Bad Prose of the Day: Passive Acupuncture

Is it unfair to pick on local newspapers for bad writing? Perhaps, but this piece in the Provo Daily Herald violates everything I tried to teach my students in college. Ostensibly a human-interest story about accupuncture, the article ends up providing an object lesson in avoiding the passive voice.

We meet an elderly woman who lives with severe back pain, but how’s this for an attention-grabbing opening: “Seven years ago, Margerie White had such severe back pain that she was forced to rely on a cane, limit her activity and often remain hunched over.” This first sentence reads like it was written by Thomas (“hearts were gladdened, spirits were lifted, and stomachs were filled”) Monson.

“Her doctors told her that she would need back surgery to get back to her former self.” I think I get the gist of this, but the execution is horrible.

“Back surgery was not something White was willing to do at her age.” Could a sentence be more passive?  Take out the passive voice and you get this: “White did not want to have back surgery.”

This paragraph takes my breath away for the boldness with which the author uses the passive: “The process of acupuncture is safe and generally painless [it better be if you’re trying to relieve pain]. Very thin needles are inserted into the skin at very specific points [as opposed to just thin needles at specific points] in order to stimulate the flow of the body’s natural energy or Qi [I doubt this kind of prose stimulates anyone’s energy, natural or otherwise]. The idea is to ensure that there is not a blockage of energy to the vital points [I defy you to write a more awkward sentence]. Traditional Chinese philosophy states that a blockage of the Qi would result in pain. Therefore by stimulating the flow of energy through the body you can alleviate the resulting pain [OK, I give up].”

All right, the masochistic part of me just had to post this last paragraph: “She doesn’t speak English [apparently neither does the author] and mostly communicates via the help of [manager George] Chao [Who the hell uses “via”?]. But she is trained in both traditional medicine and in acupuncture; as such [are we playing find the antecedent here?] she understands that not everything can be cured with acupuncture [I’m sure we couldn’t have guessed that]. It is clear that alternative medicine cannot set a broken leg or cure leukemia [Nor that]. ”

Somewhere someone has written an interesting article about acupuncture. This isn’t it.


4 Responses to Bad Prose of the Day: Passive Acupuncture

  1. Equality says:

    Laughing out loud, literally. Or should I say: “I was feeling like I should laugh; as such, therefore, I allowed laughter to escape via my mouth.”

  2. Nom says:

    Hearts were gladdened.
    Laughter escaped the lips.
    Mirth was obtained.

  3. wry catcher says:

    I use via. Possibly not anymore though.

    Nice post.

  4. This post had me laughing out loud. Your [awesome] comments in between sentences were perfect.

    You bust my shit up.

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