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Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Stupid Legalese

Here's something I hate about legal writing (this sometimes also occurs in other types of writing, such as business writing, but lawyers are frequent offenders): when people use the word form of a number and then immediately follow it with the numeral form in parentheses, thus: "You have twenty (20) days to respond to this request."

What's with the double coverage?!? Is the parenthetical a safety net just in case we don't understand the word "twenty"? If so, maybe we should start using icons to assist with the comprehension of other words, as in: "I love (<3)>

The grammatical rule for numbers is to use the word form for numbers ten and under, and use the numeral form for 11 and above. An exception is that numbers beginning sentences are always written in word form: "Twelve days is an awful long time to celebrate Christmas." If I were a lawyer, I would write "Twelve (12) days is an awful long time to celebrate Christmas." Do you see how this takes away from the casual nature of the sentence?

Personally, I think it would be better just
to stick with writing numerals or words. I prefer numerals, but there are exceptions to this preference: "We will do this one way or the other" versus "We will do this 1 way or the other". It looks funny when I use the numeral form here. Maybe that's because "one" in this case acts more like an article (a, an, the, etc.) than a number. So at any rate, I suppose there will always be practical exceptions to rules.

But I don't like double number business. Just write "twenty" or "20", but both are not necessary for comprehension!

I pledge that I will never write in this atrocious way when I am a lawyer.


Now that my rant is over, does anyone know the history behind this double numbering? If I were to guess, I would say it had something to do with preventing someone from altering the number. If both forms are present, perhaps altering would be too difficult. We use double numbering on checks. Is this a related concept?


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