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Almost as old as I


It seems that Strunk & White’s little book just turned 50. That makes it almost as old as I am. Some people love S&W; others don’t. Me, I think the little book just needs to be placed in proper perspective. Hence the photo above. S&W will serve you well if you remember the following:

  • The book on the left is a good book. The book on the right is The Good Book. (Here, the difference between the indefinite article and the definite article is important.)

  • The book on the left isn’t the bible—that would be the book on the right.

p.s. Marc Acito has a terrific perspective on S&W. (Hat tip to Sam Jacobson at Legal Writing Prof Blog.)

Literary Legs

There’s a new item on my legal-writing blogroll: Literary Legs, by Ben Opipari. The tagline is “The intersection of running and writing.” What does running have to do with writing? Ben explains that “both require the same elements: patience, good form, discipline, cadence, rhythm, and variety.” In fact, running can improve your writing, or at least Ben thinks so. And judging from some of his articles that I’ve read, I’d say Ben is worth listening to.

Effective quotations and shorter briefs

The current issue of Headnotes, the Dallas Bar Association’s newsletter, has an appellate theme. If you’re an appellate lawyer, check it out.

Among its articles are two good ones on legal writing. In Questions on Quotations, Justice Jim Moseley gives good advice on using quotations effectively. And in 20 Tips for Writing Shorter Briefs, my friend Scott Stolley gives practical advice you can use today to shorten whatever brief you’re working on now.

All trial judges and trial lawyers should read this article.

Peter M. Tiersma has written an excellent article on the impossible things we ask jurors to do, and what trial judges and trial lawyers can do to make their job more doable. Much of the difficulty arises from jury instructions, and Prof. Tiersma has some good ideas for improving them. To download the article, click this.

While Googling for links about Prof. Tiersma, I came upon, Prof. Tiersma’s web site devoted to language and law. If you’re reading this blog, you’ll probably want to pay a visit.

Words to make you sound insecure

For those who don’t believe in what I’m trying to do here, I suggest The Words You Should Know to Sound Smart. Here’s the blurb:

This book is a tongue-in-cheek guide to words that any well-educated, witty person should be able to drop into cocktail conversation. The reader is encouraged to toss off words such as “disestablishmentarianism,” “descant,” and “autodidactic”—words that will make the user sound learned, intellectual, and wise....

Ironically, one of the entries under “A” is affectation, defined as “behaviors or mannerisms that are exaggerated, eccentric, and deliberately showy ....”