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Lawyers and the English Language

by Alexander Miller
(Port Alberni)

Years ago I drafted home-made wills for myself and my wife in ordinary, everyday English - a language about which I care even when I'm not strictly proficient with it. I took them to a BC notary to have them checked for legal acceptability. To my horror what was returned to me - for a very significant fee - was a pair of rewritten documents containing needlessly and absurdly repetitive clauses as well as words(?) like "heretobefore"; and filled with arcane phrases and double - triple? - redundancies like "Nominate, constitute and appoint," "Give, devise and bequeath" and so on. One would have thought (I'm the "
one") that lawyers, notaries and the like, being intelligent & well educated, would have the smarts to see through this nonsense, rebel against and reject it to avoid puking. Apparently not.

What is the matter with these people - and who do they think they/we are? It's not just the legal professions of course. Nearly all government documents suffer from an inability to state clearly what they mean to convey. The same goes for much of the correspondence I receive from corporate groups. It often seems designed simply to "Cover their backsides" and satisfy the accounting & legal departments while if possible confusing the customer. Even social and charitable organisations fall for the idea that they should use the same sort of bafflegab, presumably thinking it makes them sound somehow more "legitimate."

What can be done about these insults to the intelligence of the general public?

Feeling the need to update our wills, or just clarify them, I've written the professional bodies for the lawyers and notaries of BC, asking for the names of any members who will write documents in Plain Language. Next I think I'll start to harass our MLAs and MPs on the subject. I think there's a facility for online petitions that could help exert some pressure. I've never been an activist before but "The humour is on me now." Are there folks on here that will join me? Write somebody! Grow the movement for plain (but complete) communication!!

Rick Mercer are you with us?

I claim NO copyright for this article. By all means quote me but please don't misquote or distort anything I've written. You can write me as speug@shaw.ca. It's a disposable address which will be deleted if abused.

By the way, I've reviewed all of I've written here and removed quite a number of rhetorical redundancies; but probably not all .... :)

Peace, (without apathy)
Alexander Miller
Port Alberni

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