What is POFP?

Why do lawyers refer to long documents as briefs and
18-year olds as infants? Why do they use so much Latin when so few of their
clients are Ancient Romans? Is it a conspiracy?

Party of the First Part has the answers! Check out the Website for the
Legalese Hall of Shame; a glossary of legal words linked to Adam Freedman's
columns; tips on writing legal documents in plain English; and more!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

POFP Teams Up With Grammar Girl!

This week, yours truly is guest hosting the Grammar Girl podcast.

For those who don't know Grammar Girl, she is one of the nation's top podcasters, with fun and informative broadcasts about English language and usage. This week, I'm discussing the topic of "Readability" -- specifically how the rules for creating clear legal documents can be applied to any document.

Grammar Girl's podcasts can be found on i'Tunes or at the Grammar Girl website.

The Law Rocks - Literally

The Wall Street Journal law blog reports that a second year law student at Boalt Hall is creating legal-themed rock music -- filling, as they say, a much-needed void.

He's got a ballad about promissory estoppel, a blues anthem called "12(b)(6)" . . . and then, there's Mens Rea:

Oh, mens rea,

It's a guilty mind

The girl gives me mens rea

And actus reus isn't far behind

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Great Canadian Comma Dispute

Ken Adams from Adams Drafting delivered the news: the great Canadian comma dispute is over.

What? You didn't know about it? Read Ken's OpEd piece here. Ken served as expert witness in a case before the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. It was essentially a contract dispute between two telecom companies. The commission issued a preliminary opinion that hinged on the placement of a single comma -- and that's when they called in Ken.

If you want to read more about punctuation in the law (and who doesn't?), read my column Comma Cause.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Update on The Golden Gobbledygook Award

Thanks to the following blogs that have mentioned The Golden Gobbledygook Award:

As a reminder - we're looking for bad legalese. Exquisitely bad. Kind of like the Bulwer-Lytton Prize for the worst opening line of prose ("It was a dark and stormy night. . . . ").

To enter the competition, send me the best example of bad legalese you can find -- you can either post an entry here at the blog, or email me at adamjfreedman@yahoo.com.

The winning entry and runners-up will be posted to the Hall Of Shame on the POFP website -- and the person who submits the winning entry will get a signed copy of my new book, as well as the new audio book from star podcaster Grammar Girl, Anonymous Lawyer by Jeremy Blachman, and Lifting the Fog of Legalese by Joseph Kimble.

Good luck!

Legal Language Podcasts!

Take the The Party of the First Part everywhere you go . . . with the latest podcasts!

I've recorded a series of eight podcasts with all-new material. A new podcast will be posted each week. The first episode: "Warranties and Guaranties" is available now.
  • iTunes, click here.
  • Pod-Planet, click here.
  • Podfeed, click here.
  • Podcast Alley, click here.
  • Odeo, click here.
It even has theme music . . . . enjoy!

Word of the Week


A Latinate term for theft, larceny can be traced to an English law of 1225 which sought to punish those who stole deer from the royal hunting parks. The crime was given the name latrocinium (from the Latin latro, or thief), later anglicized to latrociny and finally larceny. The next larceny statute came fifty years later and was also, bizarrely, limited to the theft of the king’s deer. Could it be that for fifty years the British Crown had nothing more pressing than to crack down on deer theft?

Monday, August 20, 2007

Safire's Recommended Reading

In Sunday's New York Times, the great William Safire recommends three books about "the use and abuse of words." Mirabile dictu, but The Party of the First Part is the first book on Safire's list!

Safire praises POFP as a "lighthearted but lucid explanation of legalese." He also recommends Send: the essential guide to email for office and home, by David Shipley and Will Schwalbe; and A Century of New Words, by John Ayto.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

POFP in the August Vocabula Review!

Check out the new issue of The Vocabula Review - an internet journal that proudly proclaims "A society is generally as lax as its language." Of course, modesty prevents me from mentioning that the lead article is by POFP. Oh dear, I just mentioned it. Well read it anyhow; TVR is a great publication!

Legalese is Code

A recent post on the tech site O'Reilly Radar offers scientific proof that legalese is actually tedious.

In "Law is Code," Artur Bergman discusses a program that (somehow) turns text into these nifty visualizations with lines and dots and such. When they ran the US Code through the program, it churned out this very, very dense picture of criss-crossing lines. Mr. Bergman's comment:

Legalese is a massively structured dialect. Symbols appear in very distinct patterns that are more reminiscent of machine code than text.

Which isn't entirely fair to machine code. Yes, legalese contains more structure and repetition than normal English. But that doesn't mean it achieves precision. In machine code, a word may denote some tangible reality ("widget"), whereas the common words in legalese denote abstract concepts ("reasonable").

Or so it seems to me it seems to me it seems to me it seems to me.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Levy Man Cometh

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is pushing hard for a major California health care reform. Never mind the politics of the whole thing, the Governor is having terrible trouble over language (not Arnold's usual ESL troubles).

Schwarzenegger's health care plan would be funded by a 4% payroll . . . what? Tax, of course. Except that the plan's supporters call it a "fee." Arnold himself has tried a variety of names for the tax: for a while it was a "coverage dividend." Earlier in the year, he told the Sacramento Bee, "It is not a tax, just a loan." (Hey, you mean taxpayers can get it back, with interest?) Nowadays, he's taken to calling it a levy.

POFP can forgive a new tax, but we can't forgive these "linguistic tricks," as John Fund of the WSJ.com puts it. As Fund points out, Arnold's lingo is on par with such gems as "revenue enhancements" and "solidarity payments."

For more on the wonderfully taxing vocabulary of government revenues, see my earlier column, Death and This.

Word of the Week


In Latin, jurat means "he swears" (from jurare, to swear). In English, it's a noun. It is the common name for a notary's certificate: the little burst of legalese at the end of an affidavit saying "Sworn to and subscribed before me this ___ day of ___ , etc."

The word is also used generally to refer to any person who has sworn an oath. In the Channel Islands (Jersey, Guernsey, and Alderney) a jurat is a type of magistrate, appointed for life. According to Black's Law Dictionary, juration is the act of swearing. Of course, that's also the way an Englishman says "duration."

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

More Golden Gobbledygook Swag!

Great news: Joe Kimble, legal writing guru at Thomas Cooley Law School and plain language crusader, is donating several copies of his new book Lifting the Fog of Legalese as a prize. So in addition to the prizes listed in the post below, contest winners will also receive a copy of this book, which has won praise from Bryan Garner and others.

Submit your favorite bad legalese - either post it as a comment; or email POFP at adamjfreedman@yahoo.com.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Announcing the Golden Gobbledygook Award!

Just what you've all been waiting for -- a Prize for the best example of bad legalese.

The term "gobbledygook" was coined by a Texas congressman, Henry Maverick. He meant for the word to evoke the sound that gobbling turkeys make. The word was meant as an indictment of confusing legalese and officialese.

But people have come to take legalese in stride; to which POFP says "Enough!

Send the worst example of legalese you can lay your hands on to POFP (adamjfreedman@yahoo.com) -- and you can be the proud winner of the Golden Gobbledygook Award. The winner will get a boxed set (without the box) of my new book The Party of the First Part, together with Jeremy Blachman's Anonymous Lawyer, and Grammar Girl's new audiobook! The first two runners-up will also receive prizes. Entries will be accepted until September 14th. The winner will be announced on September 21st.

Looking for inspiration? Check out the Legalese Hall of Shame at POFP's website.

Word of the Week

Heart Balm Action

A generic name for any of the common law actions for the torts of alienation of affections, breach of promise of marriage, criminal conversation, and seduction. For more on these delicious torts, see my earlier post, The Art of Conversation.

"Tragic Wordplay" in the DC Circuit

Until a few days ago, terminally ill patients had a constitutional right to access potentially life saving drugs - even if those drugs had not yet been approved by the FDA.

On Tuesday (August 7), in the case of Abigail Alliance v. Eschenbach, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit held that no such right exists, reversing last year's decision in the Abigail case by - the DC Circuit. In other words, the court reversed itself. Ooops.

The issue is clearly one of life and death, but in the courts it came down to a battle of semantics.

Read the rest on Huffington Post!

My Way or the Highway?

One of the early Lord Chancellors of England was Thomas Egerton. (The Chancellors were the officials who created the branch of law we call "Equity" - which brings us such nifty things as injunctions and TROs)

Anyway, Egerton was elevated to the post by Queen Elizabeth. After Elizabeth's death, Egerton sought to curry favor with the new King, James. He wrote the King a letter to assure him of his loyalty; he wrote "I have learned no waye but the King's highe waye . . ."

Is this the origin of the phrase "my way or the highway"?

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Word of the Week

Endorse and Indorse

English is full of words in which there is a "hesitation" (as Fowler puts it) between the initial i- and the initial e-. Here is a fine example from the law.

A person indorses a document by signing it on the back, or as they say in Latin, in dorso (dorso, of course, being the root of the English dorsal, as in the dorsal fin of a shark). In Britain, people spell the word endorse while in the US, it’s indorse for checks and endorse for all other meanings. “Indorse” is the more traditional spelling; it was favored by Blackstone, who enthusiastically reported that the payee of a negotiable instrument may assign his rights “to any other man, by indorsement . . . and he may assign the same to another, and so on in infinitium.” I don’t think he meant that last bit literally.

POFP on HuffPo!

Your faithful correspondent is now featured on the Huffington Post, commenting on Congress's attempt to redefine discrimination. What Congress is trying to do is increase the Statute of Limitations for employment discrimination cases -- about which reasonable minds may differ -- but their tactics are abominable. Rather than come straight out and change the limitations period, Congress proposes to change the definition of discrimination to the point of meaninglessness. Under Congress's definition, "discrimination" occurs any time an employee receives a paycheck or any other benefit, the amount of which may have been affected by an act of discrimination at any time in the employee's career, no matter how long ago.

Speaking of incomprehensible things, people at technorati say I have to put the following into a blog post:

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