LawProse Lesson #230: The most addictive phrase in legalese.
If we’d thought a moment about it before sending last week’s LawProse Lesson, we’d have foreseen the onslaught of lawyers’ vehement, overheated defenses of pursuant to. It is, after all, the phrase that legalese lovers crave most. They’re addicts who can’t bear a moment of withdrawal. “I use it pursuant to standards of good writing, prior to making my substantive point in a sentence,” wrote one correspondent. What standard of good writing advises using legalese? Another said: “I have a phrase in which it’s irreplaceable: ‘Pursuant to our recent conversation.'” Apparently he can’t remember how to say “As we discussed.” Still others insisted that “under section 1983” is impossible for them, since they’re spatial literalists. A few said that pursuant to is a term of art. The list of rationalizations is endless. The point is simply this: if you’re a pursuant-to addict, or even just a recreational user, you’re no friend of plain English. If you’re a native speaker of English, you’ve lost touch a bit with your mother tongue. You’re under the influence of legalese. (Or should that be “you’re pursuant to the influence of legalese”?) Further reading: Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage 737–38 (3d ed. 2011). Legal Writing in Plain English 46 (2d ed. 2013).