The Volokh Conspiracy

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A Typographical Dare for Lawyers

Want to look fancy and old-fashioned?


Instead of writing "pre-existing" in your brief, use the dieresis form, "preëxisting." Special bonus: Instead of "charitable," don't just write "eleemosynary," say "eleëmosynary." Do you have the guts?

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34 responses to “A Typographical Dare for Lawyers

  1. I just saw the New Yoker do this with “re?lection”, and I audibly groaned.

    1. They’ve been doing this for as long as I can remember. I always thought it was their own affectation.

      1. There are only two notable publications I’m aware of that have done this essentially forever: New Yorker, and MIT’s Technology Review.

  2. I wouldn’t use either of them in a brief, but I did one use the term “Penury” in oral argument; the judge was delighted and turned to the other lawyer and said “Mr. X, do you know what Penury means?” The other lawyer kind of shook his head and judge continued “It means Poverty, Mr. X; this is not going to leave him in poverty”.

    1. What kind of educated English-speaker doesn’t understand “penury”?

    2. I once had a motion before a judge who had a huge vocabulary, and also was known to read and remember everything that was in a file. I needed to address that my opponent had filed a (then-verboten) “omnibus motion”, without repeating “omnibus” incessantly; some place in the written argument, I settled on “…Respondent’s motion seeks a gallimaufry of orders on unrelated issues…”

      At the hearing, the judge took the bench, called the matter, and the first thing he said was: “”Gallimaufry’, Mr. Gould-Saltman?!?”

  3. Real Americans don’t do umlauts.

    1. That’s na?ve.

    2. No, they do di?reses. At least those who co?perate with the New Yorker’s resistance to dropping archaic orthography.

      1. Adding a dieresis involves funky keystrokes, where a hyphen is well-known and simple.

        1. If you’re on Windows, WinCompose makes this pretty easy. Allegedly it is also easy to set up on Linux, but I am skeptical.

    3. Umlaut is actually a different phonetic concept, which co?ncidentally is indicated by the same two-dots-above mark in the Germanic etc. languages as the one Latin-derived languages use to mark separate pronunciation of letters that would otherwise change each other’s sounds.

      1. This I did not know. I’ll never say that again.

  4. It sounds risky and unfair to the client to provoke the judges or their clerks.

    They can be provoked by all sorts of grammatical lapses. Who knows how they’d react to some kind of Teutonic crap like this?

    1. Totally depends on the judge. I used to have a judge who expected to learn one new word each trial. I always gave a heads-up to him, other counsel, and–of course–the court reporter. My judge loved it.

      Our next judge had no sense of humor, and absolutely did *not* want to learn anything new. So, no new words.

      Part of being a trial attorney is being able to tailor one’s arguments to different audiences.

  5. Prof. V is a veritable encyclopaedia of archaisms 😉

    Eleeomosynary was one of the few words (other than purely legal terms like demurrer) that I had never come across until law school.

  6. Standard American English benefits from the absence of accents and related markings.

    Let’s all work together to keep it that way.

    1. If one uses the apostrophe in Hallowe’en, as I do, why not use it as a pronunciation indicator in Hawai’i, as I understand many prefer? Though I wouldn’t go so far as the archaic example in “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” of using an apostrophe in banana’s as an archaic practice (rather than more typically today, a mistake), a guide to pronunciation of a word from a foreign language with a different pronunciation than similar -as words in English usually have.

      1. The ?okina is not an apostrophe, though the marks resemble each other.

        1. Wnoise,
          Are the marks identical in appearance? Or, merely similar?

          1. Merely similar, at least in reasonable fonts and handwriting. It should actually look more like an opening single quote than an apostrophe, but neither is truly satisfactory, because it’s a letter, not punctuation.

            The wikipedia article is not terrible: ?Okina .

  7. Darling dieresis dare – most I’ve done is na?ve, or even better, referring to someone as a na?f.

    My use of accents in words like Montr?al aren’t particularly noteworthy or daring as I’m in Canada (so while most don’t bother with them in English, it’s not unusual to see them).

  8. Fancy and old-fashioned? More like a mohawk, spiked collar, and bass guitar.

    1. Ah, M?tley Cr?e. But surely those are supposed to be umlauts, used in German to mark a particular kind of vowel sounds; I mean, I haven’t listened to a lot of their fans talking about them, but I assume that every one of them must be pronouncing the band name the Germanic way, right?

      The diacritical marks I’m referring to look the same as that, but are diereses, used in English to mark that a vowel is pronounced separately from the preceding one (or, as in Bront?, is pronounced where it might otherwise be silent).

      1. Perhaps many Motley Crue fans are avid readers of the VC, they read your column of January 8, 2016, and exercised their privilege of defining a new English pronunciation when adopting a foreign word. Or, perhaps more likely, I’ve been schooled.

  9. It’s interesting that the diaresis would be wrong as a guide to the primary American pronunciation of eleemosynary (??l??m??s?n??i). It would be funny if the lack of using diaeresis marks helped lead to the loss of the “ee” sound as two vowel sounds.

    With the British pronuncation (??l?i??m?s?n?ri), though, the diaeresis makes sense since the “ee” is pronounced as two separate vowels. (At least, if we were to stick to the “proper” use of diaeresis marks, as I understand them).

    1. The only place (other than here) that I’ve seen the word is in the Texas Constitution, which is rarely read aloud. But in the annual February 15th dramatic readings, it’s traditional for the orator to adopt a British accent.

  10. This would require not only guts but keyboarding skills. I’m not a fan of umlauts and diacritical marks. The hyphens are fine (en-dashes, though ? not em-dashes).

  11. PS: Lawyers wanting to look fancy & old-fashioned probably ought not market themselves to clients using those terms, especially the latter.

  12. A stab at pre?minence.

  13. Real Men TeX their briefs, legal and otherwise!

  14. Before I did this, I’d want to co?rdinate with opposite counsel.

  15. I support bringing back the dieresis.

  16. Let’s remember Hungarian mathematician Paul Erd?s, who does not have an umlaut or dieresis in his name, but does have a double-acute accent.