Articles Tagged with Language of the law

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You may or may not use a serial comma wherever (or nowhere) else you want, but woe to the person who leaves the serial comma out of legal documents, including contracts, legal opinions, statutes, regulations, and any other legal agreement or law that will be interpreted literally (and I mean literally, literally) by parties to the agreement or by a judge – or even, mercy, by a legislator or government lawyer.

Honestly now: Do you really want to pay lawyer(s!) bills and court costs when lawyers, judges, and clients end up doing battle over the meaning of a sentence when the presence of a comma would have allowed everyone to go home to supper and a peaceful night’s sleep?

Lawyers, legislators, drafters of laws, and judges have enough trouble writing clearly without adding to their own and their readers’ woes. Use the serial comma, please. It will save all of us time and money.

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The dance of legislation has more steps and rules (and foot and toe stomping opportunities) than a few words defined, but learning the Language of Congress is a good place to start:

Sessions, Adjournments, and Recesses of Congress, by Richard S. Beth, Specialist on Congress and the Legislative Process, and Jessica Tollestrup, Analyst on Congress and the Legislative Process, February 27, 2013:

“The House and Senate use the terms session, adjournment, and recess in both informal and more formal ways, but the concepts apply in parallel ways to both the daily and the annual activities of Congress. A session begins when the chamber convenes and ends when it adjourns. A recess, by contrast, does not terminate a session, but only suspends it temporarily…. [Link to full CRS Report

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Did you every wonder where the phrase, “make a federal case out of it” came from?  How about “hue and cry?” Or, “piercing the corporate veil?”

You can find these phrases and many more in the new book “Lawtalk: the unknown stories behind familiar legal expressions,” by James E. Clapp, Elizabeth G. Thornburg, Marc Galanter, and Fred R. Shapiro.