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How would you punctuate the following?

Former Minneapolis Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin and two colleagues J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane have been charged with multiple offences in connection with the death of George Floyd.

No points for saying there should be a comma after Minneapolis; that’s too obvious.

Demerit points for suggesting there should be commas on either side of Derek Chauvin; there are multiple (former) Minneapolis cops, so the commas would be wrong, because they’d suggest Chauvin is the only one in that category.

Points for a comma after colleagues and one after Lane; you need these to define the two specific colleagues in question.

Bonus points for putting a comma after Minnesota — although I suspect it is more common now not to do that. Doesn’t make it right, although there is some benefit in not cluttering things up with commas that may not add much. 

Thanks to John Hightower of Lanier Ford in Huntsville, Alabama, for suggesting this topic.

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


It happens in French too.

A lawyer in Lyons (Lyon, to use the French spelling) complained recently on Twitter about contractual drafting like this:

Par ailleurs, si l’Acquéreur envisagé en émet le souhait, celui-ci devra avoir la possibilité de…

Translated literally, that means ‘Moreover, if the prospective Acquiror indicates its desire to do so, it must have the ability to …’

As the lawyer points out, one could simply say, L’Acquéreur pourra… (’The Acquiror may …’).

This stuff drives him (and me) dingue (crazy).

Chapeau, Quentin-Alexandre Brigaud, for the tweet!

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


Things seem to go awry when people use even slightly complicated sentence structure.

The venerable New York Times, usually a stickler for grammar (of an American variety), initially published this:

More familiar to we of the social media era is a type of …

This has since been corrected, changing that we to us (no doubt after readers harrumphed at the error).

You need an object for the preposition to, not a subject. It would be correct, of course, to write We of the social media era are more familiar with …

Someone else who ought to know better (an academic announcing his co-authored publication on Twitter), referred to So-and-so and mine’s book.

Yikes. That should be So-and-so’s and my…

And from the Saïd Business School at Oxford University on LinkedIn: It’s fantastic that Oxford are doing this with its MBA students.

In North America, we’d treat a university as a singular entity, not as a plural collective as they do in the UK, so the problem would have been averted.  

But even in North America we can lose sight of the number we’ve previously used, and something that was originally an it may turn into a they.

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


As libraries reopen, one concern is how to deal with books that have been returned by patrons. The Australian Library and Information Association is recommending the following:

“For paper-based products, leave books untouched in a dedicated quarantine area for a 24-hour period prior to handling and recirculating. Sanitising books with liquid disinfectants can damage books and is not recommended.”

For more information on the subject, you may want to look at the Reopening Archives, Libraries, and Museums Project.

Susannah Tredwell


The first horror is from a tweet by a business school which shall remain nameless (hint: it’s in London, Ontario): There is still a few spots left in our upcoming workshop. Good Lord.

Horror 2: A client of ours is looking for a real estate lawyer situate in Montana. Please. Maybe located in Montana, or just in Montana.

Horror 3: premia. No. Premiums.

Horror 4: I’m free until 10 tomorrow? I dunno, are you? #UnnecessaryQuestionMark

Horror 5: How to Make Working from Home, Work for You. For pity’s sake, lose that comma.

Horror 6: The reason why is because … Yikes. The reason is …, obvi.

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


A reader asked why we call a group of lawyers who practise together a firm.

The term goes back a while.

In Italian, firma has been used since the sixteenth century to describe a commercial enterprise or business; the word also means ‘a signature’. Firmar and firmare (in Spanish and Italian, respectively) have meant ’to sign a document’ since the tenth century. All are derived from the post-classical Latin firmare (’to sign or ratify’).

English borrowed firm in the signature sense by the 1570s. By the eighteenth century, it had come to mean, by extension, the name under which a commercial enterprise transacts business, and also an association of two or more people in business together — what we would now call a partnership. Over time, it came to mean any kind of business or company, although for lawyers the partnership aspect has remained.

Since the early twentieth century, The Firm has been a colloquial term for the Royal Family; and since the 1950s for MI6, the British foreign intelligence agency.

The adjective firm, meaning ‘solid or steady’ (as in a firm offer or firm handshake) comes from a related Latin root: firmus (‘firm, solid or stable’).

One needs a steady hand when signing on behalf of a law partnership. 

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


As long as we don’t call it that, though. (In part because Let’s get phygital may conjure up images of Olivia Newton-John in a headband for those of a certain age.)

Phygital is a newish (and unlovely) term for communication or connection that combines the physical and the digital. It comes from the world of marketing and sales.

If you are hosting a virtual breakfast or happy hour for the summer students in your office using a digital platform, you can make it (ugh) phygital by sending participants all the food and drink they need to have an experience that feels a least a bit more like being in the same room with everyone else.

But phygital? Please, no. Just send the cereal or the ready-made Negronis and try to have a good time.

(Thanks to Chris Graham of for drawing my attention to a word he finds equally unfortunate.)

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


Many people have spent the last three months working from home. While most librarians had experience providing services to clients who were working remotely, it was a different situation when it came to being the ones who were working remotely. When you’re used to working in a physical library, moving to providing services entirely online presents a challenge, since a number of resources are still not available online.

I am sure that there are many people who can make helpful additions to this list, but this is what worked for us during the shift to providing all library services digitally:

  1. Prepare. When it started to look likely that we would be moving to working from home, my department did a run through to confirm what we could access from home. For example, some of our resources require IP authentication, so we made sure that our home IP addresses were added to the list of approved IP addresses. 
  2. Talk to your IT department. IT deals with remote users every day and they can provide solutions that you would not have thought of (or can do it faster and more effectively than you would have). For example, my IT department forwarded my work phone to my cell phone so I didn’t need to worry about updating people about how to reach me. (One downside to this: getting a phone call at 6:45 in the morning from a vendor who had forgotten that BC is in a different time zone.)
  3. Talk to your vendors about what they can do to help. For example, some of our vendors have temporarily provided electronic copies of materials that we own in print but not electronically. (This was very much appreciated.)
  4. Look at what can be digitized or is already available online. We were in the middle of a digitization project at the point where we moved to work from home. While there were a number of things that we could not digitize for legal or practical reasons, it was helpful having those items that we had already digitized easily available.
  5. Take print items home. We took home some of the key books that weren’t available electronically so we could consult them as needed. (Others had already been liberated.) 
  6. Make sure your catalogue reflects what is available online. We’ve also added links in our catalogue to materials housed elsewhere (for example in the Government of Canada Publications database).
  7. Have multiple entry points for materials to make it as easy as possible for users to find them (e.g. we have links on our intranet and in our catalogue and, in some cases, in quick start guides.)
  8. Talk to your colleagues at other institutions. Librarians and information professionals in the legal industry are always willing to suggest solutions and resources that you might not have thought of.

Susannah Tredwell


Two lawyers at my firm asked which formulation I preferred:

“Notice” has the meaning ascribed to it in Section 9.1.

“Notice” has the meaning ascribed in Section 9.1.

“Notice” has the meaning ascribed thereto in Section 9.1.

Being a dangerous radical, I opted for the second one. It’s the simplest.

Thereto is to be avoided at all costs, and to it in the first possibility really doesn’t add anything.

The more senior of the two lawyers made a good point, though.

Opposing counsel will probably want to add the to it, so leaving it out would only occasion more of a mark-up and more work for you. Sometimes it is better to give people what they expect, rather than what you know is better drafting.

Another possibility would be to say assigned instead of ascribed (and the more senior lawyer sent a neat chart depicting the gradual decline of ascribed since 1800, from Google Books).

Other possibilities:

“Notice” has the meaning given to it in Section 9.1.

“Notice” has the meaning given it in Section 9.1. [But North Americans tend not to use give this way: Give it me would strike them as alien, and it is (while perfectly normal in the UK).] 

“Notice” is defined in Section 9.1.

“Notice”, as defined in section 9.1, …

Or just say Notice (with an upper-case N) and assume your reader can Control+F to find section 9.1.  

The point is that there lots of ways to express something, some better (and plainer) than others. 

Go with what you think your audience will want – unless you can clearly show why your rendition is superior.

Thanks to Zale Skolnik and Neill Kalvin for the question!

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


Who would have thought, back in January, that we’d be doing quite so much of this?

It feels like shopping in Bulgaria in the mid 1970s, lining up for the remaining 40-watt bulb on the shelf.

If you live in the United Kingdom or other parts of the Commonwealth, you would be doing it at the kerbside.

The form curb is usual in North America in describing the raised edge of a sidewalk, walkway or paved area.

Both versions are seen in early eighteenth-century examples (sometimes kirb).

Curb actually makes more sense, given that the word comes from the French courbe and Latin curvus, meaning ‘curved’.

Why the K, then?

The Oxford English Dictionary points to the word kennel by way of comparison, which also comes from a C-word: canis, which is Latin for ‘dog’.

In mediaeval French, a canaille was a pack of dogs and a chenil or kenil the enclosure or structure one put them in. But, spelling being flexible in the Middle Ages, the word also appeared as chienaille or kienaille.

For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, British English went with kennel and, after a flirtation with curbkerb.

The verb meaning ‘to restrain’ is universally spelt curb.

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)