No Thanks: Six Words and Phrases to Avoid

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

To see how it works, 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 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: “with respect to,” “with regard to,” “regarding,” “concerning,” and, for British-English types, “with regards to” or “in regard to.”

Mystery Judge

Yet the advice from the Supreme Court regarding how to deal with our situation seems scarcely more harmonious than the advice from the legislature.

Mystery Judge

With respect to [his] claimed lack of intent to mislead, the test under Rule 9011 is objective, not subjective.

Try “on,” “about,” “for,” “as to,” or “as for.”

Seventh Circuit Judge Frank Easterbrook, In re Sinclair

Yet the advice from the Supreme Court about how to deal with our situation seems scarcely more harmonious than the advice from the legislature.

Bankruptcy Judge Benjamin Goldgar, In re Brent

As for [his] claimed lack of intent to mislead, the test under Rule 9011 is objective, not subjective.

2.  Just Say No: “moreover” and “furthermore” and “additionally.”

Mystery Judge

[A] growing number of judges in this Court have lately referred to international legal materials. That development is inevitable. It is, moreover, desirable, natural and legally correct.

Mystery Judge

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. Additionally, he received threatening phone calls, which he believed came from the police.

Mystery Judge

On the other hand, any loss of income attributable to Hubbard’s being denied the job, like any emotional distress or harm to reputation that he may have suffered as well, is a consequence of the denial of the offer of employment. Furthermore, the classic remedy for that loss is money damages.

Try “also” or “and.”

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

[A] growing number of judges in this Court have lately referred to international legal materials. That development is inevitable. It is also desirable, natural and legally correct.

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. He also received threatening phone calls, which he believed came from the police.

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

On the other hand, any loss of income attributable to Hubbard’s being denied the job, like any emotional distress or harm to reputation that he may have suffered as well, is a consequence of the denial of the offer of employment. And the classic remedy for that loss is money damages.

3.  Just Say No: “even assuming arguendo,” “assuming arguendo,” “arguendo,” or even just “even assuming.”

Mystery Judge

We conclude that the [Social Security Administration’s] reading is better attuned to the statute’s text and its design to benefit primarily those supported by the deceased wage earner in his or her lifetime. And even assuming arguendo that the SSA’s longstanding interpretation is not the only reasonable one, it is at least a permissible construction that garners the Court’s respect under [Chevron].

Try “even if.”

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Astrue v. Capato

We conclude that the [Social Security Administration’s] reading is better attuned to the statute’s text and its design to benefit primarily those supported by the deceased wage earner in his or her lifetime. And even if the SSA’s longstanding interpretation is not the only reasonable one, it is at least a permissible construction that garners the Court’s respect under [Chevron].

4.  Just Say No: “is not required to.”

Mystery Judge

In Chambers, the Eighth Circuit clarified that a plaintiff is not required to show more than de minimis injury in order to prevail on a claim of excessive force.

Try “need not.”

District Court Judge Patrick Schiltz, Newton v. Walker

In Chambers, the Eighth Circuit clarified that a plaintiff need not show more than de minimis injury in order to prevail on a claim of excessive force.

5.   Just Say No: “demonstrate.”

Mystery Judge

The examples demonstrate that the evidence may well be of great importance to getting at the truth and determining whether the accused is guilty or innocent under the law—the ultimate aim of the trial process.

Mystery Judge

The Home Secretary has adduced evidence, both open and secret, to demonstrate the existence of a threat of serious terrorist outrages.

Try “show” or “prove.”

Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, Supreme Court of Canada, Seaboyer v. The Queen

The examples show that the evidence may well be of great importance to getting at the truth and determining whether the accused is guilty or innocent under the law—the ultimate aim of the trial process.

Lord Hoffmann, A(FC) and others (FC) v. Secretary of State for the Home Department, dissenting

The Home Secretary has adduced evidence, both open and secret, to show the existence of a threat of serious terrorist outrages.

6.  Just Say No: “pursuant to.”

Mystery Judge

The only case put before the judge or before us was that the keeper was strictly liable pursuant to the Animals Act 1971.

Try “under.”

Lord Denning, Cummings v. Granger

The only case put before the judge or before us was that the keeper was strictly liable under the Animals Act 1971.

Finally, a handy cheat sheet:

Just Say No Try
with respect to, with regard to, regarding, concerning, in regard to on, about, for, as for, as to
moreover, additionally, furthermore, further also, and
even assuming arguendo, assuming arguendo, arguendo, even assuming even if
is not required to need not
demonstrates, exemplifies shows, proves
pursuant to under

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

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  • Josh Daniels

    For some of these, I would agree with categorical avoidance: “pursuant to,” the various “assuming constructions,” “is not required to,” “exemplifies,” and “furthermore.” But other “just say nos” here sometimes work very well if used judiciously, and sometimes I have found they may even work better than the alternatives provided, at least in certain settings. A lot depends on context, and on what sounds right to to the ear. We don’t always want to hear (in our heads as we read) one- or two-syllable words; sometimes, the ear craves a different rhythm.

    • Ross Guberman

      Definitely, and I hope that people don’t interpret my “just say no” phrase too literally. But I have found very few attorneys or judges who overuse short words. Quite the contrary, in fact.

  • Hi Ross, my only quibble is using “as to” instead of “regarding” in mid-sentence. It’s perfectly fine to start a sentence with “As to” (as your example does) but it’s syntactically ambiguous if used mid-sentence. Besides Garner’s DMAU, see W. Follet (“as to” “tempts to jargon and waste”) and Theo. Bernstein.

    • Ross Guberman

      Great to hear from you, Matt! I’m not thrilled about “as to” and don’t use it in my own writing, but I would still place it a rung above “with respect to.” I used to think that “as to” was popular for lawyers because of the summary-judgment standard we learn in law school: “no dispute as to a material fact.” But it is perhaps too common to be explained on that basis alone. That said, I don’t necessarily find “as to” ambiguous. For example, “At the hearing, the judge did not saying anything as to damages” is not elegant, but to me its meaning is unambiguous. Thanks for writing and I hope to see you again soon!

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