“I was allowed to believe things that weren’t true.”

Quick: who said the sentence in the title of this post?

That’s right, it’s your favorite Member of Congress, Marjorie Taylor Greene!

Linguist Mark Liberman, incidentally a former classmate of mine, observes that Steve Silberman nominated the above sentence of Greene’s to be in the Museum of the Passive Voice. Silberman, of course, doesn’t quite have it right. Yes, “I was allowed to…” is indeed in the passive voice, but the point here is that this newest distinguished representative of the Party of Personal Responsibility is only accidentally using the grammatical construction that we call the passive voice; mostly, as Liberman points out, Silberman is accusing Greene of trying to avoid personal responsibility, and indeed she’s guilty of that (among other egregious offenses). Whether you’re in the Liber- or Silber- camp, you should -man up and admit that linguistics often doesn’t fare well among journalists and politicians.

Suppose the sentence had been “I allowed myself to believe things that weren’t true.” That, of course, would be a different matter. The active voice there would show that she took personal responsibility. So maybe the passive isn’t accidental.

Just watch out for those Jewish space lasers.


Categories: Life, Linguistics