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!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Straight Talk on Gobbledygook -- and Reform

Cheryl Stephens -- plain language guru -- has cleared up the original meaning of the word "gobbledygook."

The term was coined by Henry Maverick, but as Stephens points out:

Maverick said the bureaucratic style of writing reminded him of the turkeys who strutted around the yard making a lot of noise that ended in a pile of sputum on the ground. That sputum was the gobble-de-gook. Not the strut nor the song-- the spit and pus!

For more of Cheryl's wisdom, check out her terrific blog, Building Rapport. In particular, you'll see information about the Plain Language in Government Communications Act now pending in Congress. To heck with the bailout; urge your congressman to support that.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Word of the Week

Ferae Naturae

Latin (literally, "of a wild nature"); used as both a noun and an adjective to refer to animals of a sort that are not normally domesticated. Under traditional common law rules, the owner of an animal ferae naturae was strictly liable for any injuries caused by the animal.

The Second Annual 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 top three winners will get a boxed set (without the box) of the new paperback edition of my book The Party of the First Part, together with the Vocabula Review's new essay collection (a must for all language lovers): Vocabula Bound 2: Our Wresting, Writhing Tongue. Winners will be announced October 14th.

Looking for inspiration? Check out the Legalese Hall of Shame at POFP's website. (The two recent entries listed below will be considered for the prize... but the competition is wide open!).

New Entries in the Hall of Shame

Two new entries for the Legalese Hall of Shame in our related website.
  • From attorney Erin Engels, a baffling sentence from a retirement agreement. The lawyer used 150 words to say "Retiree waives his right to sue the employer." But why just "waive" a right when you can "release, remit, remise, acquit and forever discharge " a right? It's hard work, but then this was a union job.
  • From concerned citizen Howard Kline, an Ohio traffic ordinance that requires a GPS unit to navigate your way through the dangling modifiers.

In our never-ending quest to reform legal language, we've exposed these (and other) examples of bad legalese to public ridicule. Check them out at the Hall of Shame!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

A Fabulous Book for Language Lovers

Hot off the presses! A new collection of essays from The Vocabula Review -- an online journal devoted to battling nonstandard, careless English, while also celebrating the opulence and elegance of the English language.

The book is called: Vocabula Bound 2: Our Wresting, Writhing Tongue (the subtitle comes from a quotation by Ben Johnson). It is a collection of twenty-eight essays about the English language, as well as ten poems, that originally appeared in The Vocabula Review. Included within its covers are essays by Joseph Epstein, Judge Mark Painter, and -- yours truly.

You can order Vocabula Bound 2 from Vocabula Books or Amazon. It's also worth checking out Vocabula Review for the pleasure of reading its fascinating content.

Word of the Week

Admixed Embryo

Wired Magazine reports that Admixed Embryo is "legalese for any early-stage embryo combining human and nonhuman genes or tissue. Encompassing both cybrids and chimeras yet sounding less apocalyptic than either, these hybrids are now approved in England for stem cell research."

Monday, September 1, 2008

Word of the Week


Co-ownership of property by two or more individuals who inherited it jointly under the laws of intestate succession. The word derives from the Anglo-Norman parcenerie and Old French parsonerie, both meaning "partnership."