… for use of passive voice above and beyond the call of duty. In response to a more than ordinarily ugly fight among players – and a coach!- at a recent football game, she wrote the following:

The incidents that occurred at the Sanderson v. Marfa football game on Friday, September 7th are unfortunate and embarrassing for both communities and school districts. There were actions by both teams that were unacceptable. The appropriate notifications have been made to UIL and TEA. The district will review the incident. Once all the facts are gathered, a decision regarding necessary actions will be taken. Until that time, and based on what is known now, we support our coaching staff.

Ya gotta admit that when it comes to failing even to touch on the subject of her statement – i.e., to use the word fight – the woman is punching above her weight. The incidents that occurred is so wondrous a phrase in its avoidance of actuality that even here, in her very first words, she sets a standard. There were actions by both teams that were unacceptable. Let’s not say what they were. And let’s use the passive voice: actions by both teams.. What actions? Don’t ask.

Notifications have been made. Who made them? What do you mean by notifications? Teams, not people, attacked other… teams. And the district will review… Do you mean you? The superintendent? Teams, district — keep it vaguely corporate and the appalling immediacy of students and their coach beating the shit out of people on a football field disappears. Once the facts are gathered, a decision will be taken. Gathered by whom? What sorts of decisions are available? Who will make them? Where are we…? What is known….? Who knows it…?

Let’s translate into English.

The fight at the Sanderson v. Marfa football game on Friday, September 7th angered and embarrassed all of us. Players on both teams attacked other players, and even a coach reportedly joined the fight. After I review footage, and talk to participants and witnesses, I’ll decide on punishments.

Note that SOS has dropped the superintendent’s last sentence. It’s dumb and unnecessary for her to pick sides when she just made clear she doesn’t know the full story.

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9 Responses to “Scathing Online Schoolmarm Salutes the Superintendent of Terrell County Texas Schools…”

  1. theprofessor Says:

    Obviously, this superintendent has a glorious future as a university administrator ahead of her. Perhaps she is getting ready to make the move to the major leagues? As our retired President Peterprinciple boldly used to say, “mistakes were made.”

  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    tp: The passive voice is the administrator’s best friend.

  3. dmf Says:


  4. JND Says:

    Marfa and Sanderson!

    I’ll wager I’m the only one of your readers who has been to both towns. I missed the fight though.

  5. Margaret Soltan Says:

    JND: Well, Marfa is famous among arty types like me – it’s a must-visit place… Not that I’ve yet visited…

  6. Pete Says:

    Question for the Schoolmarm:

    Can one join reportedly? I understand how one could join quickly or reluctantly but not reportedly (or the equally popular, allegedly). if the point of “reportedly” is to emphasize that we really don’t know whether the coach joined the fight or didn’t but we do know that somebody has reported that he did, wouldn’t a better sentence be, “Players on both teams attacked other players, and [whoever made the report] said a coach joined the fight”? On the other hand, if you’re just as sure about the actions of the coach as you are about the actions of the players (who it seems just “attacked” without modification), do we really need “reportedly”?

    I really don’t know how I could reportedly cross the street but you could say that about me. Isn’t the reporting more important here than the crossing? The sentence “Pete reportedly crossed the street” makes me the actor in an event that might not have happened. This seems to be an even worse version of hiding the responsible party because it does so without using the passive voice.

    By the way, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting both Marfa and Sanderson. Visitors are likely to be less disappointed by Sanderson but we probably shouldn’t blame Marfa for that.

  7. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Pete: I originally wrote the post without “reportedly,” and indeed I’ve found that allegedly and reportedly tend to be weasel words. Ass-covering words. I often find myself inserting them when the possibility of someone growling at me about a lawsuit floats through my mind.

  8. Pete Says:


    I totally appreciate the strategic covering of one’s ass but I think one can protect against lawsuits while still avoiding bad writing. Modifiers should embellish but should not change the meaning of the sentence. “That’s a big dog” and “That’s a dog” are fundamentally the same message but “Margaret is reportedly an axe murderer” and” Margaret is an axe murderer” are rather different.

  9. Margaret Soltan Says:

    LOL. Pete: Yes.

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