Tag Archives: what’s wrong with passive voice?

The Hemingway Voice

Activity Being Avoided: the list is almost endless
Music In My Head: Danse Caribe – Andrew Bird
Tea Being Drunk: none.  Yeah, you should make a 911 call.
Book Being Read: Equus – Peter Shaffer

I should not be blogging.  I should be doing one of the thousand other things that’s waiting for my undivided attention.  I should be productive for the thirty minutes before I have to see another student.

Not happening.

One of the other teachers in the ESL school told me about The Hemingway App.  The theory goes that Ernest Hemingway demonstrated the perfect, simple writing voice to which we should all aspire; while that’s certainly up for debate (a very short debate), the app claims to help you keep your writing at the green-zone Grade 7 level.  I snorted.  Then, after I’d wiped my derision off the computer screen, I tossed all thoughts of the app aside.

But we all know that when Sheila gets overly snobby, the universe wet-noodles her across the face.

Enter “David Fry”–so-called because if you put David Foster Wallace and Stephen Fry in a blender and turned it on, you’d pour out this student.  I can’t seem to explain to him that mind-bogglingly complicated is not always the best goal in sentence construction.  While I love reading his essays, a lot of people probably get migraines when the see his name at the top of the page.  My own temples throbbed The Hemingway App to the front of my brain.

“Grade 17,” it said.  “In the flashing neon red zone,” it said.

“Ha!” I said, vindicated by a free app.  (I’m a highly-trained tutor.)  I suggested he get try to get it down to Grade 10.

The lowest he got was (an age-appropriate) Grade 12.  David Fry, you’re the only one wearing a tuxedo in a room full of people in pyjamas.  You got work to do if you can’t write pyjamas.

Following David Fry was Y.W. (“Yeah, whatever”), a Grade 7 student who constantly rides that slippery slope between pyjamas and embarrassingly nekid.  Y.W. couldn’t make it up to Grade 7–and he’s trying to get into a couple of overly-demanding public schools.

The teacher who suggested I check out the app uses it to make sure her selected tests are at a reasonable grade level–which I think is a perfectly acceptable cheat, but not for me.  My distaste for it has to do with unnecessary categorising (why would you look for numbers when you can revel in the words?), as well as a general suspicion of anything that doesn’t like passive voice.  I’m also not a Hemingway fan; if they’d called it The Timothy Findley app, I’d have no problem with it.

(Please note that this blog entry registers as “Good: Grade 7” on The Hemingway App.)