OH MY WORD!

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Warning; language in paragraphs 5 and 6 – even though quoted verbatim – may be offensive to some persons.

  1. Words – and more particularly the written word – is not foremost on the list of priorities as to what might persuade young persons to study law. Their inspiration is usually the desire to see justice done and other admirable purposes – all of which are worthy – but I will argue that the way in which words are assembled and their ability to tell a story, convey a meaning, make one laugh or cry, rouse one to action or the cessation of action, make a point or rebut an argument, are as seductive and compelling as any other consideration that attracts or motivates young persons to a legal discipline.
  1. I recently read a most wonderful article published in The Economist (a newspaper – as it calls itself – renowned for articles that are marvellously written) dealing with grammar and the written word and it is such an interesting and thoughtful article that I wanted to share it with all of you who find a little time every month to read the BKI newsletter.
  1. This newsletter does not often stray far from matters that we think are of interest to persons of commerce (although on occasions we will stray – sometimes in a jocular way and other times tongue in cheek – to introduce a little levity into the rough and tumble world of law and business), but this article will, I think, make one appreciate the effort in saying what you mean and meaning what you say – which is a mantra that many of our parents taught us.
  1. Linked to the written word is punctuation; the appropriate use of punctuation as well as the improper or unthoughtful use of punctuation can change the intended meaning of a clause in a contract – often with disastrous effects; indeed cases have been won and lost on the positioning of a comma; unbelievable it seems, but true.
  1. The humble and simple apostrophe has been the subject matter of a most delightful and intriguing book which is referred to in the BKI presentation to which there is reference below.
  1. It’s hard to believe that there is so much that the author, Simon Griffin, can say about an apostrophe but he says it in 64 pages that are filled with humour and interest, but if you are a logophile (I needed google to assist me with that word; a lover of words) you will be mesmerized and intrigued by the use to which the simple apostrophe can be put and the myriad of consequences from the correct and the incorrect positioning thereof. A few examples hereunder quoted verbatim:-
All these look like they should have a fucking apostrophe, but they’re correct without.  They’re false possessives – essentially nouns acting as adjectives and describing the cuisine / lead singer / film.  They’re by or from New Orleans / Guns & Roses / Howard Hughes.  If you’re in any doubt just try changing the noun into one that doesn’t end in s, and see if it still makes sense.

Example:

The New York cuisine was delicious.  (You wouldn’t say “The New York’s cuisine …”).

The Coldplay lead singer hasn’t been seen for years.  (You wouldn’t say “The Coldplay’s lead singer …”).

A Werner Herzog film.  (You wouldn’t say “A Werner Herzog’s film.”).

Complicated?  Yes, but that’s fucking apostrophes for you.

As is so often the irritating case, there are exceptions to these rules.  As words become more established in their language they generally drop the fucking apostrophe if the word is a contraction.

Examples :

Phone is short for telephone, but we don’t write ‘phone.

People used to refer to influenza as ‘flu, but today even the NHS uses flu.

Ad / Advert (advertisement), demo (demonstration) and lab (laboratory) are other examples of contractions that no longer use fucking apostrophes.

  1.  My firm has over a number of years conducted seminars for clients and others focusing on the written word (and punctation) in agreements, the grammar used (as well as misused and abused) under the following title which is the opening slide in the presentation (at no charge I must say; a way of saying thank you and also spreading the word – so to speak).

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

 

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