LawProse Lessons #71 & #72

LawProse Lessons #71 & #72

Lesson # 71
What is the most astonishing usage error committed by a majority of lawyers?ANSWER: Misunderstanding that the phrase just deserts (/di-ZURTS/) is so spelled — as opposed to the erroneous *just desserts. This word desert (pronounced, we reiterate, /di-ZURT/) is the noun corresponding to deserve. The Supreme Court of the United States has used the phrase just deserts 19 times, misspelling it only once (in a 1989 concurrence by Brennan, J.). The phrase has nothing whatever to do with sweets at the end of a meal. See: Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage 508 (3d ed. 2011). Garner’s Modern American Usage 492 (3d ed. 2009). Bernstein, The Careful Writer 135 (1965). The Elements of Legal Style 122 (2d ed. 2002). Merriam-Webster’s Concise Dictionary of English Usage 250 (2002). The Cambridge Guide to English Usage 150 (2004).
Lesson # 72
What are the three most commonly mispronounced words in legal circles?ANSWER: Accessory, diminution, and err. The last has been mispronounced by so many people for so long that the mispronunciation /air/ — as opposed to the traditional /uhr/ — is now considered acceptable. But most word connoisseurs persist in using /uhr/ — though the adjective is errant /AIR-uhnt/ and the noun error /AIR-uhr/. As for the other two mispronounced words, they are correctly pronounced /ak-SES-uh-ree/ and /dim-i-NYOO-shuhn/. See: Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage 12, 278, 326 (3d ed. 2011). Elster, The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations 5, 149, 179-181 (2d ed. 2005).
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