Harold Evans’s style guide is newsman’s balderdash

Oliver Kamm in The Sunday Times of London:

ScreenHunter_2709 May. 28 19.54Not knowing what a passive is, Evans just throws the term around regardless. He claims to have “identified four occasions where the passive voice may be preferred”, but two of his purported examples are in the active voice and he hasn’t noticed. (Here’s one, which Evans labels the pussyfooting passive: “The last of the chocolate ice cream was missing from the freezer . . .” And here’s the other: “The complexity of designing an aerial propeller was troubling to Wilbur . . .” No passives in sight.)

Evans’s advice is balderdash born of ignorance and ineptitude, but luckily he’s too incompetent to follow it, for the book is replete with passive clauses (real ones, I mean, like “the denial was reviewed by Dr Kenneth Robbins . . .”). Blunders pile up. Evans warns against misplaced modifiers yet the example he gives of that mild stylistic blemish isn’t a misplaced modifier.

He says: “There is no such condition as nearly unanimous. The vote is either unanimous or not.” (Try googling “nearly unanimous” and see whether or not it exists.) He scorns use of less in place of fewer: “Nobody would think of saying fewer coffee, fewer sugar, but every day somebody writes less houses.” Well, indeed; the obvious (and correct) inference is that less with count nouns is grammatical standard English whereas fewer with mass nouns isn’t.

More here.