Thou Shalt Not Use “Shall”

I’ve mentioned before on this blog that a large chunk of my work in recent years has been for law firms. When you work in that domain you have a lot of exposure to “legalese,” both in the common derogatory sense (legal writing meant to obscure) and the non-judgmental sense (the everyday use of specific jargon within that particular industry).

Not all legal writing is bad (see: Judge Posner), but you don’t have to read too many decisions to get a sense of how bad some of it can be. Too often there are unnecessarily long sentence structures; convoluted chains of reference to previous precedent; and a self-conscious and deliberate use of words and syntax that would be considered obsolete or archaic in any other context.

One of those words is “shall.” Shall has been effectively extinct in popular usage for decades, but it continues to live on in legal usage.

Or does it?

Click to face this verbal zombie

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Asportation: Unnecessary Wordiness…or a Retronym in Process?

It’s been a while since I’ve done a vocabulary post on a legal word (surprising, considering that a good chunk of my recent work has been for law firms; that’s been so successful that I’ll soon be offering a new service specifically for legal clients).

In the past, I’ve covered a few unusual words that appear in legal contexts (and issues of legalese; see: usufruct, burglarious, this, and this). Today, let’s look at “asportation.” It’s not about aspiration or transportation; airports or teleportation; perspiration or trainspotting.

Take a deep breath, then click here.

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In With The New

February’s nearly over and I usually dedicate a post around this time to review the annual “Banned Words” list, but this year I’ll take a pass. There’s only so much pet-peevishness I can take, and that exercise in public griping drifted over the line from entertaining to annoying several years ago. There’s nothing worth discussing on it this year that hasn’t been covered better elsewhere (but if you’re interested, you’ll find it here).

Instead, I’ll stick with the spirit of my recent posts on Words of the Year (and Part 2) and discuss several interesting words (and ideas) that I encountered over the past year. None of these words was strictly new in 2017, but they were either new to me or I noticed them being used in new ways that deserved attention. I’ve done only superficial research into their deeper origins, so what follows should be taken as incomplete.

Ready for something new? Click here.

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WOTY 2017 (Part 2): “Fake News” All Over Again.

On January 5th, the American Dialect Society announced the results of its voting for Word of the Year (WOTY). They went with fake news which, if you’ve read my previous post, was a choice you might not think I’d approve of. However, if you’ve also read some of my WOTY commentaries from previous years, you might have noticed that I can be won over by a WOTY choice not because of the word itself but by the justification its selectors make. In the case of the ADS and fake news, I have been totally convinced: their justification, supported by a new and accurate definition, is a slam dunk. I was impressed and completely support their choice.

I’ll get to that new definition in a little while (if you don’t have the stamina for my longer play-by-play, you can skip below to this flag: <<<<<>>>>>). On the way there, let’s look at some of the other candidates and winners in the ADS selection contest. The ADS gets its own post in my WOTY wrap-ups because they seem to put a lot more thought into this than most of the others. They not only select an overall WOTY, but they look at a number of sub-categories (which vary from year to year). They have a semi-open nominating policy, which is unscientific but usually produces thought-provoking choices. And votes for candidate words are cast and tallied in real time in a room full of people who are passionate about and deeply interested in our language (even if they don’t take themselves entirely seriously during this process). The WOTY chosen by the ADS is, in many years, the only one really worth taking seriously.

Click for your choice of alternative lies or fact-based reporting

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WOTY 2017 (Part 1): We’re all complicit.

Ah, December. When a young man’s thoughts turn to college bowl games. And when those of us who spend a disproportionate amount of our time in the trenches observing and analyzing this thing we call the English language wonder, “what’s going on with the WOTY for 2017?”

WOTY (word of the year) candidates and ‘winners’ have been floating around since at least October, and those of you who have made it a habit to stop by this site have probably noticed that every year I do the Pokemon thing (“Collect ’em all!“—let’s call this “WOTYmon” from now on) and offer up a quick and far-too-often sarcastic review of what the various WOTY declarers have…declared.

It’s my self-appointed duty, and my Christmas gift to you: I slog through all the nonsense of each year’s WOTY declarations and summarize it, so you don’t have to. Whether you find any value in that or appreciate it, accept this small token. Happy Holidays!

Let’s get to it. Where’s the WOTY? Click here.

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