Advertise - Print Edition

Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Ramble on

Published: April 18, 2008
Section: Opinions

So I was sitting down at my computer this afternoon writing a column for The Hoot (as I sometimes do) and I thought to myself, I did, “Gosh! I sure have some brilliant ideas. If only there was some way to remind the reader that it is I, Noah Klinger, who is the source of such deathless wisdom.” I know what you’re thinking (or rather, I know my lazy assumption of what you’re thinking): my name is already attached to the headline. But that is not enough! I must use the first person as much as humanly possible.

Why should anyone value my opinion on issues more than anyone else’s? Easy; I wrote a column and you didn’t! Of course, this doesn’t mean that it is always wrong to use the first person, so long as your personal experience had a direct and important role in the events at hand. Here are two helpful examples:

Bad: “I picked up the newspaper today and was reminded of Barack Obama’s keynote address to the Democratic Convention in 2004…”

Good: “I remember some years ago when I was delivering the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention…”

You get the idea. But overuse of the first person singular isn’t the only crime; the passive voice is also had by us. In the first place, use of the passive voice is a classic ‘tell’ when people want to lie, or at least shy away from the truth. By modifying the verbs to build some distance, we remove ourselves from the action. For example, compare these two sentences:

“The American role in influencing other nations can be criticized by us.”

“We can criticize America’s influence on other nations.”

Makes a world of difference, yes? The second grabs our attention and makes us think about the sentence and its message. The first sounds dry and detached, pushing us away from the content of the sentence before we can even understand it.

How you say things is at least as important as what is said. Grammatical errors, as well as anything which obscures the meaning of words, are not only incorrect but immoral. Now, was I not right in having that been said by me?