Tamsin Constable

Soldiers die: tell it as it is?

Here’s an example of how the BBC has recently tweaked its style in favour of plain English. In the past, when they announced the death of service personnel, they used to finish the news item with: ‘Their next of kin have been informed.’

These days, it’s: ‘Their families have been told.’ We’re hearing it quite regularly.

It’s still passive. The active (which would include the ‘doer’, would be something like, ‘The Government has told their families.’)

So why do they use the passive? My hunch is that the perceived formality of the passive couches news of soldiers’ deaths in language that helps mask over the true horror. Other words ¬†include phrases such as ‘duty’, ‘sacrifice’, ¬†‘ultimate price’, ‘pride’ and ‘service to the country’. All good, spine-straightening, lip-stiffening war talk.

And it makes the news item so much more palatable.

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