Thursday, September 26, 2013

Law v. Science

I love this quote about the difference between law and the natural sciences. 

"If what we are discussing were a point of law or of the humanities, in which neither true nor false exists, one might trust in subtlety of mind and readiness of tongue and in the greater experience of the writers, and expect him who excelled in those things to make his reasoning most plausible, and one might judge it to be the best. But in the natural sciences, whose conclusions are true and necessary and have nothing to do with human will, one must take care not to place oneself in the defense of error; for here a thousand Demostheneses and a thousand Aristotles would be left in the lurch by every mediocre wit who happened to hit upon the truth for himself."

The quote is from Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems by Galileo Galilei, which was banned by the Catholic Church when it was written because of Galileo's expressed view that the sun is the center of the universe. 

Read more about Banned Books Week here

Thursday, September 19, 2013

More Pet Peeves

Since I confessed one of my pet peeves earlier this week, I thought you might be interested in a few others.

For me, the first example, which I've reproduced below, really hits home. I wish I'd saved more of my students' email over the years because I think international students have it doubly hard when trying to hit the right tone with written correspondence. Email can range from being overly formal, using archaic and, therefore, incomprehensible language to trying to fit in to American culture and, thus, reminiscent of the example below, but with the addition of cutesy emoticons.

I'd like to teach a course / write an article on legal correspondence that begins with writing to admissions offices pre-application and goes through the client letter post-hire. But enough of that.

On to Professors' Pet Peeves by Lisa Wade, PhD:

I got this email from a Yale student when I arrived to give a speech. She was responsible for making sure that I was delivered to my hotel and knew where to go the next day:
Omg you’re here! Ahh i need to get my shit together now lol. Jk. Give me a ring when u can/want, my cell is [redacted]. I have class until 1230 but then im free! i will let the teacher she u will be there, shes a darling. Perhaps ill come to the end of the talk and meet you there after. Between the faculty lunch and your talk, we can chat! ill take make sure the rooms are all ready for u. See ya!
To say the least, this did not make me feel confident that my visit would go smoothly.
I will use this poor student to kick off this year’s list of Professors’ Pet Peeves.  I reached out to my network and collected some things that really get on instructors’ nerves.  Here are the results: some of the “don’ts” for how to interact with your professor or teaching assistant.  For what it’s worth, #2 was by far the most common complaint.
1. Don’t use unprofessional correspondence.
Your instructors are not your friends. Correspond with them as if you’re in a workplace, because you are. We’re not saying that you can’t ever write like this, but you do need to demonstrate that you know when such communication is and isn’t appropriate.  You don’t wear pajamas to a job interview, right? Same thing.
Peeves continue here:

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Oatmeal on Grammar

One of my pet peeves is the incorrect use of an apostrophe to mean a plural. For example: The defendant's were surprised by the verdict.

Thanks goodness for The Oatmeal Comics! The Oatmeal has an easy to read, easy to understand, funny comic about "How to Use an Apostrophe."

Not only that, The Oatmeal also has a collection of six grammar posters, including, inter alia, "How and Why to Use Whom in a Sentence," "How to Use a Semicolon," and "What It Means When You Say Literally." I ordered the Grammar Pack for my office.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Legal English: Writ of Certiorari

Legal English: Writ of Certiorari

Here's a great new-ish (almost a year old) resource for Legal English from @WashULaw Blog. Once a week, Chelsea Wilson offers learners a legal term and definition, including pronunciation, word origin, and examples. I love the thorough explanations and sentence-level examples provided for each entry so that students can really understand the term.

However, one thing I'll never understand: How DO you pronounce "certiorari"?!

writ of certiorari

Pronunciation: RIHT uhv sir-chee-oh-RAH-ree
Origin: English

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Short Sentence as Gospel Truth

“If you ever have a preposterous statement to make … say it in five words or less, because we’re always used to five-word sentences as being the gospel truth.” 
The five-word sentence as the gospel truth. 
Granted, Mr. Wolfe was being a little cynical, but the truth of what he was saying still applies. Express your most powerful thought in the shortest sentence.
 The Short Sentence as Gospel Truth

Point well-taken. Every semester, a number of my international students run into trouble with long, meandering sentences, where the meaning is far from clear. When I talk to them in person and ask them to explain, they have little trouble explaining what they mean, and, invariably, they use shorter, clearer sentences in spoken discourse.

I'd like my students to trust themselves and their writing in English enough to try a variety of sentence lengths and styles. Now, if every sentence of a legal memo consisted of five words, I might take issue with that as well, but, as the article makes clear, using a short, distinct sentence can add a powerful punch to a legal argument or a fact statement. Without, I hope, sounding too preposterous.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Ancient Roots of Punctuation

With probably more detail than you'd like to know, this interesting New Yorker article talks about the origins of the #hashtag, pilcrow (¶), & ampersand, among others

The Ancient Roots of Punctuation

The article is based on a new book by Keith Houston, 
Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols, and Other Typographical Marks. Sounds like a book every legal writing teacher should read!