September 30, 2014Line Editing
People who belong to a group tend to take on various external trappings of that group. For example, in general, lawyers dress differently than MMA fighters, and not because members of the former group happen to share a love for silk ties or scarves while members of the latter group do not. Clothing, hobbies, vices, choice of cars, taste in restaurants, and many other things can in part be markers of class, vocation, and other social positions.
This little sociology lesson is relevant to this blog only to the extent that it influences writing. And it certainly does influence writing. I have never seen the comparison done, but I am sure that an analysis of people’s writing before and after law school would show a sharp increase in jargon, needless elaboration (e.g. “on or about”), and pretentiousness. This is not because law school softens your mind, but because it initiates you into a new group: Lawyers. It’s very easy to make the mistake of adopting, as part of the professional plumage, the same awkward and barely-penetrable style you’ve spent the last three years reading. After all, the very first words that you read in law school were probably these, or something just as bad:
Replevin for a cow. Suit commenced in justice’s court; judgment for plaintiff; appealed to circuit court of Wayne county, and verdict and judgment for plaintiff in that court. The defendants bring error, and set out 25 assignments of the same.1
Don’t do it. Wear the suit, drive the car, even buy the country club membership if you must, but don’t write like a constipated old man with a powdered wig. If people become confused because they can still understand you, show them your bar card.
1 Sherwood v. Walker, 66 Mich. 568, 33 N.W. 919 (Mich. 1887).