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11 Law Notes Gen. Prac. [i] (1975)

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Published by the American Bar Association's Section of General Practice


Winter 1975


           THE  EDITOR'S   VIEWPOINT

                 I. Wits and Words

  Occasionally, I, like you, am referred to as a word
mechanic.  I, like you, am teased about the use of
whereas  and  wherefores. On  balance, I submit
                    that our profession does better
                    with the English language  than
                    most-but there is room for
                    improvement!
                      Edwin   Newman, television
                    commentator,  anchorman,  host,
                    critic and writer, asks the fol-
                    lowing question: Will America
                    be the death of English?
                      In his book, Strictly Speaking
   Bruce E. Davis   (The  Bobbs-Merrill  Co., Inc.),
currently on the  nonfiction best sellers list, Mr.
Newman   states: Language is on the decline. Not only
has eloquence departed  but simple, direct speech as
well, though  pomposity   and  banality have  not.
Disagree? Before you  go much  further in defense of
the King's English (or is it the Queen's English?) as
spoken  (or misspoken?) in our nation, I suggest you
read Mr.  Newman's  book.  You and  I may  be more
guilty (of murder of the language, that is) than we
think. I ask you to consider a few of the examples
humorously  set forth in the pages of Mr. Newman's
book:

   In March, 1974, the White House press secretary, Ron
   Ziegler, explained a request for a four-day extension of a
   subpoena from the Watergate prosecutor for certain files.
   The extension was needed, Ziegler said, so that James St.
   Clair, President Nixon's attorney, could evaluate and make
   a judgment in terms of a response.

 What Mr. Ziegler meant to communicate was that Mr.
 St. Clair wanted more time to think about a response.
 As   the father of four pre-college daughters, I am
 confronted with clichi after clichi, slogan after slogan,
 half-sentence upon half-sentence. I thus found Mr.
 Newman's   discussion of Y'  know  amusing   and
 pertinent:

    For a while I thought it clever to ask people who were
  spattering me with Y'knows why, if I knew, they were


telling me? After having lunch alone with some regularity, I
dropped  the question.
   Once it takes its grip, Y'know is hard to throw off. Some
 people collapse into Y'know after giving up trying to say
 what they mean. Others scatter it broadside, these, I
 suspect, being for some reason embarrassed by a silence of
 any duration during which they might be suspected of
 thinking about what they were going to say next. It is not
 uncommon  to hear Y'know used a dozen times in a minute.
   We know less about the origin of Y'know than about the
 origin of Boola boola, but there is some reason to believe
 that in this country it began among poor blacks who,
 because of the various disabilities imposed on them, often
 did not speak well and for whom Y'know was a request for
 assurance that they had been understood. From that sad
 beginning it spread, among people who wanted to show
 themselves sympathetic to blacks, and among these who
 saw it as the latest thing and either could not resist or did
 not want to be left out.
   Those who wanted to show that they were down to earth,
 and  so not above using Y'know, or-much  the same
 thing-telling you that somebody is like six feet tall, have
 been particularly influential. They include makers of
 television commercials who begin the sales pitch with
 Y'know, and so gain the confidence of the viewer, who
 realizes at once that the person doing the commercial is
 down to earth, regular, not stuck-up, and therefore to be
 trusted.

 Some  of you are involved in either the preparation or
 review of public reports or advertisements released by
your business clients. You may find Mr.  Newman's
comments   about business  language  amusing,  so
long as your client is not among those cited:

   Gulf Oil used to speak of one of the most unique
 roadways ever built, which of course helped Gulf to be
 ready  for what  it so  long claimed to  be  ready
 for-Whatever  the work there is to be done. Altman in
 New  York advertises sweaters that are definitely for a
 young junior; Cartier believes that a memorandum pad, a
 stationery holder, and a pencil cup make a triumverate.
   Business language takes many forms. Camaraderie: Us
 Tareyton smokers  would rather fight than switch.
 Pomposity: When Morgan Guaranty Trust announced that
 negotiable securities worth $13,000,000 were missing from
 its vaults, it said, A thorough preliminary search for the
 securities has been made, and a further search is now being
 made.  All it needed to say was, We're looking for
 them-if  indeed it couldn't expect its distinguished
 clients to take for granted that it was looking.


Vol. 11, No. 1


36 Pages


LAW NOTES



for  the   General Practitioner

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