Thursday, March 15, 2007

"Mistakes Were Made"

I'm sure we've all seen the news about the firing of the prosecutors, which may have been politically motivated. Alberto Gonzales is quoted as saying "I acknowledge that mistakes were made here".

I can't help it; when I see phrases like this, I just want to shred them, deconstruct them, and look at what is going on underneath. He starts with "I acknowledge" which implies that he wants to admit something. It's an active phrase, the subject "I" clearly doing the acknowledging. However, acknowledge implies recognition or the revelation of something previously unknown. It's not admitting--admitting would mean that he was hiding something--it's a realization about a situation.

The "I acknowledge" is countered by the next part: "mistakes were made". "Mistakes were made" is a passive phrase. There is no mention of who made the mistakes. It's a shifty phrase. It's evasive; it's an attempt to appease those who might be out for Gonzales' head. The mistakes were not made by anyone in particular, after all, they were simply made.

Together "I acknowledge that mistakes were made" had a double meaning. It's like he's casting the glamour of taking responsibility without actually doing so. It appears that he's attempting to calm those who are shouting "fraud" without attempting to point out how the mistakes were made or on whose discretion.

The word "here" is an interesting touch. "Here" is one of those directional words that only have meaning in context of the speaker. Is "here" a physical location that Gonzales points to during the utterance? Or is it a figurative "here" that seeks to give the utterance immediacy and accessibility--or serves to cut off those who are not "here" because they are "there" (at least in terms of the speaker). After all if I'm here, you must be there. If it's meant to cut out those that are outside the "here", then the whole utterance speaks a language of hiding, doubleness, and evasion.

A reader or listener who receives this utterance might be vaguely troubled, but not know why. After all, doesn't it seem like Gonzales is recognizing that something wrong happened? But in reality, he does no such thing.

The moral of the story: Don't use passive language--use the active voice in writing and speaking. Unless you're a shifty politician backed into a corner. Then you daily rely upon the passive voice to cover your ass.

1 comment:

the secret knitter said...

Next time can you take on the trendy "I'm sorry if anyone was offended" non-apology apologies? They're very similar to what you're