- legaleseis a fairly recent term (first recorded in 1914) for the complicated technical language used in legal documents. Legal language has become complex and difficult for the lay person to understand because of a need to be both precise and comprehensive in the points made; nonetheless, there is now a vigorous campaign in progress, led (in the UK) by the Plain English Campaign and (in the US) by the Plain English Forum and others, to simplify legal language in everyone's interests. These intentions are hardly new. Nearly 200 years ago, Thomas Jefferson, third president of the US, railed against statutes ‘which from verbosity, their endless tautologies, their involutions of case within case, and parenthesis within parenthesis, and their multiplied efforts at certainty, by saids and aforesaids, by ors and ands, to make them more plain, are really rendered more perplexed and incomprehensible, not only to common readers, but to the lawyers themselves’ (quoted in D. Mellinkoff, The Language of the Law, 1963). Tom McArthur, a well-known writer on language, reported in the Oxford Companion to the English Language (1992), 595, that ‘in 1983, an English court ordered a law firm to pay £93,000 damages for unintentionally misleading a client by using “obscure” legal language in a letter of advice’. Martin Cutts, in the Oxford Guide to Plain English (2004), devotes a chapter to lucid legal language, and gives examples of complex language rewritten in a simpler form. As well as indicating complexities of grammatical structure, he points to words and phrases that notoriously cause difficulty to those not versed in the law: aforesaid, be empowered to, failure to comply with, forthwith, heretofore, in the event of, pursuant to, the said —, thereto, and many others.
Modern English usage. 2014.