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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)

 

No, that isn’t a typo.

The spelling is deliberate, an attempt to decouple woman and women from that male-sounding second syllable. See this article, for example.

And indeed the Anglo-Saxon origins of the traditional spelling of the word are pretty sexist: woman (originally wifmane) is a combination of wife and man, as though heterosexual marriage were defining.

Womxn isn’t the first attempt to neutralise those gendered overtones. In the 1970s, some feminists started to refer to themselves as womyn or wimmin (the latter is also an old, regional English spelling of women).

More recently, we have seen Latinx as an inclusive substitute for Latino, Latina and Latino/a. (I also see folx for folks, which seems unncessary – what is objectionable about ks?)

Female would need to be revisited on the Latinx logic. The word derives from the Old French femele (or femelle), which in turn comes from the Latin femella and femina, but the –male ending arose in Middle English by association with the obviously masculine male.

Unlike Latinx (la-TEE-nex or LAT-in-ex), womxn is unpronounceable. It also may be unclear whether it refers to a single person or more than one, although the context should usually clarify that.

It’s doubtful we’ll see womxn in contractual or statutory drafting soon, but it may happen; the days of the masculine gender begin defined to include the feminine are not so far behind us.

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)

 

As law librarians we should all know the value of reading a contract before we sign it. And yet…

For librarians, some specific clauses in contracts to take note of are:

  • Renewal of the contract – does the contract renew automatically? If yes, what will the new terms be and how much notice needs to be given to prevent that from happening?
  • Material change – what happens if the number of lawyers at your firm increases or decreases? The vendor may have the right to increase the amount you are paying if the number of lawyers increases, but the contract may not require them to do the reverse.
  • Location of users – are there any geographic limitations on who can use the material?
  • Schedule – if there’s a schedule to the contract that lists what is included in the contract, check it carefully to make sure it includes everything that you have agreed to with the vendor

If a clause looks like it might cause a problem, it is always worthwhile asking if it can be removed or amended. (And beware the words “that’s standard, but we won’t hold you to it.”)

Susannah Tredwell

 

Small and incorrect, that is.

Thank-you

This isn’t wrong when used as a noun (She sent a bottle of wine as a thank-you) or as an adjective (That thank-you bottle was much appreciated).

It is wrong when you are using the words to thank someone, as I saw in an e-mail recently: Thank-you for your help.

In that instance, Thank you is just a truncated version of I thank you, and no hyphen is necessary (or correct) in that kind of short sentence.

Fear and loathing?

This was the opening to a recent e-mail bulletin: I was loathed to admit …

OK, if by that the author meant he was detested – but that was clearly not the intention.

Auto-correct could be at work here, since many people say (and write) that they are loathe to do something (pronounced to rhyme with clothe).

That’s wrong too, though; the correct word is loath, sometimes (historically) spelt loth. They rhyme with growth and mean ‘unwilling, reluctant’.

Feedbacks and softwares

Like learning and training, these should never be pluralised.

NEVER.

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)

 

I wrote previously about thank-you (with the hyphen, it’s noun or adjective only – not the actual expression of thanks).

Someone I follow on Twitter (@BrendanCormier) identified another problematic usage involving gratitude: thanks in advance, which he calls ‘one of the most insidiously awful phrases in the english language’.

I agree wholeheartedly with that sentiment.

Even though it’s grammatically unassailable, stylistically it’s deplorable.

Presumably your request also incudes please, so the anticipatory thanking is redundant. Thanks in advance is also becoming a shop-worn cliché (so to be avoided for that reason alone).

But more than that, the phrase suggests that the writer won’t necessarily bother to thank you when you do fulfil the request.

This is just rude and more than a bit passive-aggressive.

Please don’t use this dreadful phrase, and just thank when appropriate.

Thanks.

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)