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Towards more picturesque speech

George Orwell on plain English | SEC guidance on plain English Plain English Anatomy Noun | Verb | Adjective | Adverb | Preposition | Conjunction | Latin | Germany | Flannel | Legal triplicate | Nominalisation | Murder your darlings

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A preposition. Once you’ve put one at the end of a sentence, it’s a habit you’ll never tire of.

Anywhere else in a sentence, it is indicative of tortured writing. See? I just tortured some writing, right there. To say “it is indicative of tortured writing” is to torture a sentence that could have said, “it indicates tortured writing”. This is a kind of nominalisation (though strictly speaking, it’s an adjectivisation) in that it guts a perfectly good verb (“to indicate”) replaces it with a more boring verb (“to be”), turns it into an adjective (relating to the subject of the sentence “to be”).

Pompous possessives

Of” is the pompous writer’s favourite possessive, because it makes something fun sound austere and sonorous. And it’s hard to screw up. Lawyers have a horror of the apostrophe — possibly because they can’t remember how they work.[1]

“Skywalker’s rise” doesn’t sound quite so momentous as “The Rise Of Skywalker”. “England’s Bank” sounds like some ghastly New Labour funding initiative for social housing. “The Bank of England” is incontrovertibly the Grand Old Lady of Threadneedle Street.

Our favourite example is dear old Ken Adams’ A Manual Of Style For Contract Drafting[2] which, despite being dedicated to style, has stubbornly mangled its very own title through four editions and fifteen years. As it is, it’s a bit Bob Cunis: Ken could have gone the whole hog, and called it “A Manual Of Style For The Drafting Of Contracts”, or embraced his inner rebel, and called it — I dunno, a “Contract Style Manual”?

Colour me crazy.

Nominalisation dead giveaway

Other mendacious uses of “of”: look out for the character string “...ion of”. This is a dead giveaway for a passive nominalisation. For example, "In the event of a determination of an Event of Default by the Non-affected Party..." — makes you weep, doesn’t it — can be less tiresomely (and ambiguously) rendered as “if the Non-affected Party determines there has been an Event of Default

See also


  1. Lawyer’s Motion Objects to Opponent’s Use of Possessives
  2. Get your copy here, folks. It’s only a hundred quid!