Plain English in ten words

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We all know legalistic drafting when you see it — if you are like me it will transport you from a state docile tranquility to one where you are ready to mete out physical violence, but there are legions for whom it is a toasty duvet under which they will gladly slip — but all the same it is hard to pin down exactly what is wrong with it. Many of the “tells” are short, small, inoffensive words. In the modern style, then, I offer you the JC’s guide to turgid drafting, through ten words.

  • May — Avoid redundancy. The parties may, but are not obliged to. “Nothing in the foregoing will prevent parties from —”. Don’t confer entitlements that the parties had in any case. Don’t say a thing more than is necessary. Don’t overcommunicate. Less is more.
  • Bypassive tense. Write in the active, with energy, and in a way that clearly assigns and accepts responsibility
  • Of — nominalisation, adjectivisation
  • Shall — fusty old language. Herewith, hereof,
  • And/or — You are a professional writer: write like one. Be confident. Avoid nervous language in the first place, not doubt later on. Unless otherwise agreed; write to avoid doubt in the first place (though in my cantankerous opinion doubt is in any case underrated).
  • verb — complicated sentence constructions are aided and abetted by boring, colourless verbs: (because such colourless verbs (give, do, be, make, have, and the worst of all, effect) require colouring, usually an accompanying noun that could itself have been a verb, or an adverb, whose definition is “a word you use only where you can’t think of a better verb
  • Including — parentheticals that by definition do not add anything. Without limitation
  • Leverage — jargon that is designed to make the writer look wise, and not the reader enlightened.
  • Judge — For whom are you writing? Not posterity, not a judge, not to cover your backside,
  • Deemed — avoid legal tics. Things that, yes, you might be able to justify on tendentious logical or ontological grounds, but which don’t make a damn of difference in the real world. So it might be true that the redemption amount is “an amount equal to the final price” — yes, it is true the redemption amount isn’t, from a brutalised ontological perspective, the final price; in a conceptual scheme they are different things, but they're identical, and you lose nothing, except a few dead scales of pendatic skin, by saying the “redemption amount is the final price”. Likewise “this shall be deemed to be that” what, practically is the difference between “being deemed to be something”, or (worse) “being deemed to be an amount equal to something” and just “being something”? Exception to the rule: “equivalent”. Here there is a real-world difference — at least in that purblind topsy-turvy world occupied by accountants. It all relates to the difference between a title transfer and a pledge. But the principle remains: unless there is a legal, accounting or tax distinction that one might draw between the tedious and the plain articulations, use the plain one.