Thursday, 15 April 2010

Contributors, please note!

After another heavy bout of editing, I've compiled a few more pointers for contributors who wish to stay in my favour.

1. UK Court of Appeal. Like the hippogriff this is a legendary hybrid of concepts which should be reserved for use in works of fiction. The United Kingdom exists and so does the Court of Appeal -- but there are separate Courts of Appeal for England and Wales and for Northern Ireland. Scotland -- which has not yet been granted independence from the UK -- has a stand-alone legal system with an appellate court which is not called the Court of Appeal. There are plenty of variants upon this vice: to mention one, the UK doesn't have a High Court either.

2. "In a sense". These words, formerly beloved by academics alone, have now been adopted by many practitioners too. They are usually deployed at the beginning of a sentence and generally add nothing to its meaning. Thus, instead of "The application to cancel the registration was bound to fail" one reads "In a sense, the application to cancel the registration was bound to fail", no explanation being forthcoming as to what the sense is. The normal consequence is deletion.

3. "... of all". When delivering a lecture, the expression "First of all" adds emphasis and gives the listener a moment longer in which to absorb the speaker's meaning. On the printed page, "... of all" is padding. It's not as if one often encounters within legal writing the concepts of "First of some" or "First of third". The word "first", when used without qualification, implies the "of all" element. A similar malaise affects the expression of percentages. Thus one reads: "Only 16% of all patents are renewed into their 20th year". The concept of percentage also implies the words "of all", which can safely be omitted by the writer or eliminated by the editor.

4. Acute Parenthetic Syndrome. This condition is manifested by pro references to, for example, " Eli Lilly and Company Limited ("Eli Lilly")", where any reader will instantly recognise, without further guidance from the author, that references to Eli Lilly are references to the company of that name and not to its eponymous founder who died nearly 112 years ago. Likewise ("the Act"), ("the Directive"), ("the Court"), where the average reader would have no problem guessing which Act, Directive or Court is referred to since the author only mentions one.

5. Grindingly painful full-text repetition. In any article on acquisition of IP rights through a registration process, the word "application" is likely to get a few mentions. Where the author is discussing a decision involving the registration of a trade mark, there is nothing wrong with referring to an "application for registration". However, where the piece in question mentions no other form of application, it becomes tedious to read repeatedly the words "application for registration". If however it is important to distinguish the application for registration from a subsequent application for cancellation, or for applications for university admission, dog licences or permission to excavate ancient ruins or dog licences, the full form may -- if no alternative is available -- be used.

6. Footnote-notes. Notes at the foot of the page are called footnotes. The 'foot' bit refers to their location; the 'note' bit describes their function, which is to enable the reader to note something. There is nothing to be gained by commencing a footnote with the words "It should be noted that ...", which can be painlessly deleted without loss of value on the part of the reader.

7. Gender issues. The uncertainty on the part of many authors as to how to tackle gender is matched only by the uncertainty on the part of many publishers and editors as to how to deal with the author's preferred solution. The best and safest course of action for authors to take is to ask, before writing, whether the publisher has a preferred style and, if so, what it is. However, in getting on for 30 years in editorial work, I have never been asked these questions. The uncertainty of authors is plain to see and it runs wider than issues of political correctness. Thus an incorporated plaintiff can oscillate between "he", "it" and even "they"; the possessive pronoun
corresponds accordingly as "his", "its" and "their". "He/she", "s/he", "(s)he" and "he or she" abound. I even had a continental author who referred constantly to a claimant company as "she". When challenged, he pleaded linguistic ignorance, though I found it strange that an author whose English reading skills enabled him to read and discuss court judgments of some complexity, he had never noticed that companies are not normally referred to as "she".

8. The Author Knows Best. If eBay chooses perversely to spell its name with an initial lower case "e" and a capital "B", the author has no locus standi to correct it to Ebay. Likewise, the acute accent on the "e" of L'Oréal is not an optional extra, to be added or omitted at the whim of the author, any more than is the redundant "n" with which both Lord Hoffmann and Hoffmann-La Roche conclude their H-names. When a piece is submitted for publication, it is a courtesy to editor and future reader alike for the author to present the name in the manner in which it is correctly designated by its owner and, incidentally, in the manner in which an online search, using that name as a search term, will produce the correct search results (many search tools, including those provided for data on the websites of the Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market and the Court of Justice of the European Union, being sensitive to diacritical signs).

9. Word creep. The tendency to add words is a familiar malaise. Thus "infringe" has in US circles become "infringe on", the short form of "infringe upon"; "until" is growing into "up until". Is this a cultural throwback to the days when we lawyers were paid by the word? Other examples: "when" grows into "at a time when"; "where" is often shunned for the increasingly popular "in circumstances where", "prior to" and "pursuant to" are heavily-used substitutes for terms like "before" and "under", while "a number of" has nearly exterminated"numerous". Word creep blends gently into tautology too: thus the "result" is not as impressive as the "end result".

2 comments:

  1. 3. Using sequential numbers for headings, and
    3. Using a different number for each heading!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks, anonymous. I'm leaving this comment as a salutary warning, but amending the original post!

    ReplyDelete