English Grammar and Usage

Welcome to the latest edition of Above the Law’s Grammer Pole of the Weak, a column where we turn questions of English grammar and usage over to our readers for discussion and debate.

Last week, we found out that 52% of our readers thought it was acceptable to end a sentence with a preposition, but with the caveat that it should be avoided if possible. That’s pretty wishy-washy, folks.

This week, we’re going to focus on an issue with a supreme split in authority, and you’re going to have to choose one side or the other. You’re going to pick Clarence Thomas’ side (you’ll soon see why we wrote it that way), or you’re going to pick David Souter’s side, but that’s it. Ooh, that’s a little possessive….

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In last week’s Grammer Pole, you voted to overwhelmingly approve the use of split infinitives. Fifty-three percent of Above the Law readers said that splitting infinitives is acceptable, even if it should be done sparingly. An additional forty percent said, “Yes. It’s great to liberally split infinitives!”

This suggests to me that ATL readers are a pragmatic bunch when it comes to language. You’re not hung up on hoary rules that don’t serve a practical purpose in communication.

I think I can guess, then, what you think of the injunction against ending a sentence with a preposition….

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In an event I did a few years ago at the University of Chicago with Judge Richard Posner (check out the podcast here), Judge Posner tossed out a delicious little blind item. He mentioned a federal judge in Chicago who would fire law clerks for what she viewed as a very grave offense: splitting infinitives in written work product.

But is splitting infinitives really such a crime?

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The most recent installment of Grammer Pole of the Weak showcased the sophistication of Above the Law readers. The poll results show that most ATL readers appreciate the distinction between “that” and “which” (which they like to show off in their legal writing).

Today we tackle an issue that is less clear-cut, which will probably result in a more closely divided vote than last week’s. Here is the issue: What is the proper capitalization for the first word of an independent clause that follows a colon?

If that sounds confusing, please keep reading for clarification….

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It’s Friday, Friday, gotta talk about grammar on Friday. Welcome back to Grammer Pole of the Weak, a column where we turn questions of English grammar and usage over to our readers for discussion and debate.

Last week, we discovered that 75% of our readers love to use substantive footnotes in their legal writing. Aww, Scalia would be so proud.

And speaking of Scalia, we’ve given him a little too much time in the limelight in this series. So, this week, we’re going to turn to an issue of grammar with some stylistic flair that was brought to our attention by another member of SCOTUS….

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In Grammer Pole of the Weak — yes, “Grammer” is intentionally misspelled, as are “Pole” and “Weak” — we consider questions of English grammar and usage. Last week, for example, we looked at a fun an interesting topic: the adjectival use of “fun” (which over 85 percent of you support, even if traditionalists frown upon it).

But we’d like the column’s purview to extend beyond grammar and usage. We’ll also tackle issues related to legal writing, in terms of both style and mechanics. Feel free to email us with suggested subjects for future Grammer Poles.

Today’s subject is one on which there’s a split of authority, between two co-authors of a leading legal writing book….

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With the departure of Jay Shepherd, I am now (at least temporarily) filling the role of small firm chica (Val) and small firm expert (Jay). Let me tell you, it is exhausting.

So, I am going to do what any smart, small-firm partner would do in this situation, and I am going to delegate. And, by delegate, I mean push the work off on you.

I have a few new features that I would like to unveil (and I swear, it will be better than the new Facebook)…

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Everybody’s working for the weekend. But for now, while you’re still stuck at work, you should take a look at our latest Grammer Pole of the Weak, a column where we turn questions of English grammar and usage over to our readers for discussion and debate.

Last week, we found out that even federal judges are capable of creating fugly new words. Chief Judge Kozinski, stop trying to make “dissental” and “concurral” happen. They’re not going to happen!

This week, we’ve got a lighter topic to discuss. Do you have any fun weekend plans? If you do, you might want to reconsider your usage of the word “fun”….

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As you can likely tell, I am fascinated by terminology. I understand the importance of using language to market and promote your firm. I had never thought, however, about the use of terminology within a firm until recently.

The word that inspired this revelation is “project.” Project is used in many ways and with multiple connotations:

(1) “She is my pet project.” This means that “she” is a disaster and needs help. Project is used to demean.

(2) “I am undertaking a house renovation project.” This means that “I” am boring. Project is used literally.

(3) “Do not tell anyone about Project X.” This means those who are a part of Project X are either CIA agents, criminals, or my mother (Project X = Project Val). Project is used mysteriously.

(4) “Hi Val, you are going to be in charge of the data gathering project.” This means that I have a terrible assignment to complete. Project is used insincerely….

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Wesley Snipes

* I thought the rule for how to cite a blog in your brief was “don’t,” but I have less use for a Bluebook than a homeless orphan (I hear kindling is hard to come by on the streets). [Adjunct Law Prof Blog]

* More analysis on the mean mommy lawsuit reminds me of how much better things would be if somebody — be it a parent or a bully — had slapped these kids upside their fat heads during crucial developmental years. [Healthland / TIME]

* Maybe if more lawyers knew some basic principles of digital masking, they wouldn’t be so terrified when it comes to tipping ATL about the stuff going down at their firms. Either that, or people would make even more fun of me. [An Associate's Mind]

* Culinary school graduates are also unhappy with the employment prospects available to them after investing in additional education. Let me try this maxim out and you tell me what you think: if the education has neither “computer,” nor “science,” nor “military” in the title, you are being charged way too much. [Eater]

* Don’t you love how lawyers can turn any massive failure into a business opportunity? Lawyers are like the bacteria in charge of decomposition in the crisis ecosystem. [Law and More]

* In the game of tax conviction appeals, Wesley Snipes came up a little bit short. Kind of like the time he slid into second base too early and stopped before the bag. (New rule: all Wesley Snipes tax references must be accompanied by a Wesley Snipes movie reference.) [TaxProf Blog]

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