Evasion of Responsibility
Someone uses evasive phrasing to downplay their own guilt


(permanent link) added: 2012-11-19 11:39:20 sponsor: johnnye (last reply: 2012-11-19 12:56:37)

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Alice has dropped Bob's Priceless Ming Vase on the floor, and when he walks in on the scene of carnage and asks what happened, what does she say?

"It... got broken". Cue guilty expression. She's not blaming anyone else, or claiming "it was like that when I got here." She's not even making a particular effort to pretend it wasn't her... she just can't quite bring herself to utter the phrase "I broke it."

Alternatives include "The vase broke" (spontaneously?), "Someone broke your vase" (who?) or "The laws of entropy irreversibly increased the disorder of the particles in your vase" (...whuh?). All that's required is that Alice accurately tell Bob what happened, but phrase it so as to minimise her own culpability.

Many overzealous style guides label this the "passive voice" and proscribe it, but that's a misnomer. The passive voice is a specific grammatical term referring to sentences that focus on the object of the verb ("Alice was shot by Bob" is passive, and "Someone shot Alice" is not, but there's no doubt which tells you more about the perpetrator) and a perfectly acceptable way of speaking.

A kind of Weasel Words often employed by politicians and other public figures when "apologizing" for some misdeed is the individual in question observing that "Mistakes were made", which, of course, fails to specify who made the mistakes.

Occasionally subverted as "It got broken. By me."

Compare Never My Fault, Implausible Deniability. See also Strange Syntax Speaker.

Examples

  • Fresh Meat, Josie tells Kingsley that "Heather's arm got broken," only for Vod to walk in and correct her that "No, you broke it." She goes through several other excuses only for other characters to walk in each time and repeat that, quite simply, she broke Heather's arm.
  • The Office (US):
    Michael: Michael: Ladies and Gentlemen. I have some bad news. Meredith was hit by a car. [snip]
    Andy: Did you see who did it?
    Michael: Ahhh...
    Dwight: No need, we can just check the security tapes.
    Michael: Gah! Kind of a Good News, Bad News there. I was able to be on the scene so quickly because I was in the car that hit her.
    Jim: Who was driving?
    Pam: ...Oh, Michael.
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