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Ax These Terms From Your Legal Writing, by Bryan A. Garner, Law News Now, ABA Journal


William Cullen Bryant, editor of the New York Evening Post from 1829 until 1878, created an ‘Index Expurgatorius’ for his newspaper. Certain words simply weren’t allowed in its pages.

Likewise, James Gordon Bennett Jr., owner of the New York Herald from 1867 to 1918, had his ‘Don’t List.’ For example, he wouldn’t allow his journalists to write executive session when they meant secret session.

Keeping a banned-word list is hardly unique to newspapers. The novelist Ambrose Bierce kept a ‘Little Blacklist of Literary Faults,’ published nearly a century ago. He despised committed suicide, preferring instead killed himself (or herself). He likewise disapproved of decease for die, executed for hanged (or put to death), expectorate for spit, inaugurate for begin, prior to for before and so on. He wasn’t fond of genteelisms. No real stylists are.

Legal drafters could benefit from a similar verbal blacklist—a simple list of words that do nothing but blemish the documents that contain them. Learn them and ax them. . . .