All Our Research Tips
All Well and Good
If I had a dollar for every time he’s heard Good, thanks – and you? in response to How are you?, I’d be writing this from a villa in Tuscany. (Or not writing it all, just sipping Negronis on a deck-chair by the pool.)
The grammatically correct response to how are you? is well, not good. Good traditionally refers to a moral, not a physical or mental, state. I’m good really ought to be confined to situations where you mean you are virtuous, good at something or well-behaved. (And not as a way of saying ‘no, thank you’ to an offer of food or drink.)
Well is both an adjective and an adverb; good is only ever an adjective (or a noun), and therefore it can’t modify a verb.
So, We did good means we effected works of charity and the like, rather than we did a good job. For that, you mean We did well, unless you want to be what Bryan Garner calls ‘unrefined’.
But this appears to be a losing battle: pass me another Negroni.
The battle is entirely lost with the verb to look. Classically, one would have said That colour looks well on you – but you would attract uncomprehending looks if you said that now.
There is still time to win the adverbial battle with constructions like Travel safe or drive clean. Safely and cleanly, please: it’s how you travel or drive, which demands an adverb to modify the verb. (Although drive clean is possibly justifiable if you mean clean as an adjective that describes a drug-free driver.)
Sometimes good is the right choice, however: with taste and smell, for example (where good isn’t so much an adverb as an adjective describing whatever is being sampled). You would use well if you were referring, though, to an expert wine-taster’s skill at sniffing and sipping.
Feel is trickier. Many insist that it’s OK to say I felt bad about having to fire her, but traditionally it’s badly. James Brown may have said I feel good! (and I wouldn’t change that song for all the Negronis in the world), but grammatically it should be well (even if that could also suggest feeling well in the groping sense). We still say I don’t feel well when we’re ill.
Robert Warren Fiske sums it up in his Dictionary of Unendurable English (2011): ‘People who use good where well should be are soulless speakers, hopeless writers.’
Next time: navigating social media
–Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)
Where Do I Find a Point in Time Version of the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Regulations?
This tip was suggested by Marnie Bailey of Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP.
Unlike the vast majority of Canadian regulations, you can’t find a consolidated version of the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Regulations on the federal Justice Laws website; instead the Justice Laws website refers you to Transport Canada’s website. While Transport Canada has a copy of the current consolidated version, it does not make previous versions available on its website, so what is a law librarian to do? Head to the Wayback Machine of course!
There is a lovely capture of how the Regulation read right before a major 2016 amendment; this removed a frequently referred to table from part 8.1.
— Marnie Bailey
Who and Whom
You knew this would come up sooner or later.
The simple rule is that who is a subject (Who said that?), whom is an object (To whom is that letter addressed?). The verb to be, you will remember, takes a subjective completion (who) rather than an object (whom).
But it’s a bit more complicated than that.
First, who has largely displaced whom in common usage, to the point where the Oxford English Dictionary admits that it is ‘no longer current in natural colloquial speech’. As a result, one usually hears It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. That really should be whom you know (of course), because you need an object for you know.
On the other hand, people sometimes use whom incorrectly because they think it sounds classier: I’ve actually heard May I ask whom is calling? from someone on the other end of the telephone. And those of a certain vintage may know the line from ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go?’ (1982) by The Clash: ‘Exactly whom I’m supposed to be’. Great song, terrible grammar.
Who and whom can also be what’s called relative pronouns: the man who mistook his wife for a hat but the lawyer whom time forgot. Here again, the subject-object distinction governs.
Another complicating point is that whether it’s who or whom depends on the surrounding words. It’s correct to say I’ll talk to whomever but not I’ll talk to whomever will listen. In the second example, that whomever is wrong because you need a subject for the will listen bit – and that has to be whoever. Similarly, it’s Whomever we hire will work hard rather than Whoever … because you need an object for we hire.
Confused? Take comfort in the fact that Shakespeare got it wrong when he wrote Young Ferdinand, whom they say is drowned – as did the King James translators of the Bible with But whom say ye that I am? These examples can be readily fixed if you prune the excess words to get at the core of the sentence: in the example from The Tempest, they say is merely a parenthetical remark, the core being Ferdinand, who is drowned; and the verse from Matthew is, essentially, But who am I?
And while we’re on the subject, don’t confuse who’s and whose. Who’s is short for who is, as in Who’s who? Whose, on the other hand, is a relative pronoun: Whose book is this?
(And it’s not Who’s whom? – again because the verb to be takes a subjective completion (who, in this instance) rather than an object.)
Week after next: all well and good
–Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)
Native Law Centre Case Watch
Each month, the University of Saskatchewan’s Native Law Centre blog features a Case Watch. The Case Watch is a newsletter of digested aboriginal case law. It covers all aspects of aboriginal case law including title, rights and Gladue factors. It is a collaboration of the Native Law Centre and Pro Bono Students Canada – University of Saskatchewan Chapter.
If you are a practitioner of aboriginal law or you closely follow this area of law, we strongly encourage you to check out Case Watch!
[This tip by Alan Kilpatrick originally appeared on the Law Society of Saskatchewan Library’s Legal Sourcery Blog]
Hyphens and Dashes
The word hyphen comes from the Greek for together, which reflects the hyphen’s function as a connector. Dash is descriptive: it’s a bold stroke of punctuation, which can hive things off from each other as well as connect otherwise disparate elements.
The hyphen as connector
English, like German, likes to combine two or more words into one. The Germans just shove them all together, stringing a series of words into one long chain (Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz apparently being the longest; it means ‘beef-labelling supervision duties delegation law’, formerly in the statute book of the German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, but now since repealed).
In English, the tendency is to hyphenate compounds, at least initially. When people started to talk about holders of shares a lot, it made sense to make a compound: share-holder. Later (as often happens), the hyphen disappeared and left us with shareholder. Hyphens are also disappearing from words like vice-president, but leaving two words (vice president) rather than one. Fowler’s Modern English Usage says this is actually OK – but doesn’t vice chair sound a bit naughty?
The hyphen tends to stay, however, where its disappearance would leave a pile-up of letters that don’t naturally go together in English or which suggest a weird pronunciation: security-holder and loop-hole are preferable to their hyphen-less versions. Co-operative is better than cooperative for that reason, but unco-operative does admittedly look a bit odd (and gets a red wavy line under it when typed on the screen – not that one should pay unquestioning heed to that). The New Yorker has tried for years to get people to write coöperative, but nobody is buying it.
Hyphens are usual in compound adjectives: pea-green boat, 20-year-old whisky, end-of-year review, red-hot chili peppers (a shame it’s too late to educate Anthony Kiedis about the hyphen). Not using a hyphen can lead to confusion: are you getting extra marital sex or extra-marital sex? Where the first element in a compound adjective is an adverb, the hyphen sometimes disappears: a well-deserved vacation BUT (probably) a soundly argued factum. The rules on that last point are murky; be guided by common-sense.
I’m of two minds about constructions like second- and third-hand information. Fowler’s Modern English Usage (the Bible for these things) suggests that the first hyphen can go (and may be better from a stylistic perspective than the alternative second-hand and third-hand information). There may be times when you’d want to keep it, though, for the sake of clarity: the meaning changes if you drop the first hyphen in This book is intended for the ill- and well-educated.
Another common use of the hyphen is for compound surnames. This used to be a posh thing, where the surname of a wife or relation was added in order to inherit that person’s property (the most elaborate example is Temple-Nugent-Brydges-Chandos-Grenville). It’s now an egalitarian thing, so kids get both their parents’ names. Sometimes the hyphen is omitted in these formations, which can lead to confusion: is that a middle name or part of the family name?
The dash has many uses, and as many—or more—misuses. Chief among the uses is to add a parenthetical phrase in the middle of a sentence, by way of explanation or for emphasis. If you hadn’t noticed, there is an example of in the opening sentence of this section. You can also do it at the end of a sentence, for emphasis—as I’ve just done now. Go easy, though: too much emphasis de-emphasises.
A bit of typography
The hyphen is one short stroke, like so: –
There are two types of dash: the ’em’ dash (—)and the ‘en’ (–), so-called by printers because they are the length of the bits of metal type used for printing the letters M and N respectively. (They are also called the long and the short dash.)
For purists, the en dash is used to separate date ranges (1837–1901) and connected or contrasted pairs of words (the North–South divide). The em dash is reserved for breaks in sentences. There should be no space on either side of a dash.
In the days of the manual typewriter, the em dash was rendered with three hyphens (—), the en with two (–). Typography nerds decry the continuation of this practice in the digital era, but you may have to resort to the ‘special characters’ menu to get the em dash, or figure out some combination of option and shift keys (which eludes me). In common usage, most people use a hyphen for date ranges and word-pairs, an en dash for sentence-breaks (your computer will generally convert two hyphens into the latter).
Next: who and whom
–Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)
Limit Your Search to Digests and Headnotes
The trouble with using keywords when searching case law case law is that you can end up with a lot of false hits, particularly in situations where your search terms have multiple meanings or are commonly used. One solution is to limit your search to digests or headnotes. When you search digests or headnotes, it increases the probability that your search terms will return a relevant case. Limiting your search to a specific category of cases (e.g. bankruptcy and insolvency) is also a good way to reduce the number of false hits.
— Susannah Tredwell
‘Only’, the Lonely
I wish people would think about the placement of the single word only. Where it falls in your sentence can have a crucial effect on meaning. Only feels lonely because it’s often in the wrong place at the wrong time, misused and misunderstood.
Consider these examples (devised by James Forrest, emeritus professor, Department of English, U. of Alberta):
He only told her that he loved her
He told only her that he loved her
He told her only that he loved her
He told her that only he loved her
He told her that he only loved her
He told her that he loved only her
He told her that he loved her only
In speech and casual writing, we don’t always place only so carefully. In more formal writing – and certainly in transactional drafting – misplacement can lead to ambiguity and confusion.
For this reason, Richard Wydick calls only a ‘troublesome modifier’.
To avoid problems with only, place it immediately before the word you want to modify (as in the Forrest examples), or isolate it at the end or beginning of a sentence.
Examples adapted from Wydick’s Plain English for Lawyers, 5th ed. (2005)) follow.
Ambiguous: The lessee shall use the vessel only for recreation.
Clear: The lessee must use the vessel for recreation only.
Ambiguous: Shares are sold to the public only by the parent corporation.
Clear: Only the parent corporation sells shares to the public.
Where contractual certainty is not at stake, you can be a bit less careful (and H.W. Fowler warns in Modern English Usage against excessive pedantry on this point), but you still run the risk of conveying a slightly different meaning than intended.
Next week: hyphens and dashes
–Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)
Database Video Tutorials
The Law Society of Saskatchewan Library team has created a series of helpful tutorial videos to aid legal researchers in searching CanLII and the Saskatchewan Cases Search. You can watch the videos by clicking on the Library Tutorials button on the left side of the library homepage.
The short digestible videos demonstrate how to search each resource in key ways:
CanLII Tutorial Videos
- A Basic “How-To” (5:57) [embedded above]
- Searching for a Case with a Common Name (3:08)
- Noting Up a Case with CanLII (2:22)
- Searching for Case Law (2:04)
- Searching for Legislation (2:44)
Saskatchewan Cases Search Tutorial Videos
- What is the Saskatchewan Cases Search? (1:46)
- Finding a Particular Case (2:32)
- Finding a Case of Unknown Name (2:39)
- Noting Up a Case (2:45)
- Noting Up a Statute (4:56)
[The original version of this tip by Alan Kilpatrick originally appeared on the Law Society of Saskatchewan Library’s Legal Sourcery Blog]
A few more words about would. (For previous advice, see Shall, will, should, would, may, might, must.)
Would is, of course, the conditional form of will. It’s used to express a potential (or non-existent) rather than a certain future state of being.
So it’s I will have the memo for you today but I would like to give you the memo today, but I’ve been asked to work on a big due diligence project instead.
Relatively straightforward, one would think – but one would be wrong.
No, not a strained agreement, but the proper alignment of various verb tenses.
I would be a rich man if I had a dollar for every time I’ve seen something like this:
I would have started on your memo earlier if I would have known that the big due diligence project was about to land on me.
Wrong, so wrong. That second would have needs to be had.
Getting technical with talk of the pluperfect and the conditional perfect (aka past conditional) is likely to confuse, so just remember that it’s never correct to have two would have (or similar) constructions in succession like this.
Happily there isn’t too much of this in legal writing, but open the newspapers and it abounds (especially in the obituaries). By way of example (emphasis added):
‘Steven breathed a rich mixture of political gossip (he would go on to meet all but three of the 20th century’s Prime Ministers).’
That would go should just be a simple went (or just say he later met all but three…).
Ugh. But I certainly hear and sometimes even see would of.
In spoken English, would have can sound like the contracted form would’ve, which has led some astray into thinking that it’s actually would of.
Of course it’s not.
Next week: ‘only’, the lonely
–Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)
Keep a List of Provinces That You Can Cut and Paste
(This tip is courtesy of Bronwyn Guiton.)
Librarians are frequently asked to provide lists of legislation from across Canada. To save time answering these kinds of questions, keep a handy list of the provinces and territories in the Notes tool in Outlook. Then when you are asked these kinds of questions you can just paste this list into your email or Word document, saving time and effort.
— Bronwyn Guiton