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What did I say?

The Taoiseach will presently explain the refurbishment of his house in Drumcondra. He will explain the eery correspondence between certain sums of money in Irish punts and certain other sums in US dollars. (We hope). These sums (see references to “moneyâ€? below) either went into his safe or came out of his safe, or both (we think).

The bad news is that he will do so having consulted his lawyers.

The identity of these lawyers is unknown (to me anyway). But the Taoiseach is notorious for his capacity to speak at length and to leave his hearers none the wiser as to what he actually said. This is Bertiespeak.

As a class, lawyers are equally notorious for the same capacity; in their case it is not Bertiespeak they resort to, but archaisms.

We must dread, therefore, the forthcoming explanation.

In the meantime, what of lawyers?

Well, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is a lawyer. It has been said of him that he has never had an unpublished thought.

But is he given to archaisms? Not noticeably.

However he does appear to fit the remark by Ms. Becky Klemt of Wyoming that Law schooling, aims “to convince the overconfident that they are truly superior.â€?

However, this posting is about words. Note the use of “presentlyâ€? above, with regard to the Toaiseach. In Dashiell Hammett’s “The Glass Keyâ€? [1931] Hammett uses the word correctly to mean “shortlyâ€? (meaning; in a little while). I think I am wrong, therefore, in saying its misuse to mean “currentlyâ€? (meaning; now) is an Americanism.

The misuse is just misuse.

It would be unfair to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to give the impression that he is a notable product of a law school (in the superior sense). Richard Nixon, another lawyer, produced the following statement:

“I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realise that what you heard is not what I meant.â€?

Well, well, clearly even the Taoiseach has some way to go yet in the development of Bertiespeak, and the Minister is not in this league at all.

What about plain language for lawyers?

It is difficult to believe we will abandon “bona fideâ€? or “res ipsa loquiturâ€?, but I will be happy if we settle on “moneyâ€? and drop “moniesâ€?.

We could easily drop “whereasâ€? but I notice the use of “wherebyâ€? is growing and, worse, used inappropriately. For example the means whereby I entered my office was my key; the circumstances wherein I entered was a Bank Holiday and to reverse the use of “wherebyâ€? with “whereinâ€? is wrong, as is the use of “wherebyâ€? in both places.

It’s a bit like coastal erosion.

One Comment

  1. My own experience of the ‘coastal erosion’ in communication relates to the use of Powerpoint in business presentations.

    All to often I experience people who have many and detailed slides to talk to but who fail to communicate any meaning or concept because they talk at the audience. This trend of talking to inanimate (although possibly animated) projections of digital content is worrying (but may explain sliding productivity in Irish business)

    Also there is a worrying precedent of people who don’t know better using the word precedent where it is not appropriate and compounding this by pluralising ‘precedent’ as ‘precedence’ which changes the meaning entirely.

    That one is less like coastal erosion and more like Chinese water torture.