppressing” them.

    And what about you PERSONALLY Board of Directors of BlackRock (and all the rest)?

    You are very rich – that is not “equal” and “inequality is injustice”.

    Your Progressive “friends” want to ROB-AND-MURDER you (and your families) you fools.

    “But if we give them lots of money and make speeches in support of their causes – they will like us”.

    No they will not really like you – although you may not grasp this till your “friends” are skinning you alive, whilst popping the eyeballs of your children between their teeth.

  • NickM

    This morning I was stung by a wasp. It hurt but whatever. I’m much more powerful than a wasp (I’m bigger and smarter) and I took out the nest. This was not revenge. It was sound planning because I have two cats. I suspect a wasp sting is a bigger deal for a cat and have you seen what vets charge these days? Israel is obviously more powerful than Hamas et al. That doesn’t make them wrong. By 1944 the Allies were stronger than Germany. Were we wrong to use overwhelming force? My Grandparents and their parents were conscripted into the military. I was not. I was not because apart from bollocks in the Balkans and Putin’s power-plays Europe has been remarkably free of wars since 1945. Because it was sorted. Are the Germans gonna try playing Les Buggeurs Risible again? I doubt it. My (English) sister in law lives in Mainz with her Polish husband. Really likes it there. My brother’s long-term girlfriend is from Tokyo (although she speaks English with a trace of a Sunderland accent – which as a Geordie I find unsettling). Folks can (and do) rub along. I strongly suspect Israel would like cordial relations with the folks next-door. And why not? A couple of years ago I planned a holiday. A biggy. Egypt and Israel, three weeks or so. Well, thank you Covid and Hamas!

    What annoys me about this war (apart from it fucking with my tourism – and of course the folks I’d be putting Shekels and Egyptian Pounds their way are also impoverished) is just how misrepresented it is. Does the MSM ever really question why the neighbouring Arab states want nothing to do with the Palestinians? Why the BBC etc. uses terms like “carpet bombing” when a JDAM is anything but. Why hundreds of thousands of people march for a movement which is based on the deranged rantings of a dark-age peadophilic warlord. Why people like Piers Corbyn (admittedly he’s even thicker than his brother) seem to think Israel has anything to gain by this war? Well, they do, I guess. They survive. That’s it. Now that is a reason to fight but it is not a reaon to start the fight. Hamas did that because they cannot conceive of anything positive. They simply can’t see anything other than hate. It is a terrible state of affairs. I have no time for envy. It is possibly the most corrosive vice. Can you imagine what Gaza could be if even half the effort they put into hating Israel was put into loving Palestine? It would be on my itinerary!

  • Runcie Balspune

    One of the underlying and misdirected contexts in any reporting on the conflict is the assumption that Hamas and Hezbollah represent Muslim Arabs and have their unqualified support.

    The closer reality is these terrorist groups are proxies for Iran, and most of the Arab world, in particular the majority Sunni, are against Iranian Shia dominance, many have realised this and are trying to build uneasy alliances with Israel over a common enemy.

    Notice that those calling for a “peace”, that would just give Hamas another chance later on, are not Arab, they don’t mind Arabs doing the fighting and dying for them, whereas many Arab countries would love to see the end of Hamas and Hezbollah and don’t mind the Israelis doing it for them.

  • Kirk

    Moderation in war is a mistake.

    Unlike many of the usual suspects that post here in the name of “humanity”, a construct that doesn’t truly exist, I know that and have been saying that since the beginning.

    I don’t know where the current “thing” is going to end, but there will be a short moment of clarity for the people supporting Hamas, and if they’re made miserable enough, maybe it will take, and it won’t take the apparent floor of 10% casualties to knock some sense into them. I hope, for their sake, that it does and it does not take WWII-scale slaughter to convince them of the error of their ways. Based on the track record? Not sure it will work, this “restrained” response to Hamas, only going after the militarily-inclined.

    Where you need to be working is on that mindspace inside the heads of the mothers and fathers that raise their children to be Hamasniks. You don’t address that? Convince them that being Hamas is a death sentence? You’ve wasted all those lives you took.

    Being as we’re dealing with human beings, this ain’t an exact science. It’s not a science at all; it’s people. We have established precedent to look to for advice, history to tell us what has worked in the past. Alamut and the experience of WWII should be your guides, I am afraid.

  • jgh

    whenever I bring myself to watch BBC footage of the fighting in Gaza,
    ….I wonder why we didn’t have near-live coverage of the brave Germans fighting off Allied attacks in Berlin.

  • jgh

    Being as we’re dealing with human beings, this ain’t an exact science.
    A third of Gazans marry their cousins. After two generations that means they’re marrying their brother/sister.

  • Kirk

    A third of Gazans marry their cousins. After two generations that means they’re marrying their brother/sister.

    Which is why I fear it may take more than the 10% of the population that it took for the Germans in WWII.

    Like I said, it is so inexact so as to defy science. You can’t run experiments, you can only look at historical precedents… Alamut, anyone? What was the percentage of survivors among the Nizaris that manned that fortress and the others in their nation?

    Not sure of the prevalence of cousin marriage among them, but… Yeah. Unfortunate that these things have to be done, but you do have to look at the parties involved, acknowledge their intransigence, and note what it took to break them of those habits.

    The Nizaris were probably one of the best analogs for the current terrorist movement in Islam. They were irredentist refuseniks when it came to acknowledging the sovereignty of the Seljuks, conducting a campaign of outright terror assassinations among the leadership of the Islamic world. And, as today, many venerated them for it…

    Note what the Mongols had to resort to, in order to break them of that habit.