January 26, 2007

ONW and Legalese

The other day Arnold Zwicky told us about Strunk's ONW ("omit needless words") injunction to writers. That reminded me of the late great David Mellinkoff, who wrote eloquently about legal language (in The Language of the Law, 1963; Legal Writing: Sense and Nonsense, 1983; and elsewhere)---observing, for instance, that the law thrives on gobbledygook.

In Legal Writing: Sense and Nonsense he pleaded for clear and unadorned language with no superfluous verbiage. My favorite example was his analysis of Richard Nixon's resignation letter, August 9, 1974. It's only one sentence long: "I hereby resign the Office of President of the United States." But, as Mellinkoff points out, it's still much longer than it needs to be: all he needed to say was "I resign."

(I don't know why I started this: I have a lot of work to do this morning, and I just noticed a lot of unnecessary words above. I am going to get a lot of sneers around Language Log Plaza today.)

Posted by Sally Thomason at January 26, 2007 07:52 AM