“Things were said”

mistakes were made
things were said

One of the most common criticisms of passive voice is that it is “vague on agency” – that is, it doesn’t tell us who did the action we are speaking about; indeed, it is often used to deliberately hide who did it. To a certain extent, this is true.

“Mistakes were made” was most famously said by Ronald Reagan (<see what I did there?) during the Iran/Contra scandal, but Wikipedia shows that it’s been used by many others before and since. 

Less famously, yesterday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison criticised the “things that were said” to incite the – let’s be as neutral as possible and call them protests – in Washington on 6 January, without directly naming Donald Trump. (But we all know who he’s talking about!) (The Australian Liberal Party is generally analogous to the US Republican Party.) (I can’t find the complete quotation, and have to rely on a summary on a news website.)

Probably the protests would have happened (<not passive voice, by the way) if Trump hadn’t said anything, and possibly would have happened even if he’d spoken strongly against any action. But things were said.

(PS this is a language blog and not a political one.)


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