Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: kidnapping (1).

kidnapping (1).
Today: Spelling.

Spell-check programs notwithstanding, the spelling with “-pp-” is preferred by convention. But the inferior spelling “kidnaping” occasionally appears.

That spelling has its defenders — e.g.: “The form with a single ‘p’ is to be preferred because it is a general rule of spelling that the accent determines whether or not to double the letter when the suffix is to be added to a word ending in a single consonant preceded by a single vowel . . . . [T]he final consonant is not doubled if the word has more than one syllable and the accent is not on the last.” Rollin M. Perkins, Criminal Law 134 n.1 (1957) (citing the examples of “develop,” “offer,” and “suffer”).

Perkins’s final statement, explaining the general rule, is sound. But it overlooks the exceptional nature of “kidnapping.” First, the word is formed on the model of the shorter verb: “nap — napping.” Second, up to the 19th century, “kidnap” was generally accented on the second syllable. Third, “kidnapping” is about seven times as common as “kidnaping” in printed sources.

Next: Sense.

For information about the Language-Change Index click here.

Quotation of the Day: “Every one of us, when he writes well, is writing what he wants to. I must emphasize this. A work of art is born of the urge to create something, to write, and not simply because a man considers he ought to write something.” Alexei Tolstoy, “Advice to the Young Writer” (1939), in Maxim Gorky, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Alexei Tolstoy, and Konstantin Fedin on the Art and Craft of Writing 231, 231 (Alex Miller trans., 1972).

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: just.

Like “only,” “just” must be carefully placed — e.g.: “Texas’ Danny Peoples . . . had a two-run double and just hit foul a ball that could have been a two-run, game-tying homer.” Kirk Bohls, “Dallas Baptist Assaults Texas Pitching 10-5,” Austin Am.-Statesman, 26 Apr. 1994, at E1, E6. “Just” probably modifies “foul” — it might arguably modify “could” — but it certainly doesn’t modify the word that it precedes, “hit,” which might indicate that he had hit the foul immediately before. Perhaps the writer was so eager to indicate how the ball was barely foul that he put the “just” in too early.

Another example: “‘America needs a decade of renewal and reform,’ he [Richard D. Lamm, a presidential candidate] said. ‘It just doesn’t [read "doesn't just"] need a new President — it needs a whole decade of reform and renewal.’” Ernest Tollerson, “Lamm, Ex-Governor of Colorado, Seeks Reform Party’s Nomination,” N.Y. Times, 10 July 1996, at A1, A12.

For information about the Language-Change Index click here.

Quotation of the Day: “The writing of literate Americans whose primary business is not writing but something else is pretty bad. It is muddy, backward, convoluted and self-strangled; it is only too obviously the product of a task approached unwillingly and accomplished without satisfaction or zeal. Except for the professionals among us, we Americans are hell on the English language.” Donald J. Lloyd, “Our National Mania for Correctness,” in A Linguistics Reader 57, 57-58 (Graham Wilson ed., 1967).

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

LawProse Lesson #185: What is an en-dash?

What is an en-dash?

The en-dash is distinct from the hyphen and the em-dash. Conscientious writers know how to use the en-dash correctly; conscientious readers will appreciate the writer’s effort to effectively distinguish between the marks.

Here are the basics. The en-dash (–) is shorter than an em-dash (—) and longer than a hyphen (-). It never takes a space before or after the mark. Its principal use is as an equivalent of to when marking a span or range of dates, page numbers, scores, and the like:

Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826)
Oxford American Dictionary 217–19 (1st ed. 1980)
The board voted 6–3 in favor of the amendment.
The partner’s 26–7 trial record speaks for itself.
Alabama beat Auburn, 28–17, on Saturday. [Use commas to set off a tally or score that doesn't immediately follow a verb or precede a noun.]

One caveat: don’t mix words and the en-dash. The en-dash may stand in for the phrase from . . . to or between . . . and. When the word from or between is written with the en-dash, the construction becomes unparallel—it just doesn’t read quite right.

Not this: Thomas Jefferson lived from 1743–1826.
But this: Thomas Jefferson lived from 1743 to 1826.

Not this: Managers earn between $15.00–$18.00 per hour.
But this: Managers earn between $15.00 and $18.00 per hour.
Or this: Managers earn $15.00–$18.00 per hour.

Another common use for the en-dash is to join or pair two elements of equal weight. For example:

Don’t miss the Atlanta–New York flight.
Taft–Hartley Act
attorney–client privilege
respected writer–editor [An en-dash works better than a  slash (which is more disjunctive) to join equal roles held by one person.]

Finally, some writers prefer to substitute an en-dash for a hyphen inside a compound construction when one of the elements is itself a compound. But this should generally be a last resort when a more elegant solution isn’t available. It’s most effective with open proper compounds, whose capitalization helps clarify the relationship {post–Civil War years} {Brooklyn Dodgers–related memorabilia}. With lowercase open compounds {bands that were pre–punk rock} and pairs of hyphenated phrasal adjectives {quasi-rulemaking–quasi-judicial body}, it’s usually better to rephrase (or in the second example, use a comma instead). And when joining an affix or single word to a hyphenated compound, use a hyphen, not an en-dash {non-statute-based claims}. This practice of using an en-dash instead of a hyphen in these compound constructions is hardly universal, though. There’s no mad dash to adopt it.

Further reading:
The Redbook: A Manual on Legal Style §§ 1.54–1.65, at 42–50 (3d ed. 2013).
Legal Writing in Plain English 181–83 (2d ed. 2013).
Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage 732–33 (3d ed. 2011).
The Chicago Manual of Style §§ 6.75–6.81, at 331–33 (16th ed. 2010).
Matthew Butterick, Typography for Lawyers 48–49 (2010).

Last week we discussed the differences between em-dashes and parentheses: LawProse Lesson #184.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: jurist.

Part A: Generally.

In British English, this word is reserved for one who has made outstanding contributions to legal thought and legal literature. In American English, it is loosely applied to every judge of whatever level, and sometimes even to nonscholarly practitioners who are well respected.

Part B: For “juror.”

This is a surprising error. On the front page of the Oakland Tribune, a deck line states: “Group may recommend better pay for jurists.” The meaning of that statement isn’t clear until you read the body of the story: “The panel also is expected to recommend jurors — who are increasingly reluctant to serve on trials — be paid more money.” “Jury Changes Would Drop Requirement for Unanimity,” Oakland Trib., 30 Apr. 1996, at A1. Nowhere does the story mention judges’ pay.

For information about the Language-Change Index click here.

Quotation of the Day: “University people complain that the undergraduate cannot write ‘plain, straightforward English,’ but as soon as they begin to say what particularly they find amiss we hear of nothing but spelling mistakes or trifles of punctuation. . . . One seldom reads of the gross shortcomings one knows will be there, which matter so much more — the failure to construct sentences and paragraphs lucidly, the waste of words, the unnecessary adjectives, the uncomprehended and stale metaphors. . . . Hence the failure of speaker and hearer, writer and reader, to realize that words are passing between them with no meaning at all, or with meaning so false that only these poor devices conceal the falsity.” T.W.H. Holland, The Nature of English 3 (1967).

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: Miscellaneous Entries.

Miscellaneous Entries.

interregnum. The plural is “interregnums” or (less good) “interregna.”

interrogate is a formal word for “question”; it suggests formal or rigorous questioning.

interrogatee; interrogee. Webster’s Third lists “interrogee” (= someone interrogated), not “interrogatee.” But the OED lists “interrogatee,” not “interrogee.” Since the agent noun is “interrogator,” it makes more sense to prefer the corresponding passive form, “interrogatee.”

interrogative; interrogatory; interrogational. “Interrogative” (= of, relating to, or resembling a question) is the standard term. The others are needless variants.

interrupter; interruptor. The first spelling is preferred.

interstate; intrastate. These adjectives should not be used adverbially, as here: “Organized crime operates interstate [read 'in interstate commerce' or 'across state lines' or 'throughout the states'].”

interstitial (= situated within gaps) is the standard spelling. It’s pronounced /in-tuhr-STICH-uhl/. “Intersticial” is a variant form.

For information about the Language-Change Index click here.
Quotation of the Day: “Language . . . is not a product of logic and science, but of art and taste. It is determined not by reason alone, but by the totality of our judgment, in which many other factors than reason are included.” A.R. Orage, Readers and Writers (1917-1921) 70 (1922; repr. 1969).

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: judicial; judicious.

judicial; judicious.

“Judicial” = (1) of, relating to, or by the court {judicial officers}; (2) in court {judicial admissions}; (3) legal {the Attorney General took no judicial action}; or (4) of or relating to a judgment {judicial interest at the rate of 4% annually}. Sense 4, which is confined to legal contexts, is suspect because it hasn’t yet gained admission to most dictionaries.

“Judicious” is a much simpler word, meaning “well considered, discreet, wisely circumspect.” E.g.:

o “The duo put on a lively show that was highlighted by the judicious use of video and an inflatable cow skull.” Claudia Perry, “Brooks, Dunn Turn Dome into Honky-Tonk Heaven,” Houston Post, 28 Feb. 1995, at A6.

o “He spoke [about] . . . the need to be judicious in helping emerging democracies develop institutions to thrive in this changed geopolitical landscape.” Stuart Ingis, “Law Students with Laptops Link Bosnia to the Internet,” Christian Science Monitor, 28 Feb. 1997, at 19.

For information about the Language-Change Index click here.

Quotation of the Day: “We all think we can write competently, but it is no secret . . . that, on the whole, professors in the U.S.A. write rather badly.” George Sherburn, “Teaching of English as a Professor,” in The Great Torch Race: Essays in Honor of Reginald Harvey Griffith 58, 59 (Mary Tom Osborne ed., 1961).

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: judgment.

Part A: Spelling. “Judgment” is the preferred form in American English and in British legal texts, even as far back as the 19th century. “Judgement” is prevalent in British nonlegal texts and was thought by H.W. Fowler to be the better form (Modern English Usage 1 at 310).

Part B: American and British Legal Senses. In American English, a “judgment” is the final decisive act of a court in defining the rights of the parties {the judgment constituted the final decree}. In British English, “judgment” is commonly used in the sense in which “judicial opinion” is used in American English.

Part C: “Court judgment.” This phrase is a redundancy, though an understandable one when the likely readers are nonlawyers. For example, the following book’s title might have misled general readers if the word “court” had been removed: Gini G. Scott et al., Collect Your Court Judgment (1991).

For information about the Language-Change Index click here.

Quotation of the Day: “There must be cohesion and continuity. The writer, seized by an idea, will keep right on writing. He will not go back at the second paragraph two or three times before writing the third. So long as original writing is under way and going well, he will keep the copy flowing. Then, the article completed, he will pause, hand over the reins to his intelligence, and start polishing and amending.” Royal Bank of Canada, The Communication of Ideas 100-01(rev. ed. 1972).

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

LawProse Lesson #184: Parentheses or em-dashes? How do you decide?

Parentheses or em-dashes? How do you decide?

Good writers use parentheses and em-dashes skillfully to tighten and strengthen their prose. Although a writer’s individual style—together with the information or message to be conveyed—determines how these marks are used, some guidelines can suggest which mark to choose in a specific instance.

Here are the basics. Use parentheses to set off matter that you want to minimize or that is helpful but not essential. Use em-dashes to highlight information or give emphasis to matter that is independent of the main sentence. Em-dashes may also be used to tack on an important afterthought at the end of a sentence. To remember this general rule, think em. Em-dashes emphasize. Parentheses minimize. Following are some examples from Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts.


Ex.: A social-security disability claimant was capable of performing her old job (that of an elevator operator), but her old job was no longer available in the national economy.

Ex.: That is why we vote (directly or through our representatives) on what the law ought to be, but leave it to experts of interpretation called judges to decide what an enacted law means.

Ex.: The word or phrase at issue is a statutory term used in a particular field of law (to which the statute at issue belongs).

In each of these sentences, the material in parentheses is interesting and informative, but it could be omitted without losing anything. Use parentheses and parenthetical material sparingly.


Ex.: The prosecutors argued that if a convicted criminal is accidentally released—even by the intentional action of a person with authority to release him—he is considered to have escaped.

Ex.: There may be nothing to the contrary anywhere in the document—even nothing that could be thought to be to the contrary.

Ex.: When drafters use shall and may correctly, the traditional rule holds—beautifully.

Notice that the material set off by em-dashes enhances the rest of the sentence. Without the em-dashes and the information, the sentences are weaker.

That’s the key to choosing between parentheses and em-dashes. If it’s a “by-the-way” bit of information, tuck it inside parentheses. If it’s kind of a zinger, draw attention to it with those long dashes.

Many writers harbor a prejudice against dashes. But they are genuinely useful—even indispensable—to the writer who cares about rhythm, variety, and emphasis. Some writers simply are unaware of the typographical differences between hyphens and the two types of dashes. I highly recommend Matthew Butterick’s Typography for Lawyers as a terrific source for the typographic nuances and keystroke tricks for these marks and myriad other formatting issues. Here’s just a snippet of his advice: “En and em dashes are often approximated by typing two or three hyphens in a row (– or —). Don’t do that. Use real dashes.”

If you learn how to use dashes well (for example, learning how to insert them in your documents easily, knowing never to use more than two in one sentence, etc.), you’ll wonder how you ever did without them.

Further reading:
The Winning Brief 371–73 (3d ed. 2014).
The Redbook: A Manual on Legal Style §§ 1.35–1.40, at 28–33; §§ 1.51–1.53, at 40–42 (3d ed. 2013).
Legal Writing in Plain English 179–81 (2d ed. 2013).
The Chicago Manual of Style § 6.82, at 333–34 (16th ed. 2010).
Matthew Butterick, Typography for Lawyers 48–49 (2010).

Next week: the en-dash, the em-dash’s misunderstood little brother.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: judge; justice.

judge; justice.

In American English, as a general rule, judges sitting on the highest appellate level of a jurisdiction are known as “justices.” Trial judges and appellate judges on intermediate levels are generally called “judges,” not “justices.”

New York and Texas depart from these rules of thumb. In New York, “justices” sit on the trial court of general jurisdiction (called the Supreme Court, oddly), whereas “judges” sit on the appellate courts. In Texas, “justices” sit on the courts of appeals (between the trial court and the Supreme Court — the latter being the highest civil court, which is also composed of “justices”); “judges” sit on trial courts and on the Court of Criminal Appeals, the highest criminal court.

H.W. Horwill wrote that “‘judge’ carries with it in America by no means such dignified associations as it possesses in Eng. It may mean [in American English] no more than a magistrate of a police court.” Modern American Usage 180 (2d ed. 1944). “Justice” may also denote, in American and British English alike, a low-ranking judge or inferior magistrate, as in the phrases “justice of the peace” and “police justice.”

For information about the Language-Change Index click here.

Quotation of the Day: “The process of composition should, if possible, have some rush of excitement about it — not remain too slow, cold, calculated, and self-critical. For this is not only chilling; it may lead the more conscious side of the mind to cramping interference. In tennis, to play with gritted teeth and tense concentration may merely stiffen the muscles: once the necessary reflexes have been formed by practice, it may work far better to use one’s head to think where to put the ball, but leave it to one’s body how to put it there.” F.L. Lucas, Style 254-55 (1955; repr. 1962).

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: Miscellaneous Entries.

Miscellaneous Entries.

interface, v.i., is jargonmongers’ talk — e.g.: “This man possesses the ability to interface and relate with people from all social and economic levels.” “Interface” should be left to computerese.

intermezzo is pronounced /in-tuhr-MET-soh/ or /in-tuhr-MED-zoh/, but not /-MEZ-oh/. The plural is “intermezzos.”

interpersonal. “What this [word] adds to ‘personal’ except five letters and a superficial impression of scientific exactness, I do not see — except, perhaps, in a particular context where ‘intergroup’ relations might also be involved.” Ellsworth Barnard, English for Everybody 34 n.12 (1979). Point well taken.

interpolate; interpellate. The first means “to insert into a text or writing”; the second, used in legislative reports, means “to question formally; to seek information.”

interpret; interpretate. The latter is an obsolete back-formation and a needless variant of “interpret” — e.g.: “The essence of ice dancing is the inventiveness of the performance, how the music is interpretated [read 'interpreted'] and how the dance steps are choreographed.” Lee Shappell, “International Flair,” Ariz. Republic, 20 Jan. 1993, at D1.

For information about the Language-Change Index click here.
Quotation of the Day: “It is not difficult to conceive . . . that for many reasons a man writes much better than he lives.” Samuel Johnson, 14 The Rambler (May 5, 1750), in Classics in Composition 85, 86 (Donald E. Hayden ed., 1969).

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment