Thursday, January 08, 2009

Active aggressive

Cold water is dreaded by the burnt hand again:

Obama will swear in facing a
deskful of historic challenges
No he won't, and copyeds need to get over their obsession with the active voice. To swear in is "admit or induct into an office by administering a prescribed oath."* It's transitive. It has to have an object. Obama isn't going to swear (anybody) in; he's going to be sworn in.

If you're in a hed-counting mood, you will quickly note that "take office" is only one count longer (8.5) than "swear in" (7.5). You can bump the orphan article down to the next line or lose it altogether. You can make it "to take office" rather than "will take office." But if you want "swear in," you need to be passive.

[PS: The question would be moot if someone had looked carefully at the lede -- "The New Year begins with unusual promise and unusual peril" -- and assigned this column to the ash heap of history forthwith. We're not making much of a case for the centrality of print as the home of insightful commentary here.]

* So says the Good Book amen.

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