Friday, February 12, 2010

Family and Friends Newsletter Friday 12 February 2010

The “Snowbound” Edition of the Newsletter will be especially long this week.



Lots of research got done this week. I finished up with the Sudie Norman/William Cannon/Mitchell Blackburn family, started and completed inputting for the Martha Rebecca Norman/Enoch Fuller family, and moved on to the Newton Leonard Norman family.

There is a little bit of a Norman mystery brewing. Next to my Normans in Arkansas on the 1900 census I found a mysterious woman named “Aunt Jane” Norman whose last (or maybe not) husband was Zura Luzerne Cotton, a real character in his own right. Jane may or may not have been related to my Normans – that is the main mystery. Both of Jane’s sons appear to have been illegitimate. One – Jackson Norman – married Newton Norman’s daughter Dissie Norman, who died young. Because Dissie's last name remained the same, most researchers (except for Inez Cline) appear to assume that she was not married. Jane’s other son – Thomas Peat Moore – appears to be the illegitimate son of one of the sons of John Lawrence Moore and Rebecca Lucinda Wacaster, a family with several ties of marriage to my Normans. Jane is shown as a servant for this family and her sister Nancy is shown as a servant for another branch of the family on the 1880 census. It’s complicated but intriguing; I may write a series on this one.


Nancy’s My Ancestors and Me featured a discussion of differences in approach between men and women: Do women go in more for collateral lines in genealogical research than men do?

Blue Eyes and Bluebonnets and Wood County Texas Genealogical Society have been added to the Texas Team (you can visit this spiffy new page by clicking on the tab at the top).

Hilarious video on the pitfalls of oral history (Discrepancies in Memories and Oral History) on Professor Dru’s Find Your Folks. Raise your hand if conversations like this have happened in your family. I thought so.

Carol from Reflections from the Fence demonstrated why Grandma has bragging rights! Also check out her post “Time Travel, Date, April 1, 2082.” When you’re hot, you’re hot! Actually, last I heard, Carol is all wet. No, really!

I got to be a cheerleader this week on SNGF. Terry Thornton, you rock. (BTDubs, did the Hill-Hogs win?) (Sorry I missed the end of the game; had to go play on the defensive line for another team!)

Off-Topic: In Defense of the Passive Voice

There is a deeply held conviction among many speakers of English (Americans? – I do not really know how the British feel about this issue) that the passive voice is a major no-no in writing.

Don’t Strunk and White advise against it (“Avoid the passive voice”)? Doesn’t almost every high school English teacher and college writing instructor advise against it? Don’t all the “female empowerment” types expressly advise women to avoid using the passive lest they be taken for waffling wimps?

This rant was occasioned by an article I found on my AOL page Tuesday morning: “Liz Christman, Enemy of the Passive Voice, Who Rocked Some Jaunty Hats,” by Melissa Henneberger on Politics Daily. Her subject was obviously a lovely and admirable lady. But I would so have been on the other side of the “Passive Voice Wars.”

The passive voice is real. It’s legitimate. It’s not going away. And I am speaking up in its defense.

Yes, there are times when a passive construction can be clumsy. So can an active construction. Clumsy constructions should be avoided.

Yes, there are times when the passive sounds evasive or wishy-washy. That is to be avoided – unless you do wish to be evasive or wishy-washy. You know, sometimes we simply do not want to come across with the force of an umpty-ton truck.

Rome wasn’t built in a day. There, see – a straightforward saying. Does writing “The founders of Rome did not build the city in a day” make the proposition any more forceful? No, it does not. In fact, it deprives this laconic bit of wisdom of a lot of its original impact. (Confession: This example was provided by a colleague who is also a defender of the passive voice.)

The “Rome” example points to a pitfall that often besets translators who endeavor to avoid the passive voice: In order to eliminate the passive voice, it is necessary to add an actor to the sentence, even if it is only the impersonal “they.” And guess what? Adding information in a (non-literary) translation (other than connecting words that simply do not exist in the source language) is a bad translation practice. It’s right up there with omissions and paraphrases.

There is a principle of narrative flow and cohesion at stake. The ability to choose either active or passive constructions gives us greater latitude in preserving the theme-rheme (also known as topic and comment) order of sentences so that one sentence flows logically into the next one. In translations, converting sentences from passive to active often means reversing this theme-rheme order. This leads to the type of disjointed and choppy prose that is the mark of a bad translation. (Ugh, please tell me why the spelling function in Microsoft Word does not recognize “rheme” as a legitimate word?)

Whew. I just had to get that off my chest. Thank you for listening.


  1. Thanks for the mention, Greta, and thanks for your comments about using passive tense. Sometimes it just can't be said any other way! I hope you're staying warm.

  2. Ooh, you used the passive - yay! And thanks - we are warm. Drive time, however, is still a little more exciting around here than we would really like it to be.