Peter M. Tiersma, Legal Language

Hardcover - 280 pages (February 1999)
University of Chicago Press; ISBN: 0226803023 ; Dimensions (in inches): 1.12 x 9.35 x 6.31

                 Why is legal language so different from ordinary English? Statutes, judicial
                 opinions, contracts, deeds, and wills profoundly affect our daily lives, but
                 their language tends to be convoluted, antiquated, and often nearly
                 impossible for the public to understand. So where did the lessees and
                 tortfeasors come from, and are they necessarily here to stay?

                 Peter Tiersma's lively history of legal language slices through the
                 polysyllabic thicket of legalese. He shows to what extent legalese is simply
                 a product of its past, when Anglo-Saxon mercenaries, Latin-speaking
                 missionaries, Scandinavian raiders, and Norman invaders all left their
                 marks on the language that lawyers use today. Tiersma suggests, however,
                 that history alone provides an inadequate explanation for the peculiarities
                 of legal language. He considers how lawyers cling to their
                 foreign-sounding language because it convinces laypeople that the legal
                 system is far too complex to navigate without professional assistance.
                 Obscurity, Tiersma suggests, can also be strategic (as when an insurance
                 company prints oppressive legal terms in small type on the back of a
                 policy), as can clarity (if lawyers need to persuade a jury of their client's
                 innocence, they speak and write with newfound ease). All these issues are
                 wrapped up in the legal language that continues to evolve and shape our

                 Legal Language makes for fascinating reading. Its demonstration that
                 arcane vocabulary is not an inevitable feature of our legal system makes
                 Tiersma's concluding call for simplification powerful and timely, and it
                 brings the verbiage of leases, employment agreements, and other consumer
                 documents out of the shadows.