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Bar News - June 17, 2011

Morning Mail: On the Virtues of Precise Language


As lawyers, language is one of our major tools; whether oral or written. When used correctly, language can convince others of the righteousness of our cause, or convince others that we know not of what we speak. As I get older, I have less tolerance for imprecise language. In an effort to lower my blood pressure, therefore, here are ten phrases in the English language that just drive me nuts.

"I am nauseous." I donít know you that well, but unless you are someone who makes others feel sick, you are not "nauseous," you are "nauseated."

"At this time." Okay, now is as good a time as any to get around to it. Life is precious and short. Please donít waste my time and yours with useless phrases.

"I would like to thank." Thank you for sharing your intentions with me. If your true intentions are to thank someone, do so. In truth, the above compliment is insincere. In reality, I probably am not interested in what you intend to do in the future.

"I applaud him for his aggressiveness." The word"aggression" may have some negative baggage. It is, however, a word. "Aggressiveness," although somehow in most dictionaries, in my opinion, is not. Let us explore the "parameters" of this problem. Unless you have a post-graduate degree in either physics or mathematics, you probably do not know what the word "parameter" means. I know I do not. It is not, however, synonymous with the word "perimeter," nor is it synonymous with "boundaries."

Letís "think outside the box." I am strongly in favor of looking at issues creatively. I think we can all do better, however, than describing that process by using a clichť.

"Bequeath and devise," or its kin. There used to be a time when all legal phrases were repeated at least twice. Once, setting forth its derivation from the French; once, from the English. Unlike the author of Moby Dick, however, we do not get paid by the word. Once will suffice.

Itís so good itís "crazy." Sheís the "beeís knees." I am much to old for the former; too young for the latter. Enough said.

Enclosed are two (2) copies of our motion. Just in case you missed the first grade class in spelling whole numbers.

I release you, your heirs and delegatees, pets and household help, for liability for all claims, known or unknown, from the beginning of time, until infinity. And you wonder why people hate lawyers.

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