Welcome to the latest edition of Above the Law’s Grammer Pole of the Weak, a column where we turn questions of legal writing and English grammar and usage over to our readers for discussion and debate.
Speaking of God, that brings us to this week’s topic: because people are so easily offended, should lawyers strike the term “act of God” and use the phrase “act of nature” instead?
This topic was suggested by one of our readers. Yes, the terms “act of God” and “act of nature” are virtually synonymous, but since we’ve been on a roll lately with offending people who hold religion close to their hearts, it sounded like a great topic to delve into. Can lawyers really continue to use such a religiously-charged term in practice when atheists and agnostics abound? Wouldn’t something a bit more non-denominational be preferred? Hail Science!
And whether you’re a devout Christian or Pastafarian, one of the reasons that no one talks openly about this “act of God”/”act of nature” distinction is probably to avoid back and forth arguments and debates between religious nut jobs and non-believers like this one on Conservapedia:
WOW. Um, I know we got a bias an all, but I think this is a bit much. I don’t think God slings tornadoes around when he gets peeved. –Elamdri 11:26, 21 March 2007 (EDT)
Not sure how you could know that, but okay. If everything is from God, how can it be a “Natural” disaster. As a young Christian, taking the language back is very important to me. Flippin 11:29, 21 March 2007 (EDT)
Wow, indeed. Let’s start off with the term “act of God.” It’s been around since roughly the 1600s, but what does it mean? From Legal Definitions:
An extraordinary and unexpected natural event, such as a hurricane, tornado, earthquake or even the sudden death of a person.
An act of God may be a defense against liability for injuries or damages.
Under the law of contracts, an act of God often serves as a valid excuse if one of the parties to the contract is unable to fulfill his or her duties — for instance, completing a construction project on time.
So, an “act of God” is a natural event. Fine. We already knew that. That being the case, how is an “act of nature” defined? We are left with this gem from the Legal Definitions site: “See act of God.”
Hrmph, even the dictionary seems to have a religious bias. (That, or they’re more interested in saving space than separately defining a near synonym.) But you’d think that with the current focus on gender-neutral language in the law, practicing attorneys would keep an eye out for other things that could be deemed offensive, even if only minutely so.
So, readers, what do you think? Should lawyers abolish the use of the term “act of God” in favor of “act of nature” so their pleadings and contracts are less offensive?
Let us know in our poll:
Should we abolish use of the term "act of God" and use "act of nature" instead?
- No. It's a goddamned synonym. (81%, 533 Votes)
- Yes. It's incredibly offensive. (19%, 122 Votes)
Total Voters: 655
Earlier: Prior Grammer Poles of the Weak