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.

Parentheses

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.

Em-dashes

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.

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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.

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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).
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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.
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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).
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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: jodhpur.

jodhpur.

“Jodhpur” /JOD-puhr/ derives from the city of Jodhpur, India. The word (almost invariably used in the plural) refers to a type of flared-at-the-thigh pants used in English horse-riding. Through a kind of visual metathesis, the word is often mispronounced /JOD-fuhr/. And believe it or not, this error pervades the horse-riding industry.

The mispronunciation sometimes results in the obvious misspelling — e.g.: “Wealthy suburbanites clad in fancy jodphurs [read 'jodhpurs'] and riding boots will replace overall-clad cowboys like Mizer.” Meghan Meyer, “Old Feed Store Fading into the Sunset,” Palm Beach Post, 14 July 2002, at B1.

By inevitable extension, the misspelling also goes back to the source of the word — e.g.: “His name is Ali Akbar Khan, above, whose family traces its musical roots to the 16th century, when an ancestor was court musician to the Emperor Akbar, as Ali Akbar Khan was to the Maharajah of Jodphur [read 'Jodhpur'] in his 20′s.” Lawrence Van Gelder, “Footlights,” N.Y. Times, 7 Nov. 2002, at E1.

How did Jodhpur, a town in northeastern India, come to be famously associated with riding pants? It seems that Rao Raja Hanut Singh, who represented Jodhpur at Queen Victoria’s 60th jubilee in 1897, had designed some comfortable riding trousers that ballooned at the thigh and narrowed at the knee so that they could be tucked into boots. While in London, he had the pants copied by a London tailor, who then began making and selling them. By 1899, the pants were well on their way to international popularity.

For information about the Language-Change Index click here.
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Quotation of the Day: “If many of our great modern authors had waited for inspiration, they never would have attained success. This foolish notion of ‘waiting until the spirit moves you’ is a perennial alibi for the lazy author.” Maren Elwood, 111 Don’ts for Writers 120-21 (1949).
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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: jocular; jocose; jocund.

jocular; jocose; jocund.
“Jocular” (/JOK-yuh-luhr/) is the most common, but the other two aren’t quite needless variants. “Jocular” and “jocose” (/joh-KOHS/) both mean “given to joking” or “intended jokingly; humorous.” But “jocular” suggests a playful disposition {her jocular manner endeared her to others} or deliberate facetiousness {jocular remarks during the business meeting}, while “jocose” often connotes mischievous (sometimes feeble) attempts at humor {his jocose wisecracks wore thin}. “Jocund” (/JOK-uhnd/), a broader yet more bookish word, means “jolly, merry, lighthearted” {jocund New Year’s Eve revelers}. The following quotations well illustrate typical usage:

o “Jocular, tanned and smooth-voiced, he gave the impression he’d rather be at a shrimp boil, getting things accomplished without seeming to strain too hard at it.” Tom Baxter, “Cheerful Dixon Packs Up, Heads for TV Screen,” Atlanta J. & Const., 1 Apr. 1997, at B2.

o “Its violence is facetiously cartoonish, its sexuality just a hint in the air and its jocose sense of silliness right out of Nick at Nite.” Michael McWilliams, “Sam Raimi Makes a Successful Play for the Funny Bone with ‘Spy Game,’” Detroit News, 3 Mar. 1997, at B3.

o “More than 500 turned out to a jocund rally and block party in front of the historic Apollo Theater.” James Patterson, “Reducing the Threat of HIV to Prisoners,” Indianapolis Star, 1 July 1995, at A12.

For information about the Language-Change Index click here.
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Quotation of the Day: “Most linguists would accept the statement that words mean only what fits the context in which they occur, and that meaning from other contexts is irrelevant. The position . . . has been most clearly formulated by Martin Joos, who states that of possible meanings for a word, the meaning that adds least to the totality of the context is best. The Joos statement is, in fact, an application of Occam’s razor, the rule of simplicity.” Archibald A. Hill, “Bad Words, Good Words, Misused Words,” in Studies in English Linguistics for Randolph Quirk 250, 251 (1979).
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LawProse Lesson #183: What’s wrong with initial-caps point headings?

LawProse Lesson #183

 What’s wrong with initial-caps point headings in briefs?

     Two things. First, most lawyers don’t know how to type text in initial caps properly. But second—and far more important—proper point headings must capsulize points. They’re complete sentences, not mere phrases. So they’re not like titles such as Gone with the Wind or Around the World in Eighty Days. Or tag lines such as Statement of Facts or Table of Cases. No: they’re legal and factual propositions. And if you set those complete propositions in initial-caps text, the reader’s eye keeps stopping and thinking it must be near the end of a topical phrase (that’s what initial-caps text signals).

Consider:

Even If the Temporary Nature of the Flooding Here Does Not Defeat Jensen’s Claim, Other Factors Establish That the United States Did Not Take Jensen’s Property.

But lawyers make it worse by capping every single word, in violation of every style manual ever published in the history of the English-speaking world:

Even If The Temporary Nature Of The Flooding Here Does Not Defeat Jensen’s Claim, Other Factors Establish That The United States Did Not Take Jensen’s Property.

So how do pros do it—bona fide brief-writing pros? They don’t underline. They don’t use all-caps. Nor initial-caps. They set out their point headings as boldface sentences in the body of the brief (lightface in the table of contents):

Even if the temporary nature of the flooding here does not defeat Jensen’s claim, other factors establish that the United States did not take Jensen’s property.

That’s 27 words—in what is known as “down style.” Good point headings typically run 15 to 35 words: they’re meaty, single-spaced propositions (unless benighted court rules require otherwise). They’re meant to be read. And they are read if you do them the right way. Do it the ham-fisted way with all those caps, and your readers will probably skip over what you’re trying to make sink in.

For other guidance on point headings, see The Winning Brief 403–22, 660–73 (3d ed. 2014). There you’ll find more than a dozen examples of killer point headings from the United States Solicitor General’s Office. That office has created the gold standard for point headings. Few other lawyers even approach that standard. But there’s no reason you can’t be one of them.

Further reading:
Legal Writing in Plain English 150–51 (2d ed. 2013).
The Winning Brief 403–22, 660–73 (3d ed. 2014).
Frederick Bernays Wiener, Briefing and Arguing Federal Appeals 67 (rev. ed. 1967).

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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: jeopardize; jeopard; enjeopard.

jeopardize; jeopard; enjeopard.

H.W. Horwill wrote that in American English “‘jeopard’ is preferred to ‘jeopardize,’ the common term in England.” Modern American Usage 178 (2d ed. 1944). This wasn’t true in 1944, and it isn’t true today — e.g.:
o “Mr. Connelly said no federal funds were jeopardized by the ordinance.” Joyce Price, “Allentown Feels HUD’s Wrath over ‘English-Only’ Law,” Wash. Times, 5 Apr. 1995, at A1.

o “Overfishing had jeopardized the survival of some species.” “News Summary,” N.Y. Times, 3 Apr. 1997, at A2.

“Jeopard” and “enjeopard” are needless variants that, though extremely rare, still sometimes appear — e.g.: “He quit, jeoparding [read 'jeopardizing'] more than 20 years of integrity in one day.” Kelley Steve, “James Abandons His Sinking Ship,” Des Moines Register, 24 Aug. 1993, Sports §, at 1.

For information about the Language-Change Index click here.
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Quotation of the Day: “A subject forced into the wrong form will make a fuzzy impact on the reader; of alternative forms for which a subject may be suitable, one will usually enhance the subject better than the other.” Gorham Munson, The Written Word 63 (rev. ed. 1949).
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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: awful; awfully.

awful; awfully.

The word awful has undergone several transformations. Originally, it meant “inspiring or filled with aw.” Its meaning then degenerated to “horrible, terrible” [what an awful accident]. And awfully, meanwhile, became an equivalent of very but with greater intensity [Joe was awfully sorry about the mix-up]. Nobody objects to these uses in speech, and few would in writing. But some begin to object when awfully intensifies adjectives with positive connotations [they're awfully good people] [Tiger played awfully well]. Although these uses have been called humorously illogical, they’re actually quite close to the original sense.

Occasionally, of course, awfully can actually be ambiguous–e.g.: “He is awfully educated.” But in sentences in which that ambiguity doesn’t appear, the intensive awfully must be accepted as standard.

To use awful adverbially typifies dialectal usage–e.g.: “He’s an awful [read awfully] good fellow.”

For information on Language-Change Index click here.

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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: aquaculture.

aquaculture.

Aquaculture (= the cultivation of marine life) is now the standard spelling. *Aquiculture–once given as the main headword in most American dictionaries–is now a variant.

For information about the Language-Change Index click here.

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Access the full Garner’s Modern American Usage on Oxford Dictionaries Online — along with other Garner’s and Oxford guides — from only $4.95 per month.

For information on Bryan Garner’s seminars, visit: www.lawprose.org.

To send a message to Bryan Garner, email him at: bgarner@lawprose.org.

For a profile of Bryan Garner, check out the Dallas Observer.

View Garner’s Modern American Usage and Bryan Garner’s other works here.

For a guide to the Language-Change Index, click here.

Never miss an Oxford sale. Subscribe now.

You can now follow the author on Twitter. Search for BryanAGarner.

Watch Bryan Garner’s YouTube videos. Just do a name search.

By subscribing to this service, you agree to occasional notifications of Bryan Garner’s seminars.

 

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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: misnomer.

misnomer.

Speakers and writers frequently misuse this word, meaning “an inappropriate name,” to mean “a popular misconception” — e.g.: “‘The last I remember, only 7 percent of Division I programs operate in the black. The common misnomer [read 'misunderstanding'] is that people see this as a multi-million-dollar business.’” “College Arena a Marketplace,” Times Union (Albany), 24 Dec. 2000, at C1 (quoting Syracuse assistant athletic director Michael Veley). Oddly enough, this mistake is itself a kind of misnomer based on a misconception.

Although the error is less common in edited text, it does surface — e.g.:

o “The idea is to break down the stigmas, myths and misnomers [read 'misunderstanding'] surrounding suicide by showing teens and others that death is never a solution to a problem.” Eric Bradley, “Group Looks to Prevent Teen Suicide,” Oshkosh Northwestern, 13 Sept. 2002, at A1.

o “The old theory that was heard at UW for years is that the school needs a big-name coach. That’s really a misnomer [read 'misconception'] because UW usually has succeeded in developing its own big-name coach.” Larry Birleffi, “Choosing Coach Requires Work,” Wyoming Trib.-Eagle, 21 Nov. 2002, at B2.

Typically, when the term is used correctly it will accompany a misleading word or title, often in quotation marks — e.g.: “Old countries are sometimes world-weary and cynical, urging a ‘realism’ that is sometimes a misnomer for the moral corruption they know so very well.” Richard Cohen, “Nobel Winners and Losers,” Wash. Post, 15 Oct. 2002, at A19.

For information about the Language-Change Index click here.

Quotation of the Day: “A hearer, then, is included in the very idea of preaching; and we cannot determine how in detail we ought to preach, till we know whom we are to address.” John Henry Caldwell Newman, The Idea of a University (1873) (as quoted in Kenneth S. Rothwell, Questions of Rhetoric and Usage 3 (1971)).

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