William Strunk, Jr., in the very first edition of The Elements of Style, published nearly a century ago, enjoined his readers to “use the active voice,” finding it “more direct and vigorous [and bold] than the passive.”
By no one else in the world this day was such admonition heeded more seriously than by a headline editor at The New York Times who employed this third of ten “Elementary Principles of Composition” in announcing what is, by any fair measure, quite astonishing news: 32 Rare Black Rhinos to Fly to Tanzania to Breed.
If you assume, as I did at first glance, that these gargantuan horned beasts have had it up to here with the office and left early for the weekend, traveling under their own power, it’s difficult to know whether to run first for a camera, an underground shelter, or a plane ticket to Tanzania. The array of images this headline conjures up nearly defy description. All I know is that my own weekend plans pale in comparison.
Rhinocerotic (a real word!) recreation notwithstanding, Professor Strunk did go on to caution that, “This rule does not, of course, mean that the writer should entirely discard the passive voice, which is frequently convenient and sometimes necessary.” — but in this instance anyway, would have been far less entertaining.
(Save the Rhino International, a charity registered in the UK, which counts the late author and environmental activist Douglas Adams as a patron founder, works to conserve endangered rhino populations in Africa and Asia.)