As Charged -
Using Legalese!

The Plain English Movement

By Susan W. Harrell, J.D.
Director, Legal Studies Department, UWF

     We have all heard the old adage "Ignorance of the law is no excuse," a concept which places a burden on each citizen to learn the law. The burden is unreasonable only because legal jargon and a complicated writing style prevent citizens from understanding the law. In the 1970's, the Plain English Movement started as a consumer_protection effort, which promoted the passage of laws by calling for consumer documents to be written in understandable language. You probably won't be surprised to learn that lawyers were not the first to support the Plain English Movement. Complex language is customary for lawyers. Legalese, as it is called, is similar to a foreign language. It was created by lawyers and judges over many centuries. Legalese is still used in law schools and is perpetuated by many lawyers and judges in their daily work. While the use of legalese facilitates communication among lawyers because they know the language, it also frustrates others who try to read and understand legal documents.
     Since the movement, government agencies, state legislatures, and even Presidents of the United States have passed laws and set policies requiring or encouraging the use of simple, clear language when creating law. While many federal regulations, forms, and information brochures have been rewritten in plain English, there are some segments of the legal profession that have not responded to this need. Many lawyers learned legal writing in law school and do not want to take the time necessary to learn a completely different style of writing. Senior lawyers are busy and want to impress their clients with the professional image which legalese has upheld for generations. Many lawyers use the old adage "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" as a justification for continuing the use of legalese. But if complicated language for lawyers is easy, "plain speak" ought to be a slide.
     If you'd like to learn more about plain English, check out the following sources:

Richard C. Widick's Plain English for Lawyers, 4th 
Jefferson D. Bates's Writing with Precision
Alan L. Dworsky's The Little Book on Legal Writing, 
   2nd Edition



To Split or to Not Split
By Heather Stadelhofer

     For years, English teachers have admonished students not to split infinitives, and now the Oxford English Dictionary has changed the rule saying that a writer can, in fact, decide to split an infinitive with one word. What does that statement mean? It means you can write "not to split" or "to not split." Though either version is now acceptable, careful writers will want to avoid the split in case their readers do not know the OED's most recent grammatical ruling. [And, student writers, you especially should try to not unnecessarily use split infinitives because your professors may not allow them.]


                      10 Grammar Rules

1.   Try to
not split an infinitive.
2.   Verbs
has to agree with their subjects.
3.   Each pronoun must agree with
their antecedent.
4.   Don't use commas
, which aren't necessary.
.   Its important to use apostrophe's correctly.
   Don't use no double negatives.
7.   About
sentence fragments.
   When dangling, don't use participles.
9.   Use a modifier
only to describe what is intended.
10. Be
real careful about using adjectives and adverbs 


Hooton's Mnemonic
and Other Shortcuts

By Elizabeth Hooton

Affect/Verb = AV (audiovisual, Veterans Administration)

I before E except after C (receive) or when sounded like A as in neighbor and weigh

Nonrestrictive = not necessary = commas

Triteness comes from the Latin tritus, past participle of verb meaning "to wear out."

Principal is a pal; principle is a rule.

To know, know, know him is to love, love, love him parallelism at its finest

A dash is more emphatic than parentheses.

Denotation = Dictionary Meaning

Who is a subject pronoun. If a clause already has a subject, don't use who.


Learn to put yourself into your writing, but leave "you" out of it.
                                                       Judy Young



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