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5 Ridiculous Words Only Lawyers Use (and Need to Stop Using)

by Vinay Jain 5 Ridiculous Words Only Lawyers Use (and Need to Stop Using)

Once, in law school, I got an invitation to a reception hosted by a law firm. It said in part, “Comestibles will be served.”

Translation for those who never took Latin: there will be food.

Why didn’t the invite just say that? Because lawyers often use pompous and outdated words when simple, modern ones will do.

This is annoying. I love the richness of the English language, and for the most part I love my fellow lawyers, but the puffed up formality that plagues the legal profession is a nuisance up with which I cannot put.

Here are five ridiculous words that only lawyers use — and need to stop using:

1. “witnesseth”

What sayest thou about the fact that this pre-Shakespearean word is still used as a header in many contracts? As you might have guessed, it means “witness” or “take notice” of the language that follows, but it’s totally unnecessary to form a legally binding contract. It’s clung to life not because it does any meaningful work, but because it sounds formal and, well, legal.

2. “impliedly”

Yes, that’s a real word, at least in lawyer land, and like “witnesseth,” it’s a throwback to another century. It simply means “implicitly,” which is a 100% effective substitute. So why would lawyers use the awkward, archaic version? The only thing I’ve found that comes close to an explanation is that “implicitly” has a second meaning, “completely,” as in, “I trust her implicitly.” The supposed logic is that by avoiding “implicitly” you avoid the risk of a reader assuming that you intend the second meaning.

This is weak. There are plenty of words in the English language that have more than one meaning. That doesn’t stop us from using them; we know the reader will use context clues to figure things out.

3. “therefor”

No, that’s not a typo, the final “e” is missing on purpose. “Therefore,” as we all know, means “consequently.” Drop the last letter, though, and you get a word that’s pronounced the same way but means “for it/them.” For example: “She accepted the delivery and provided payment therefor.”

Pretty much every spell check program will flag “therefor” as a typo. (In fact, as I type this, my autocorrect keeps adding an “e.”) As far as I can tell, “therefor” is only used in legal contracts. But it’s unnecessary — there are far more elegant ways of saying what you need to say. For the above example, what you mean is ”She accepted the delivery and paid for it.” Why not just write that? Not only does it read better, but also, your reader won’t think you don’t know how to spell.

4. “promulgate”

This one’s a favorite of attorneys who work in administrative law — that is, with or for government agencies. In the legal context, the word simply means “to enact” or “to implement,” as in, “The EPA promulgated these regulations in 1997.” I’ve never seen any explanation for why “promulgate” is more apt than “enact” or “implement.” My guess is that it’s stuck around because lawyers think it carries some special meaning and are afraid to stop using it.

5. “said” (as an adjective)

In the leaden language of legalese, “said” refers to something that was previously mentioned. For example: “The plaintiff sprained his foot and broke two toes on said foot.”

Mercifully, it’s rare now to see “said” used this way in legal writing, though it still pops up. Maybe now people recognize that, like “therefor,” the adjective “said” is unnecessary and writing always read better without it. For goodness’ sake, just say, “The plaintiff sprained his foot and broke two of the toes.”

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Legalese is more than annoying; it can cause confusion and intimidate people out of getting the legal help they need. Here’s to hoping that lawyers stop using terms that have outlived their usefulness. 

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Vinay Jain

As Chief Legal Officer, Vinay serves as Shake's general counsel, is responsible for the company's legal contracts and content, and leads efforts to educate consumers and small businesses about the law.

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