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The slash is more correctly called the solidus, the oblique or the virgule. We see it in URLs all the time.

It is much older than the interweb, of course.

If you are old enough, and British enough, you’ll remember it as the mark for a shilling: 2/- meant two shillings in pre-decimal currency. It was also used after the number of pounds: £4/5/3½ is ’four pounds, five shillings, threepence halfpenny’, that last bit pronounced thruppence hayp’ny.

The ½ symbol calls to mind another use of the solidus, in fractions (when the numbers aren’t placed vertically, with a straight line between). It is also used to express per, as in 100km/h. These are essentially the same usage, per here being the Latin for ‘by’ (1 (divided) by 2, 100 km by the hour).

We also use the slash in colloquial abbreviations where it separates the initial letters of syllables: A/C (‘air-conditioning’), b/c (‘because’), w/e (‘week-end’), w/o (‘without’).

So far so good, but there are some problematic uses of the solidus.

I can never remember which is a forward slash and which a backward one. Doesn’t it depend on which way you’re facing?

More significantly, the solidus can mean or but it can also stand for and. This might cause interpretive difficulties.

He/she and s/he probably mean ‘he or she’ and ’she or he’, but perhaps now have an element of gender fluidity to them.

In constructions like and/or, the solidus clearly means or. (But don’t use and/or, for reasons I’ve pointed out previously.)

The solidus can also function as and, as in this piece from the Law Society which describes James Wilson Morrice as ‘probably the most internationally renowned Ontario lawyer/artist’.

Better to say lawyer who was also an artist or lawyer-artist.

Why? Because it could be unclear whether your solidus is disjunctive (or) or conjunctive (and).

The party room and gym in this luxury condominium have state-of-the-art audio/video systems.

Hmm, that probably means they have both audio and video, but you can never be too sure…

Whatever you do, please don’t follow the lead of this writer for Slate, who spelled out each solidus as the word slash:

President Donald Trump issued a stunning threat-slash-promise-slash-constitutional fantasy.

We might do this in speech, but please — not in writing.

Thanks to John Hightower of Lanier Ford Shaver & Payne PC in Huntsville, Alabama, for suggesting the topic and directing me to that Slate horror.

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


This adjective isn’t my favourite. Perhaps it’s that weak, adverb-like —ly ending.

It’s unobjectionable in a timely reminder, but in a timely manner is like fingernails down a chalkboard, somehow.

I think that’s because of its fussy, needlessly formal tone and use of four words when one or two would suffice. On time (or even early) would do just fine.

Also unattractive is the American legal usage that turns the adjective into an adverb (as seen in the title of this US blog post): Does Your Company Timely Respond to All Reports of Potential Misconduct?

Are there are other ways to phrase it?

Promptly. That works.

Timeously. Very Scottish, so a bit outlandish in North America (or England).

Timelily. Perhaps the weakest of weak adverbs, with that unusual (but correct) —lily ending. Don’t.

I’d go with on time.

And in the timely reminder sense, you could also say well-timed, opportune, seasonable.

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


Is it Amber and Veronica’s children or Amber’s and Veronica’s children?

It could be either, depending on what is meant.

The first refers to the children Amber and Veronica parent together; the second to two sets of children, separately parented.

So, you would say Amber and Veronica’s children are in regular contact with their biological father but Amber’s and Veronica’s children went on the school outing, travelling in separate cars.

Things are different when you combine a noun and pronoun in the same sentence, however.

This is correct: Angela’s and my view is that …

Thanks to Ross Guberman for suggesting this topic and pointing out where Justice Kagan of the US Supreme Court gets it wrong (at page 8).

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


It’s May, which means (if you happen to be a law firm librarian) it is summer student training time.

COVID-19 has meant that a significant amount of training is now offered online rather than in person. Online training has its own set of challenges, one of which includes keeping the participants involved.

One way of increasing involvement is by using polls in your training, either to establish what attendees already know or use (e.g. “what’s your favourite online resource?”) or to test them on what they have just been taught. Your options will (obviously) depend on what resource you are using for remote training.

If you are using Teams, you can find details of how to set up polls at Teams offers three polling options: multiple choice poll, multiple choice quiz, and word cloud.

If you are using Teams, you can find details of how to set up polls at

Whatever resource you use, I would highly recommend a trial run of polls before the training session.

Susannah Tredwell


Someone recently made this comment on LinkedIn: I’m so excited re: the below. (The colon may or may not have been there.)

Why not I’m so excited about this instead of the commenter’s mish-mash of somewhat immature enthusiasm and the lawyer jargon of re and the below?

If you think carefully when you write, something simple like it or this sounds much more natural than the above, the below, the latter, the former – which all sound stiff and pompous.

Dr Johnson counselled against these constructions, saying ‘As long as you have the use of your tongue and pen, never, sir, be reduced to that shift’ – shift being an eighteenth-century expression for a shabby expediency or forced measure.

And re — do we really need to use this vestigial piece of Latin? While it is usefully concise, if you’re composing something like a tweet, re has a definite air of ‘I’m using a word I would never have uttered before I went to law school and I’m only saying it now in order to sound like the real lawyer you may not think I am’.

So, to be dispensed with.

Re is a funny word, too, as it doesn’t quite mean ‘about’ or ‘regarding’ (or didn’t originally).

It is one of the grammatical forms (the ablative case, to be precise) of the Latin noun res, which means ‘thing’ — and, by extension, ‘subject’, ‘matter’, ‘affair’.

In law reports, In re sometimes appears in a style of cause, especially where the litigation is an investigation into the property of a bankrupt or the will of a testator. A famous example from Ontario is In re Estate of Charles Miller, Deceased, [1937] OR 382 (CA). The name of that case might also be given as just Re Miller.

Use of re as a stand-in for ‘about’ goes back a long way (1707 is the earliest example in the Oxford English Dictionary), but try to do without it.

Try, particularly if your legal writing is already peppered with random bits of Latin like per and the dreadful commercial English of the nineteenth century (I acknowledge receipt of your letter, same being forwarded to our client for review). You are only alienating non-lawyer readers and sounding like some scrivener in a bad Victorian novel.

In the heading of your memo, Re: can easily be replaced by Subject:, which your reader may find more illuminating anyway.

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


This is now a thing, as they say.

I’m not entirely sure what it all involves, but then I’m not that keen on the non-electronic version of sports.

My interest in esports is orthographical, naturally. Why no hyphen (e-sports)?

The hyphen is routinely dropping out of e-mail (which I can live with), and to some extent e-commerce, but probably not e-filing or e-discovery.

Inconsistency on this point suggests that the decision whether to hyphenate is driven by look and sound: ecommerce may suggest a pronunciation starting in the same way as ecology, with the emphasis on the second syllable. This explains the occasional rendition of the word as eCommerce, to make it clear(er) that the emphasis is on first syllable. An old-fashioned hyphen would achieve that more elegantly.

Esports is, to me, perilously similar to escorts, which has an unfortunate connotation.

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


This question came up in a recent discussion forum for professional development people at law firms.

The subject was terminology to describe law students and recently minted lawyers in need of guidance from more senior members of the profession.

The reason we can’t use sponsee is that it is an ugly neologism (as bad as attendee, evaluatee or secondee).

Other equally icky suggestions that came up:

  • fosterling
  • disciple
  • protégé, protégée
  • ward
  • aspirant

And, of course, the dreaded mentee – which must be rejected because there is no verb ment (a mentor is called that after Mentor, who took charge of Telemachus, the young son of Odysseus (Ulysses), during the latter’s absence during the Trojan War).

Budding English advocates undergo a pupillage, but pupil may seem a bit old-fashioned in North America. And, like articling student, articled clerk or articled student, it describes only someone who is not yet a lawyer. A more recent UK term is NQ, for newly qualified [lawyer], which would work — but only for those who have passed out of the student phase.

Why not something simple like junior, which is inclusive and has both the sanction of time and the advantage of simplicity?

Dickens uses it in Pickwick Papers (1837): ‘Mr. Sergeant Buzfuz..leads on the other side. That gentleman behind him, is Mr. Skimpin, his junior.’ (A sergeant or serjeant was a senior barrister in the old Court of Common Pleas.)

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


CanLII recently announced the addition of AI generated subject classification to its Ontario and Saskatchewan case law which makes it much faster to see what area of the law a case falls into.

If you’re searching case law from either of these jurisdictions you can limit your search to specific subjects; for example, if I only wanted to see cases in Ontario dealing with contract law, I would click on the All subjects dropdown menu and then select Contracts.

Note that the All subjects dropdown menu only appears if you are looking at either Ontario or Saskatchewan case law or if you are looking at commentary.

Susannah Tredwell


I’ve commented on this before, but around is rapidly becoming an epidemic. And one that needs to be contained.

Of late, around has been taking the place of better and clearer words like on or about.

These have all been seen or heard in recent weeks:

  • conversations around X
  • discussions around Y
  • research around Z
  • a point around A
  • rules around B
  • allegations around C [of would be better here, rather than on or about]
  • charges around D [ditto]
  • issues around E
  • a piece around F
  • a profile around G
  • questions around H
  • legislation around I

Stop the around insanity!

It is, admittedly, a bit less awful than regarding or concerning (stuffy lawyerisms, both), but not much.

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


I was on a call recently, and someone said ‘OK, now that we’re all in agreeance, …’

That made me wonder about the word, which I’ve seen and heard occasionally. So I checked out the Oxford English Dictionary (natch), and there it is.

It’s a synonym for agreement, in the sense of ‘concord of opinions’ (rather than ‘contract’), and its origin is Scottish, dating back at least to the early fifteenth century. Agreement is older, apparently by about a century, and means both the concord and the contract thing.

OED notes that agreeance may now be regarded as ‘non-standard’, and the examples of usage are mostly Scottish and American (which is to say, non-standard for an Oxford lexicographer).

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)