Did I miss an etymological memo?

Since when were decisions taken instead of made?

“The decision was taken.” I first encountered this delightful turn of phrase working in government relations and assumed it was another example of bureaucratese gone bad but I’m starting to see this more and more in my daily travels through the media.

Can someone (I’m looking at you, Phronetic) shed some light on this for me?


  1. It’s the result of over-using the passive voice, which is usually a purposefully elusive way of stating things. People make decisions, so when you use the phrase “… made the decision,” you have to name someone or some body of people (i.e., “Harper made the decision…”. By using a grammatical construction such as “the decision was taken…,” the writer avoids the problem of agency (i.e., naming the doer). One either does this on purpose, because they don’t know the name of the doer, or in a slightly more devious way — because he/she knows who made the decision, but doesn’t particularly wish to draw attention to it.

    This is the reason why all your university professors taught you to avoid the passive voice whenever possible. Don’t you remember your Katherine McCercher (sp.?) 8:30am lessons, Joe? LOL.

  2. Still though, I would think you could say “the decision was made” without naming the doer. And I’ve seen taken get attribution, ie. “Morgan took the decision to write LOL in a comment post.”

    Why taken?

  3. I am going to weigh in on this and suggest that taken is used to imply the process of decision making.

    I take a decision from a variety of options. If you make a decision it doesn’t, at least to me, imply the same selection process.

    In theory, when we are talking about government decision making, a variety of options are considered before one is taken it makes sense to use take instead of made.

    But maybe I am on drugs.

  4. I disagree, Andy. You take one of many options but it’s still a decision that is MADE to take it.

    That said, my objections may not make you wrong. The government is good at inventing new words and syntaxes.

  5. I have never heard the phrase “take a decision,” and I’d probably bitch-slap any writer who wanted to use it in his or her own prose. But you’re right, government-types are using it now. Just today, in fact, Gilles Duceppe used it talking about the softwood lumber deal.

    The learned consensus seems to be that it’s an errant Britishism creeping into North American usage, not a bureaucratese evasion. Why the British came up with it, I don’t know, but somehow it ended up in the English version of the Maastricht Treaty (Article 115, for the curious).

    One of the language forums I saw suggested that French mistranslation is to blame. The more bilingual among us can correct me on this, but the French say “prendre une decision” rather than “faire une decision.” That might be the easiest explanation for why Duceppe said it, and maybe it’s why it seems to crop up so much in Canadian government circles. Just a theory.

  6. when i wrote that last comment, i was working under the assumption that no one in his or her right mind would ever write “x took the decision…” because it sounds so dumb. people take cabs, not decisions; they don’t take decisions, they make them.

    one can write “x took the following course of action” or even “the decision was made to take the following course of action,” but anyone who writes “x took the decision…” has mixed up the meaning of two distinct verbs (to make and to take) and/or condensed the meaning of “decided to take the course of action” into “took the decision”. such a one, in my book, would be a shite writer.

  7. How about we take it one step further and start discussing actions rather than decisions. Of course, I would prefer “Stephen Harper made the decision to accept the softwood lumber deal” to “Stephen Harper took the decision to accept the softwood lumber deal.”

    But what’s wrong with “Stephen Harper accepted the softwood lumber deal?”

    That sentence, incidentally, identifies a totally unrelated problem with CP Style. That question mark should be outside the quotation marks because I am making a statement within a question. But the bastards won’t let me do it.

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