Garner’s Modern American Usage

Bryan A. Garner

This May, Thomson Reuters published the tenth edition of the estimable Black’s Law Dictionary (affiliate link). The most widely cited legal book in the world, Black’s is a must-have for every lawyer and law student.

Henry Campbell Black published the first edition in 1891. Starting with the publication of the seventh edition in 1995, Black’s has been edited by Professor Bryan A. Garner, the noted lexicographer, legal-writing expert, and author of such books as Garner’s Modern American Usage, Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges, and Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts (the last two co-authored with Justice Antonin Scalia (affiliate links)).

I met with Garner during his recent visit to New York, where he taught his famous legal-writing course to various law firms and government employers. His voice was hoarse from a summer cold, but he generously soldiered through an interview with the help of some tea. Here’s a (lightly edited and condensed) write-up of our conversation.

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What a weird situation…. [But Justice Scalia] is an incredible game player, using intellectual honesty as a trope, and that is the kind of thing that David Wallace would just love.

Elizabeth Wurtzel, the successful writer turned lawyer and legal commentator, on the surprising friendship between her close friend, David Foster Wallace, and Justice Antonin Scalia.

(The background behind Justice Scalia’s interest in Wallace, after the jump.)

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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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In our most recent Grammer Pole of the Weak, over two-thirds of you voted against the use of gender-neutral language, opting instead for the historic use of “he,” “him,” and “his” to cover both sexes. In the poll before that one, over 80 percent of you voted in favor of the serial comma. These results suggest that Above the Law readers are traditionalists in matters of grammar, usage, and writing style.

But back in August, 60 percent of you said that you are all right with “alright.” So perhaps ATL readers are open to the evolution of the English language and the creation of new words.

How do y’all feel about neologisms? Let’s look at two new words, coined by none other than the newly svelte Alex Kozinski, Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit….

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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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Did you watch Lost? I was a big fan of the show, which ran on ABC from 2004 to 2010. The series required quite a commitment from its viewers, since it had a large ensemble cast and was a true serial — you really couldn’t miss any episodes. After the third season, the producers made the unusual announcement that the series would definitely conclude at the end of the sixth season. Since so many elements of the show remained a mystery until the very end, it became a guessing game as to whether the writers would be able to tie everything together into a satisfying ending.

Toward the end of the final season, the show revealed a location that we’d never seen before that was crucial to explaining the Island’s secrets. (I’m not giving anything away here if you haven’t seen it.) But the location, a glowing cave, was rendered with cheesy special effects that looked like they’d been borrowed from the original 1960s “Star Trek” series. The bad effects were so jarring that they took the viewer out of the story, causing you to say, “What’s with the cheeseball special effects?”

What the heck does this have to do with improving your legal writing? Find out after the jump.…

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