Orally or in writing

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Towards more picturesque speech
Heathcliff communicating orally or otherwise yesterday.

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“Orally or in writing” means “in spoken or written form”. It is tiresome flannel meant to capture any sort of communication by which a legal agreement might be reached. For example:

Any person affected by safety zone or an order or direction issued under this subchapter may request reconsideration by the official who issued it or in whose name it was issued. This request may be made orally or in writing, and the decision of the official receiving the request may be rendered orally or in writing.
Code of Federal Regulations of the United States (Port and Waterways Authorities) - 1976

This trope is all the more irksome for not being the statement of the bleeding obvious it means to be. For “orally or in writing” omits a whole ecosystem of non-verbal communications — winks, nods, wags, shaken heads, facial tics and cocked eyebrows of the kind on which Roger Moore built an entire career — and nor should we forget those who stand on distant hills and communicate by smoke signal or semaphore, Greek heroes who mis-communicate their safe return by sail colour or modern admirals who transmit instructions to the fleet by means of flag sequence. Any of these can convey offer, acceptance and consideration (and for that matter reconsideration) just as well can a written or oral communication.

Indeed, section 9(e)(ii) of the ISDA Master Agreement correctly envisages tongue-tied swaps traders concluding Transactions by waggling their eyebrows or strategically coughing — what else could it have in mind when it talks of “orally or otherwise”? Ninja chops there from ISDA’s crack drafting squad™.

In the mean time, having considered your request, to comply with his regulatory obligations your Waterways Inspection Official — limited as she is to oral or written communication — must do more than nod or shake her head - but poking out her tongue[1] or blowing a raspberry — being after a fashion, “oral” communications, after all — may be sufficient[2].

Punctilious attorneys look down at the laity when they mistake “verbally” and “orally”, but the last laugh is on them: “Verbally” is a neater, and less stupid-sounding, expression than “orally or in writing”, for which it is an exact synonym.

Confidential Information

In the context of confidentiality agreement, including oral information is a big no-no: see Confidential information, and suggested rebuttal.

See also


  1. Unless the W.I.O. in question is speaking on a telephone or behind an opaque screen at the time, of course
  2. Shubtill v Port Authority of Finchley