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March 2007
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Party of the First Part

I’ll let Alan Freedman, author of Party of the First Part, introduce his blog:

If you are reading this page...

Then you are passionately devoted to language, or law, or the language of the law. Or you just want to appear smarter by quoting me at dinner parties. This is the blog of Adam Freedman, columnist for New York Law Journal Magazine (“Legal Lingo”). Here I’ll post my columns, observations on legalese, and the latest news from the frontlines in the eternal battle between the forces of Plain English vs. Precision.

Alan posts sporadically, so you may want to subscribe to his RSS feed rather than check in on him daily. But sporadic or not, he’s worth reading.

Quotation of the Day

“A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” —Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

I got this from Patrick Lamb’s In Search of Perfect Client Service. Patrick’s comment on this quotation is also worthwhile:

... The statement, attributable to Antoine de Saint-Exupery, applies equally to writing, itself just a type of design.

Why is this important to client service?  Good writing communicates much in short order.  What do our clients lack?  Time.  Don't waste it.  Each word you write or utter should prove you value their time more than your own.

To which we all say, “Amen.”

Have some pun

Do puns have a place in legal writing? Fifth Circuit Judge John R. Brown evidently thought so. Consider his opinion in Wood v. Diamond M Drilling Co., 691 F.2d 1165 (5th Cir. 1982) (sorry, can’t find a free copy on line), in which he riffs on the defendant’s name:

I. Diamond and the Roughneck
In exploring the many facets of this case, we begin with the DIAMOND M NEW ERA, a semi-submersible drilling rig owned by the defendant, Diamond M Drilling Company (Diamond). Mounted in the sapphire seas off the coast of New Jersey, Diamond's ERA is but one of many such rigs found along the Atlantic's jewelled coast....

II. Diamond is for Error
A. Loss of Future Earnings
Diamond argues that the jury’s award of $200,000 for loss of future earnings was excessive.... Diamond’s argument is flawed.
... We are not shocked, or dazzled, by what Diamond would have us believe is a forty-carat award....

Diamond polishes off its appeal by arguing that the District Court’s award of $30 per day maintenance was excessive.

Believe it or not, the pun is a time-honored rhetorical device. The Greeks didn’t call it a pun, though. They called it paronomasia. According to Silva Rhetoricae, paronomasia means “Using words that sound alike but that differ in meaning (punning).” Silva Rhetoricae lists several other devices for having fun with words while persuading people, including these:

  • Adnominatio (which sounds Latin to me): assigning to a proper name its literal or homophonic meaning. For examples, see the Wood decision by Judge Brown.
  • Antanaclasis: repetition of a word in two different senses. Example: “If we don't hang together, we'll hang separately.”
  • Syllepsis: Using a word understood differently in relation to two or more other words, which it modifies or governs. Example: “There is a certain type of woman who’s rather press grapes than clothes.”

Physician, heal thyself.

Here’s an excellent tip from Eugene Volokh, via The Blawgraphy:

When you’re editing someone else’s work — for instance, if you’re a student who’s required to edit a classmate’s paper, or a law review editor editing a faculty member’s work — ask yourself, “What have I learned about my own paper from editing this other paper?”

As with all attempts to see the flaws in one’s own work, this isn’t easy to do well. But it’s good to try. For instance, if you see some arguments that were meant to be rhetorically flowery but come across to the reader (you) as mere bloviation, ask yourself: Is there similar rhetoric in my article that I like but other readers may be turned off by? If the sarcasm in the article you’re reading comes across as stridency or excessive combativeness, ask yourself whether your work suffers from the same problem. If you’re seeing lots of redundancy or needless abstraction, look over your own work with an eye towards finding the same problems.

Writing tip of the day

Many people have their word-processing software insert the file name in the footer. That can be a handy trick for finding the document later to edit or re-use it. But if you’re a recruiter for a law firm or other employer, and the document is a rejection letter, you may want to either not print the document name in the footer or change the file name to something other than kissoff.doc.