LawProse Lesson #189: Test your editing skills!

Test your editing skills!

In our last three lessons, we’ve discussed various tips for legal editing. (See Lesson #186, Lesson #187, and Lesson #188.) Now it’s time for you to put those techniques into practice. Try your hand at editing the rough draft of a motion (see below). Keep these points in mind: use precise, strong verbs; avoid legalese and wordy constructions; replace zombie nouns with verbs where appropriate; cut unnecessary prepositional phrases; fix nonparallel series; and eliminate throat-clearing phrases. Of course, fix any typos or punctuation errors you spot. You may want to copy the passage into a separate (double-spaced) document to give yourself more space to edit.

Generally, strong editors will each improve a written piece with similar edits. But no one right answer exists—the writer’s style plays a role, too. We’ll post our edited version at 11 a.m. CST on Wednesday, Nov. 26 on this blog at Have fun!

An editing exercise.

COMES NOW, Marcus Doyle and files this Motion to Extend Time for Filing of Pretrial Order, and in support thereof is respectfully showing the Court the following: On August 4th, 2014, this Court ordered Doyle, pursuant to Rule 16(b), to submit a pretrial order prior to January 30, 2015. The defendant has been diligent with his preparation for trial. However, more time is required to assemble exhibits, examine the plaintiffs exhibits, and for preparation of properly-supported objections. It should be noted that the case is set for trial on March 30, 2015; the granting of the extension of the pretrial filing deadline at this point in time would not cause the trial to be delayed. Doyle requests that this Court grant the Motion, extending the time for filing the Pretrial Order until March 2, 2015. A proposed order is attached for the conveneince of the Court. [146 words]

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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: larynx.

“Larynx” /LAR-ingks/ is sometimes, through metathesis, mispronounced /LAR-uh-niks/ or /LAHR-niks/. From the latter mispronunciation comes the inevitable misspelling — e.g.:

o “[Ken] Raabe [a puppeteer] uses an object called a swazzle, a kind of small artificial larnyx [read 'larynx'] placed at the back of his throat, to make the traditional shrill, raspy voice of Punch.” Nancy Maes, “Clowns at Custer’s Last Stand,” Chicago Trib., 15 June 2001, at 35.

o “[Bob] Schwartz rarely takes his eyes (or his larnyx [read 'larynx']) off New Mexico.” Jeff Commings, “Rush, Meet Bob,” Albuquerque Trib., 26 Apr. 2002, at C3.

For information about the Language-Change Index click here.

Quotation of the Day: “The Saxon or German tongue is the ground-work upon which our language is founded, the mighty stream of forraign words that hath since Chaucer’s time broke in upon it having not yet wash’t away the root: onely it lies somewhat obscur’d, and overshadow’d like a Rock, or Fountain overgrown with bushes.” Edward Phillips, Preface, The New World of English Words (1658).

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LawProse Lesson #188: A few additional editing tips.

A few additional editing tips.

In our last two lessons, we explained the LawProse editing method in general (Lesson #186), and we recommended changing be-verbs to action verbs (Lesson #187). Before we give you a full passage to edit on your own (next week!), you should find these last three tips helpful.

1. Remove zombie nouns from your writing.

A zombie noun—also called a buried verb or nominalization—is a noun formed from a verb by adding a suffix, usually -tion, -sion, -ment, -ence, -ance, or -ity. Here are some examples, with the verb in parentheses: admission (admit), allegation (allege), conformity (conform), enforcement (enforce), performance (perform), settlement (settle), and violation (violate). Using the verb instead of the noun will make your writing crisper and more powerful. Each revised example below is less abstract, more concrete.

Not this:
 Wilson’s allegation is that Telco Company did not take the risks under consideration before marketing the product.
But this: Wilson alleges that Telco Company did not consider the risks before marketing the product.

Not this: The county has stopped the issuance of permits until 2015.
But this: The county has stopped issuing permits until 2015.

2. Cut unnecessary prepositional phrases.

     Notice the first example above: by removing the zombie noun (consideration) and replacing it with the verb (consider), you’ve also eliminated a preposition (under). Prepositional phrases bog down your writing, especially phrases beginning with of. Scrutinize every of and try to cut it. It won’t take long to get in the habit, and you’ll develop a leaner writing style.

Not this: In the brief of the Defendant, Allison contends that delays on the part of  Tollesby hindered production of the categories of documents identified in the request by Smith.
But this: In her brief, Allison contends that Tollesby’s delays hindered her producing the document categories Smith requested.

3. Stop interjecting throat-clearing phrases.

     Legal writing is full of phrases that merely make noise before saying something substantive. For example:

It is important to remember . . .
It should be noted that . . .
It must also be borne in mind that . . .

As William Zinsser put it: “[H]ow many sentences begin with these dreary clauses announcing what the writer is going to do next? . . . Being told that something is interesting is the surest way of tempting the reader to find it dull . . . .” On Writing Well 16–17 (5th ed. 1994).

Not this: It is important to note at the outset that all parties signed the agreement on the same day.
But this: First, all parties signed the agreement on the same day.

Focusing on these three tips alone will slash unnecessary words and tighten your prose. Once you start to recognize these weaknesses in your own writing, you’ll find it easier to enliven your prose.

Next week: What you’ve been waiting for—an exercise to test your editing skills!

Further reading (with many more editing tips and examples):
The Winning Brief 264–75, 279–82 (3d ed. 2014).
Legal Writing in Plain English 50–55 (2d ed. 2013).

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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: laissez-faire; laisser-faire.

laissez-faire; laisser-faire.
The former spelling has long been standard. Some British publications, however, continue to use the outmoded spelling (“laisser”) — e.g.:

o “Should Hongkong’s laisser-faire [read 'laissez-faire'] government do an about-face to build Hongkong Inc?” “Farewell to Adam Smith,” Economist, 30 Sept.-6 Oct. 1989, at 71.

o “This is bonkers, though par for the course for a Bush administration that is all for laisser faire [read 'laissez-faire'] except when US companies whinge about foreign competition.” Robert Peston, “The Stock Exchange Drops its American Dream,” Sunday Telegraph, 13 Oct. 2002, at 3.

The phrase is pronounced /les-ay FAIR/ — not /lah-zay/ or /lay-zay/.

For information about the Language-Change Index click here.

Quotation of the Day: “Language stands to speech like a pattern in relation to the garments that can be produced from it, like a musical score in relation to the actual performances of the work, like the rules of chess in relation to the playing of specific chess games. All these analogies emphasize the abstract characteristics of language. But the chess analogy probably best illuminates its rule-governed character.” Martin Montgomery, An Introduction to Language and Society xvi (1986).

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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: lady.

This word has become increasingly problematic. Though hardly anyone would object to it in the phrase “ladies and gentlemen” or on a restroom sign, most other uses of the term might invite disapproval — depending on the readers’ or listeners’ views about sexism. It isn’t a skunked term, but it’s gradually becoming something like one. And this process has been occurring since at least the mid-20th century: “I don’t know any word that has been so beaten down in modern usage as ‘lady.’” Edward N. Teall, Putting Words to Work 286 (1940).

The linguist Cecily Raysor Hancock of Chicago observed in 1963 that Americans are divisible into three groups when it comes to using “lady”: (1) those who use “lady” in preference to “woman” when referring to female adults of any social class (a group that has steadily dwindled); (2) those who generally use “woman” in preference to “lady,” but who use “lady” in reference to social inferiors; and (3) those who use “woman” uniformly regardless of social class or familiarity, except in a few set formulas such as “ladies and gentlemen.” See “Lady and Woman,” 38 Am. Speech 234-35 (1963). Hancock rightly notes that “the use of ‘lady’ at present apparently gives more sociological information about its user than about the person described,” adding: “‘woman’ is probably the safer choice of the two.” Ibid. at 235.

For information about the Language-Change Index click here.

Quotation of the Day: “‘Lady’ carries with it overtones recalling the age of chivalry: the exalted stature of the person so referred to, her existence above the common sphere. This makes the term seem polite at first, but we must also remember that these implications are perilous: they suggest that a ‘lady’ is helpless, and cannot do things for herself. In this respect the use of a word like ‘lady’ is parallel to the act of opening doors for women — or ladies. At first blush it is flattering: the object of the flattery feels honored, cherished, and so forth; but by the same token, she is also considered helpless and not in control of her own destiny.” Robin Lakoff, Language and Woman’s Place 25 (1975).

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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: laden.


Part A: As a Past Participle Equivalent to “loaded.”

“Laden” survives today as a participial adjective {a laden barge} and not as a past participle. To use “laden” as a part of the verb phrase is to be guilty of archaism, although it is still used in shipping contexts {the ship was laden by union workers}. But sometimes, in literary contexts, “laden” is simply the right word {with rue my heart is laden}

Although “ladened” is permissible in Scottish English — as “laden” is the Scottish equivalent of “lade,” v.t. & v.i. — it is a solecism elsewhere. E.g.: “She stares out from the magazine cover, line-free, mascara-ladened [read 'laden'] and pouting, looking something like a teenage daughter who’s petulant after being asked to do the dishes.” Abigail Trafford, “Mythical Flauntin’ of Youth,” Wash. Post, 26 Nov. 1996, Health §, at Z6.

Part B: For “ridden.”

“Ridden” is the more general term, meaning “infested with,” “full of,” or “dominated, harassed, or obsessed by.” “Laden” has not shed its strong connotation of “loaded down.” Hence a place might be “laden” with things if they had been stacked there; or, more plausibly, a truck or barge might be “laden” with goods. But figuratively, “laden” fails as an effective adjective if the original suggestion of loading is ignored — e.g.: “This winter she’s going to teach herself how to use the GIS computerized mapping system so she can map out mosquito-laden [read 'mosquito-ridden'] areas and make it easier on the workers.” Pam Starr, “The Bug Lady: No One Knows Insects Like Dreda McCreary,” Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk), 15 Oct. 1997, at E1.

For information about the Language-Change Index click here.

Quotation of the Day: “The preservation of a language in a standard form depends on educated speakers keen to preserve it.” T.W.H. Holland, The Nature of English 13 (1967).

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

Miscellaneous Entries.
introductory should never be used in the phrase “be introductory of” (something); one should instead write “introduce” — e.g.: “This first section is introductory of [read "introduces"] some of the tenets that constitute part of that framework.” As a noun, “introductory” sometimes serves as a chapter title, but it is inferior to “introduction.”

introvert (= one whose interests are inwardly directed for the most part, often tending toward solitude) is the standard spelling. “Intravert” is a variant form.

inundate. So spelled, though it is often misspelled “innundate” — e.g.: “The wave of children produced by baby boomers is now innundating [read 'inundating'] the schools.” Ralph Jimenez, “Local-Tax Bills Spell R-e-l-i-e-f New Ways,” Boston Globe, 26 Jan. 1997, N.H. Weekly §, at 1.

inure; enure. The first is the standard spelling. “Inure” = (1) to take effect, come into use {the trust money inures to the symphony’s benefit}; or (2) to make accustomed to something unpleasant; habituate {she became inured to the nuisance of her neighbors’ shouting and, after a time, stopped complaining}. The noun is “inurement.”

For information about the Language-Change Index click here.

Quotation of the Day: “Beauty in writing demands a love of language for its own sake; not, to be sure, to the point of ignoring thought and feeling, for then we get Euphuism or some other empty form, but as a legitimate companion to the idea or emotion that the author wishes to share.” Ellsworth Barnard, English for Everybody 126 (1979).

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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: lacuna.

“Lacuna” is a formal word for “gap” — e.g.:
o “‘London Bridge’ . . . isn’t likely to answer the question, since it simply fills a literary lacuna.” Book Rev., “Celine Away,” Village Voice, 11 July 1995, at 12.

o “Female gymnasts inhabit a very strange and specific lacuna between girl and woman.” Jonathan Van Meter, “Shannon! Jaycie! Dominique! And Again!” N.Y. Times, 20 Oct. 1996, § 6, at 58.

The word has two plurals, “lacunas” and “lacunae.” Although “lacunas” might be thought preferable as the native-English plural, “lacunae” appears to be well established as a foreign plural: it’s more than 12 times as common in print.

For information about the Language-Change Index click here.

Quotation of the Day: “Style has many components. The difficulty of mastering style is that they are devoid of absolute existence. Rhythm, melody, vocabulary, and composition do not live independent lives of their own; they are interconnected like chess pieces. Just as it is impossible to move a pawn without changing the position of all the other pieces on the board, so it is impossible to ‘correct’ in a literary work the rhythm alone or the vocabulary alone without affecting the other components of style. When I cross out a word, I change the structure of the sentence, its music, its rhythm, its relationship with its environment.” Konstantin Fedin, “Notebook,” in Maxim Gorky, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Alexei Tolstoy, and Konstantin Fedin on the Art and Craft of Writing 256, 257 (Alex Miller trans., 1972).

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LawProse Lesson #187: More on legal editing.

More on legal editing: changing be-verbs to action verbs.

In last week’s lesson—an overview of the LawProse editing method—we recommended converting be-verbs into stronger verbs. (See Lesson #186.) Be-verbs lack the punch of action verbs. Overusing weakens your prose, diluting its impact. Although the English language has eight be-verbs (is, am, are, was, were, being, be, been), it’s wise to focus on the big four: is, are, was, were. After you’ve written your rough draft, highlight every is, are, was, and were to see whether you can improve the passage by replacing them with action verbs. For example:

Not this:
Carlton is representing the plaintiff in this case.
But this: Carlton represents the plaintiff in this case.

Not this: The attorney’s fees owed by Smith are entirely dependent on how many hours are spent by the lawyers on the case.
But this: The attorney’s fees Smith owes depend entirely on how many hours the lawyers spend on the case.

Not this: The answer was filed by the defendant on Wednesday.
But this: The defendant filed the answer on Wednesday.

Not this: Any and all such cases that were on file prior to June 1, 2012, were excepted from the rule change by the saving clause.
But this: By virtue of the saving clause, all cases filed before June 1, 2012, fall outside the rule change.

Many writers erroneously believe that a be-verb always signals passive voice. In fact, the unfailing test for passive voice is that you must have a be-verb (or get) plus a past participle (usually a verb ending in -ed). Which examples above contain no passive voice? (Read on for the answer.) The point about passive voice is that the subject of the clause doesn’t perform the action but receives it. Even if the be-verb doesn’t make the sentence technically passive, a flabby be-verb still weakens the prose. You’ll find that supplanting it with an action verb makes your writing stronger and more colorful, which enhances its persuasiveness.

Answer: Which of the few “Not this” examples above contain no passive voice? The first only. In the second, are spent is passive; in the third, was filed is passive; and in the fourth, are excepted is passive.

Further reading:
Legal Writing in Plain English 36–39, 48–55 (2d ed. 2013).
The Winning Brief 256–71 (3d ed. 2014).

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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: lachrymose; lacrimose.

lachrymose; lacrimose.
This word, meaning “tearful,” is generally spelled “lachrymose,” which is about 200 times as common as “lacrimose” in modern print sources. Both forms have ancient origins: the classical Latin term is “lacrima” (= teardrop), but the “-chry-” spelling crept into medieval Latin (“lachrymalis”). That newer spelling has long been standard — e.g.:

o “It seems like ‘Dying Rose’ is a bit too lacrimose [read 'lachrymose'], with an image too forced.” Jay Miller, “Ontario’s Mae Moore Keeps Positive View,” Patriot Ledger (Quincy, Mass.), 1 Sept. 1995, at 13.

o “Nestled cozily in chintz couches, surrounded by cuddly stuffed bunnies and kitties and puppies, the confessors sprinkle their lachrymose monologues with the same catchphrases and catechismal confessions.” Ruth Shalit, “Dysfunction Junction,” New Republic, 14 Apr. 1997, at 24.

For information about the Language-Change Index click here.

Quotation of the Day: “Why is the eighteenth century, for example, the dreariest period in English literature? There is probably as much mere thought and naked truth in the verse and prose of that century as in those of any other. It was the vicious style of the period that has doomed it. It was because both the typical poetry and the typical prose of the age had ceased to be simple, natural, direct, imaginative, and passionate, first, in its thought and feeling, and, last, in its use of language, that it is so commonplace.” Henry Bett, Some Secrets of Style 250-51 (1932).

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