The UK Telegraph posted an article recently entitled "How English became English", by Kate Colquhoun, dated April 4, 2008, in which she reviewed a new book, The Secret Life of Words (Apr., 2008, 432 pages), by Henry Hitchings.
In her review, she briefly noted development of certain traditional legal terms as a part of the English language.
Language is about more than communication.
Its history weaves into itself the stories of empire and politics, culture, economics, fashion, horticulture and even cooking. Mutating along with our evolving lifestyles, it vibrates with the echoes of all our society has ever been. As Henry Hitchings powerfully demonstrates in his astonishing new survey, it "enables an archaeology of human experience".
The British have always been magpies. Invaded and as invaders, we have "borrowed" copiously from old and new languages - more than 350 of them, according to Hitchings. So English is the great whore of all languages, a hybrid hotchpotch of words accumulated like treasures each time a new thing, concept or technology cries out for a word to give it definition. * * *
The subtle interrelation of our culture with those of other nations is embedded throughout English and there are plenty of surprises: who knew that * * * mortgage literally means "death grip" . . . ? * * *Traditional legal writing became viewed in this century, instead, as complicated and unclear -- nearly a secret code. In 1914, the term "legalese" was coined to describe such writing in the extreme, according to an article about "Legal Writing", posted by Wikipedia.
[L]inguistic doublings such as "last will and testament", "keep and maintain", "goods and chattels" each originally ensured that the legal point was understood -- whoever you were.
The characteristics of classical legal writing include:
- Authority (legal citations)
- Precedent (prior similar rulings)
- Vocabulary (technical writing, of four types)
- Formality (in a standard style)
Pennsylvania's statutory guidance for "plain language" was described in an article, entitled "The Pennsylvania Plain Language Law: Keeping Contracts Simple" (Dec., 1999), posted by FindLaw.
The federal government promotes "Plain Language" at a website, which provides information through "Plain Language Legal Examples".
Very recently, on February 28, 2008, the Chairman of the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission, Christopher Cox, testified extensively before the Subcommittee on Contracting and Technology, of the Committee on Small Business, of the U.S. House of Representatives, on the topic "Plain Language — The Benefits to Small Business".
He described that federal agency's efforts to promote "plain English initiatives".
I am delighted you're focused on this topic. As the champions of small business in the Congress, you have hit the jackpot in focusing on the importance of using plain language in government rules, regulations, and paperwork. The time and money that is wasted on translating legalese into plain English is dead weight economic loss. It benefits no one, and harms millions of consumers who pay for it.The Chairman noted:
Of course, while you are leaders in this effort, you are not the first mavericks in Congress to take up the battle for clearly written legal rules. In fact, the very first reported appearance of the word "gobbledygook" was in 1944, when it was coined by a Congressman actually named Maverick.
U.S. Representative Maury Maverick was a Texas Democrat who wrote a memo that banned all "gobbledygook language" from his office. He said he made up the word to imitate the noise a turkey makes. And to show you just how serious he was about plain English, he added in his memo, "Anyone using the words 'activation' or 'implementation' will be shot." * * *
At the SEC, we're taking plain English to the next level. In addition to using plain language in our writing, we're directly helping people to understand our rules, and the laws we administer. As one part of this effort, we've published the SEC's own "Plain English Handbook." * * *So, how good are you at writing in "plain English"?
I now offer a quiz of twenty-five questions, with the answers drawn from a reputable source (circa 1993).
For each set of words below, pick a word or phrase that would be more concise, mainstream, and reader-friendly.
- "a large number of"
- "adjacent to"
- "any and all"
- "at the present time"
- "cease and desist"
- "circumstances in which"
- "concerning the matter of"
- "due to the fact that"
- "during the time that"
- "in reference to"
- "is desirous of"
- "it is apparent that"
- "negatively affect"
- "null and void"
- "on a number of occasions"
- "on the part of"
- "prior to"
- "provided that"
- "referred to as"
- "render assistance"
- "said" (as an adjective)
- "subsequent to"
- "the case at bar"
- "the manner in which"
- "until such time as"
For the answers to this quiz, see: PA EE&F Law Blog posting Answers: English "Legalese" vs. "Plain English" (04/15/08).
This post was referenced by Roni Deutsch on The Tax Lady Blog in her posting dated April 16, 2008, entitled "Latest Good Reads".