Active voice

April 14, 2006

Wood chipper breaks free in Pa., kills 3

That’s a news story about a father and two of his four-year-old sons dying when their minivan collided with a 5000-pound piece of heavy machinery that was improperly secured to the dump truck towing it, which is pretty fucking depressing.

You wouldn’t know it from the headline, where the verb choice combined with the active voice gives the wood chipper an air of malevolent sentience. You might imagine a renegade wood chipper imprisoned, possibly awaiting trial, waiting patiently for his girlfriend to mail him a hacksaw or file baked into a cake. But then he remembers that he’s a 5000-pound wood chipper, so he just smashes through the bars and starts chipping the Sheriff and his deputies, Fargo-style, until the National Guard shows up and subdues him. Or something.

“Broke free” and “bounded across a highway”, in particular, really seem incongruous when applied to a big hunk of metal.

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