Thursday, August 30, 2007
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.
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
Saturday, August 25, 2007
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 email@example.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!
- iTunes, click here.
- Pod-Planet, click here.
- Podfeed, click here.
- Podcast Alley, click here.
- Odeo, click here.
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 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
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
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.
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
Submit your favorite bad legalese - either post it as a comment; or email POFP at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sunday, August 12, 2007
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 (email@example.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.
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.
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!
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
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.
Speaking of incomprehensible things, people at technorati say I have to put the following into a blog post: