English Grammar and Usage

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]

Happy Friday, and 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 discovered that 82% of our readers are willing to strangle, maim, and kill over the use of the serial comma. Take that, AP Stylebook heathens!

This week, we’re turning to a more contentious issue: the use of gender-neutral language in law practice and legal writing. Interestingly enough, experts disagree on the matter.

Bros, should you be kind to the ladies when you’re using indefinite pronouns?

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Good morning, and welcome to Above the Law’s latest Friday series: Grammer Pole of the Weak.

Last week, we discovered that 62.3% of readers think that it’s all right to use alright. As a grammar nazi, I can’t even describe how much it pained me to write the phrase “Grammer Pole of the Weak.”

Which reminds me: readers, the title of this weekly poll is supposed to be ironic. Are you serial with all of these emails correcting our spelling?

Speaking of being serial, let’s turn to the topic of this week’s discussion: the serial comma….

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Here at Above the Law, we’ve been discussing English grammar and usage forever — well, at least since 2006. We’ve discussed a plethora of grammatical and stylistic issues over the years, including how to form the possessive singular of nouns, proper use of the comma and the semicolon, and, most recently, whether to use one space or two spaces between sentences.

We’ve now decided to formalize the discussion. Every Friday we will raise an issue of grammar, spelling, or style, in our newest ATL feature: Grammer Pole of the Weak. We will kick off the discussion, then open up a reader poll and let you debate in the comments.

Today’s topic: “all right” versus “alright.” Let’s discuss….

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My overlords here at ATL thought it would be fun to run a poll about whether there should be one space or two after a period. As if these things are decided by popularity, rather than by rules. This is strange, really, because just about all of you reading this are lawyers or studying to become lawyers. Better than anyone, lawyers know that we rely on laws and rules to decide what’s what, rather than an American Idol–style unscientific poll (where voters are self-selected and can vote multiple times).

As of this writing (late last night), the score was 65.9% saying “two spaces” to 34.1% saying “one space.” Now I’m no math geek (hence law school), but it looks like nearly two-thirds of you think a period takes two spaces after it.

Are you right, and does it really matter?

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Sometimes readers will email us with ideas for posts that range from the insane to the mundane. We’ve learned that what may seem mundane to the average citizen may be totally titillating for an attorney.

Members of this profession really, really like rules, especially rules about proper English grammar and usage. Be it confusion over a homophone, misuse of a hyphen, or incorrect placement of a semicolon, every grammar Nazi has a special place reserved in his heart for the idiot who screws these things up.

And that is why the topic of today’s reader poll is about how many spaces one should use between sentences….

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Sheryl Crow

* I’m standing in the middle of a desert, waiting for my ship to come in. But now no joker, no J.D. degree, can take your losing hand, and make it win; you should be leaving Las Vegas. [WSJ Law Blog]

* If Miami Law could somehow figure out a way to actually do this, they would usher in a new era where law schools might still be expensive, but not useless. At some point, the way we educate future lawyers has to change, doesn’t it? [Roy Black]

* The law and law enforcement will always be behind the curve when trying to police cutting-edge techniques employed to unwittingly photograph naked women. Still not sure if you want to click on the link? How about: “This is why Kash is afraid to pee.” [Not-So Private Parts / Forbes]

* I don’t understand and/or don’t care why so many lawyers have a problem with the “and/or” construction. [Legal Blog Watch]

* Listening to Lat and Bess Levin discuss the various things can happen to meth users was the highlight of my day at the office, but seriously kids, don’t do drugs. [Dealbreaker]

* What do you get for the billionaire who has everything? His own prison. [Sentencing Law & Policy]

Chris Christie

* Wait, John Grisham stories are fictional? Man, I always thought that nobody offered to pay off my debts and buy me a house and a car in Memphis because of my race. [ABA Journal]

* New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is going to be okay. [Slate]

* Scott Drake asked me to do a podcast just after I read Rick Matasar’s response to the New York Times. This recording was made after I calmed down. [Legal Broadcast Network]

Ever see Fight Club? Yeah, me neither. The 1999 Brad Pitt movie was more of a cult film than a commercial success, although it did make back its costs. But the movie did have a line that became something of a meme, and was once recognized by Premiere magazine as the 27th greatest line in movie history (which seems dubious, but whatever):

The first rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club.

If only lawyers had the same rule.

You see, being a lawyer is like being a member of an elite club. OK, maybe not as elite as we like to think; there are more than a million members in the US. But elite enough. And the problem is, too many of us are dying to show off to others that we’re members of law club. And one of the ways we do it is by trying to sound like a lawyer when we speak, and especially when we write. This is a problem because sounding like a lawyer is the same as sounding like a tool.

I’ve come up with 20 lawyerisms that do nothing to advance the message you’re trying to send, but instead show that you’re a member of law club. And that you sound like a tool.

How many of the 20 do you use?

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