Monday, March 22, 2010

What am I trying not to say? (7)

Sometimes, writers are trying not to say something, instead of trying to say something. That is, they are being evasive. Here’s a recent example.

Example of trying not to say something

On March 9, 2010, a news item titled “Seabrook voters go to polls today” appeared in Seacoastonline [New Hampshire]. The news item included this:

“Perhaps the most important article, Article 9, once again asks voters to approve the proposed town budget, which this year is $17,932,392. The proposed budget approved by the Budget Committee was reduced from the $18,102,972 proposed by the Board of Selectmen. The town has been operating for the past year on a default budget since voters failed to pass the amount proposed last year.” (Boldface added.)

To restate the obvious: Voters, by majority rule, either approve (pass) or reject (turn down) a proposed budget. So, why would a reporter use an awkward phrase (“voters failed to pass”) as opposed to the straightforward phrase (“voters rejected”)?

I do not know what is in the Seacoastonline reporter’s heart, but I will make an educated* guess: he favored the proposed budget. So, if my guess is accurate, the reporter was trying not to say this:

“I thought the voters should have approved that proposed budget last year. But I don’t want to write that, because it would reveal that I’m not an objective reporter. And I don’t want to write that the voters rejected the budget, because that sounds too deliberate; it implies that what I (secretly) favored was not a good idea.

“I can solve both of those writing problems by using the alternate phrase ‘failed to pass.’ It will allow me to imply that the voters were stupid and negligent last year, and at the same time, it will allow me to preserve my appearance of objectivity.

“And, best of all, it will allow me to deny all this if I’m ever challenged by some smartass reader. I can say, ‘How dare you imply that?! I certainly did not mean it that way. I just happened to use ‘failed to pass’ instead of ‘rejected.’ It’s just a style thing.”

The Takeaway: To produce clear writing, always try to say what you mean. Never try not to say what you mean. Many of your readers will see through you.

*I have been editing professionally for 43 years.

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