No Thanks: Six More Words and Phrases to Avoid

Small wording changes can liven up your style by speeding up and punching up your prose.

Let’s match wits with some of the world’s best judicial writers below. Or is that “with certain of the world’s most illustrious judicial draftspersons infra”?

The Rules of Engagement: If a word or phrase is bolded in the first part of each set, the big guns didn’t write it. For each of those bolded terms, think of a lighter or shorter replacement before you peek below.

Here are six of the most fruitful changes, before-and-after style:

1.  Just Say No: “subsequent to” or “following.”

Mystery Judge

Following the accident the plaintiff’s handbag and shoe were found in the middle of the yard.

Mystery Judge

The Grateful Dead play rock music. Their style, often called “acid rock” because it mimics the effects some persons obtain subsequent to using LSD, is attractive to acid-heads.

Try “after.”

Lord Denning, Cummings v. Granger

After the accident the plaintiff’s handbag and shoe were found in the middle of the yard.

Seventh Circuit Judge Frank Easterbrook, United States v. Dumont

The Grateful Dead play rock music. Their style, often called “acid rock” because it mimics the effects some persons obtain after using LSD, is attractive to acid-heads.

2.  Just Say No: “in the present case,” “in the instant case,” “in the case at bar,” or even “in this case.”

Mystery Judge

The jury in this case was instructed that it could hold Westboro liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress based on a finding that Westboro’s picketing was “outrageous.”

Mystery Judge

Our taxpayer standing cases have declined to distinguish between appropriations and tax expenditures for a simple reason: In the present case, as in many contexts, the distinction is one in search of a difference.

Mystery Judge

Rarely has this Court rejected outright an interpretation of state law by a state high court. Fairfax’s Devisee v. Hunter’s Lessee, NAACP v. Alabama ex rel. Patterson, and Bouie v. City of Columbia, cited by the Chief Justice, are three such rare instances. But those cases are embedded in historical contexts hardly comparable to the situation in the case at bar.

Try “here.”

Chief Justice John Roberts, Snyder v. Phelps

The jury here was instructed that it could hold Westboro liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress based on a finding that Westboro’s picketing was “outrageous.”

Justice Elena Kagan, Arizona Christian School Tuition Org. v. Winn, dissenting

Our taxpayer standing cases have declined to distinguish between appropriations and tax expenditures for a simple reason: Here, as in many contexts, the distinction is one in search of a difference.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Bush v. Gore, dissenting

Rarely has this Court rejected outright an interpretation of state law by a state high court. Fairfax’s Devisee v. Hunter’s Lessee, NAACP v. Alabama ex rel. Patterson, and Bouie v. City of Columbia, cited by the Chief Justice, are three such rare instances. But those cases are embedded in historical contexts hardly comparable to the situation here.

3.  Just Say No: “therefore” or “consequently” or “accordingly.”

Mystery Judge

Therefore, her testimony contradicted John Ennis’ testimony that he had never heard her say she was sorry and that he would not have fired her if she had.

Mystery Judge

[T]he content of the Ad includes political satire – it pokes fun at the Mayor’s alleged penchant for taking credit for all of New York’s achievements. The question, therefore, is whether the inclusion of political satire in the motif of the Ad removes it from the category of commercial speech in which it would otherwise clearly fall.

Mystery Judge

Consequently, back pay essentially pays the plaintiff for the economic losses suffered as a result of the employer’s wrong; it does not return to the plaintiff anything which was rightfully his in the first place.

Try “so” or “thus” or “then.”

Eleventh Circuit Judge Edward Carnes, Hamilton v. Southland Christian School

So[] her testimony contradicted John Ennis’ testimony that he had never heard her say she was sorry and that he would not have fired her if she had.

District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin, New York Magazine v. Metropolitan Transit Authority

[T]he content of the Ad includes political satire – it pokes fun at the Mayor’s alleged penchant for taking credit for all of New York’s achievements. The question, then, is whether the inclusion of political satire in the motif of the Ad removes it from the category of commercial speech in which it would otherwise clearly fall.

Former D.C. Circuit Chief Judge Patricia Wald, Hubbard v. EPA

Thus, back pay essentially pays the plaintiff for the economic losses suffered as a result of the employer’s wrong; it does not return to the plaintiff anything which was rightfully his in the first place.

4.  Just Say No: “in order to.”

Mystery Judge

In order to be sanctionable, a misstatement or omission must be more than an innocent mistake; in making the misstatement or omission, the attorney must have been “culpably careless.”

Try “to.”

Bankruptcy Judge Benjamin Goldgar, In re Brent

To be sanctionable, a misstatement or omission must be more than an innocent mistake; in making the misstatement or omission, the attorney must have been “culpably careless.”

5.  Just Say No:prior to.”

Mystery Judge

This Court has generally insisted upon first analyzing the impugned legislative language prior to determining a contested issue of constitutional validity.

Try “before.”

Justice Michael Kirby, High Court of Australia, Wurridjal v. Commonwealth

This Court has generally insisted upon first analyzing the impugned legislative language before determining a contested issue of constitutional validity.

6.  Just Say No: “despite the fact that” and “notwithstanding the fact that.”

Mystery Judge

Despite the fact that he was a well-known local figure and candidate for public office, he was arrested during the campaign and beaten by the police, ostensibly for not having identification papers on him.

Try “although” or “even though.”

Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner, Cecaj v. Gonzalez

Although he was a well-known local figure and candidate for public office, he was arrested during the campaign and beaten by the police, ostensibly for not having identification papers on him.

Finally, here’s a little cheat sheet:

Just Say No Try
subsequent to, following after
in the present case, in the instant case, in the case at bar, in this case here
therefore, consequently, accordingly so, thus, then
in order to to
prior to before
despite the fact that, notwithstanding the fact that although, even though

For six more “No Thanks” words and phrases, click here.

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  • http://www.theplainlanguagegroup.com Deborah S. Bosley

    Ross, I like this blog series. Your examples are appropriate and (as a Grateful Dead fan) fun.
    I’m a plain language expert who works primarily with financial institutions, which means I have to debate with attorneys all the time over financial jargon, legalese, and complexity. Thanks for providing examples. I always cite your work. Deborah S. Bosley, Ph.D., Owner of The Plain Language Group (www.theplainlanguagegroup.com).

    • Ross Guberman

      Approve Ross Guberman
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      Professorial Lecturer, GW Law School
      Author, Point Made: How to Write Like the Nation’s Top Advocates (Oxford, February 2014)Twitter and LinkedIn http://www.LegalWritingPro.com
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      Deborah S. Bosley
      Ross, I like this blog series. Your examples are appropriate and (as a Grateful Dead fan) fun. I’m a plain language expert who works primarily with financial institutions, which means I have to debate with attorneys all the time over financial jargon, legalese, and complexity. Thanks for providing examples. I always cite your work. Deborah S. Bosley, Ph.D., Owner of The Plain Language Group (www.theplainlanguagegroup.com). 10:30 a.m., Tuesday Feb. 24 | Other comments by Deborah S. Bosley |   |
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  • Ross Guberman

    Thanks very much, Deborah! If you run into any particular debates, let me know and I’ll give you my two cents.

  • Mark Painter

    Hi Ross, Deborah– For years, I have challenged students at my seminars to find an instance (maybe there is one) that the in order helps the to. But have never encountered one.

  • Ross Guberman

    Great to hear from you, judge. The only exception, I think, is when a sentence already has another infinitive: “It’s important to save a little each month [in order] to make sure you have enough to retire one day.”

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  • https://www.facebook.com/PrattleOnBoyo?ref=br_rs Prattle On, Boyo

    Why are these words to be avoided? Are they too complicated to be understood by the audience they are written for or are these words just personal affectations the writer has a personal dislike for.

    • Ross Guberman

      The target terms are not necessarily too complicated to be understood. But they are often too long or heavy to be worth the reader’s time. And the article is about language choices that well-regarded judges make. It’s not about personal likes or dislikes.