June 21, 2004

Legal redundancy

In response to my post on by no manner of means, Abnu from Wordlab wrote in to suggest that the legal variant by no manner or means is a typical example of lawyer's redundancy, citing the entry for aid and abet in the law.com legal dictionary:

v. help commit a crime. A lawyer redundancy since abet means aid, which lends credence to the old rumor that lawyers used to be paid by the word.

I'm sure that Abnu is right, though this doesn't modify my tentative conclusion that "all those legal by any manner phrases are back-formations from a misconstrual of by any manner of means as by any manner or means".

Other claimed examples of legal redundancy from the law.com dictionary include:

n. one who is a member of a partnership. The prefix "co" is a redundancy, since a partner is a member of a partnership. The same is true of the term "copartnership."

n. and adj. owed as of a specific date. A popular legal redundancy is that a debt is "due, owing and unpaid." Unpaid does not necessarily mean that a debt is due.

rebuttable presumption
n. since a presumption is an assumption of fact accepted by the court until disproved, all presumptions are rebuttable. Thus rebuttable presumption is a redundancy.

Legal English, like Chinese compounding, seems to be a case where redundancy is not widely excoriated as ridiculous and unnecessary. Perhaps lawyers get a pass on this because they are felt to be guilty of more important sins, but it seems more likely that people value the goal of explicitness and completeness enough to forgive a few perhaps-unnecessary words.

Posted by Mark Liberman at June 21, 2004 10:25 AM