The Party of the First Part: The Curious World of Legalese

By in Dictionaries & Terminology on August 16, 2013

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The Eats, Shoots & Leaves of legalese, this witty narrative journey through the letter of the law offers something for language lovers and legal eagles alike
 
This clever, user-friendly discourse exposes the simple laws lurking behind decorative, unnecessary, and confusing legal language. For better or for worse, the instruction manual for today’s world is written by lawyers. Everyone needs to understand this manual–but lawyers persist in writing it in language no one can possibly decipher.
Why accuse someone of making “material misstatements of fact,” when you could just call them a liar? What’s the point of a “last” will and testament if, presumably, every will is your last? Did you know that “law” derives from a Norse term meaning “that which is laid down”? So tell your boss to stop laying down the law–it already is.
The debate over Plain vs. Precision English rages on in courtrooms, boardrooms, and, yes, even bedrooms. Here, Adam Freedman explores the origins of legalese, interprets archaic phrasing (witnesseth!), explains obscure and oddly named laws, and disputes the notion that lawyers are any smarter than the rest of us when judged solely on their briefs. (A brief, by the way, is never so.)

3 thoughts on “The Party of the First Part: The Curious World of Legalese

  1. 1
    5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    In a perfect world this book would be required reading, May 17, 2008
    By 
    S. Saunders (Rocky Mountains USA) –
    (VINE VOICE)
      
    (REAL NAME)
      

    Amazon Verified Purchase(What’s this?)
    This review is from: The Party of the First Part: The Curious World of Legalese (Hardcover)

    “The Party of the First Part” is an erudite, hilarious tour through 21st Century American legalese. Alan Freedman leads us through the ankle-grabbing underbrush of redundancy, dead phrases, faux Latin, and mindless obfuscation into which every reader – and writer – of legal documents eventually must stagger.

    Freedman is a sure-footed guide who knows the territory. Time and again, he yanks up a hoary word or phrase and shows us its tangled roots.

    Sometimes we find, clutching a root with a deathgrip, an advocate of the so-called “Precision School” of legal drafting. These lawyers and profs fear that awful chaos would result if lawyers quit using ancient Anglo/French/Latin phrases, in favor of words used by 21st Century Americans in everyday life. Chaos? Well gosh, people might have to *sue* if they can’t agree what a word or phrase written in 21st Century English means. Uh-huh, thinks I: as if they aren’t already suing by the thousands over the meaning of Roman-numeraled legal documents bristling with boilerplate clunkers such as “witnesseth,” “hereinabove,” “aforementioned,” “covenant and agree,” and “hereunto.”

    This book should be required reading for every law student, law professor, judge and lawyer in the United States. It encourages those among us who want to write clearly when drafting legal documents. I hope it will at least give pause for thought to our colleagues who never met a hundred-word clause in the passive voice, that they didn’t like.

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  2. 2
    4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
    4.0 out of 5 stars
    Legaleazy, January 29, 2008
    By 
    Publius (Utopia) –

    This review is from: The Party of the First Part: The Curious World of Legalese (Hardcover)

    Mr. Freedman’s “The Party of the First Part” is a much more humorous review of Law School. Freedman covers Torts, Contracts, Criminal Law, Wills, Trusts, Estates and a multitude of other subjects that can even confuse some of the most academically gifted among us. I for one spent Law School in a haze because I felt like I was not getting the big picture. However, when I realized that the `law’ does not have a big picture, I felt much more relaxed. Our Anglo-Saxon, Franco-Norman, Old English influenced law, as Mr. Freedman demonstrates, is a series of compromises and half-measures and it has always been that way. `Legalese’ can be used as both a sword and a shield. For instance, Wills can be written in a way that makes sense to people, without any mention of the words “rest” “residue” or “remainder.” But since these sounds good and lawyerly, it keeps showing up in Wills and Testaments. (Testament also being a redundancy too as Mr. Freedman demonstrates.) Thus, the odds of challenging a plain English Will and winning is much greater then one that packs more and more legalese in. Since legalese protects not only the lawyer and the client, legalese can also be used as a sword. For instance, why hire a lawyer if you could understand the documents that you are reading and signing? I encourage anyone to read this book to get a humorous side to a very dry topic.

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  3. Dennis DeWilde "The Performance Connection"
    3
    4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    Libel or Slander ?, January 9, 2008
    By 
    Dennis DeWilde “The Performance Connection” (Cleveland area, Ohio USA) –
    (VINE VOICE)
      

    This review is from: The Party of the First Part: The Curious World of Legalese (Hardcover)

    Poking more than a bit of fun at the “worrying gap” – the distance between the language of the public and that of the legal profession, ‘Legal Lingo’ columnist Adam Freedman takes a humorous swing at the “Precision School”, which holds that the complexity of legal language flows from the need of lawyers to be super precise. A position that challenges the “Plain English” camp, which advocates that ordinary citizens ought to be able to understand the laws they live under and the contracts they sign.

    Demonstrating a wit and humor that may be lost on some legal scholars, Freedman traces the origin for the distinction between “libel” and “slander” while providing an ample supply of one-liners for use during your next meeting with legal counsel. If that is not enough, you may be interested in knowing that the Texas Cattlemen’s suit of Oprah Winfrey was done under a “Food Disparagement Law” – statutes meant to protect agricultural products; veggies are a group with especially tender feelings, you know. His discussion of “boilerplate” language notwithstanding, I found the book to be riveting reading. From now on, I will “know all men by these presents,” boilerplate is contractual and may require one to accept that there is a ‘Sanity Clause’.

    Dennis DeWilde, author of
    “The Performance Connection”

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