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legalese. (1914) The peculiar language of lawyers; esp., the speech and writing of lawyers at their communicative worst, characterized by antique jargon, pomposity, affected displays of precision, ponderous abstractions, and hocus-pocus incantations.

plain language. Plain language (also called Plain English) is communication your audience can understand the first time they read or hear it.

plain language movement. The loosely organized campaign to encourage legal writers and business writers to write clearly and concisely – without legalese – while preserving accuracy and precision.

– Black’s Law Dictionary, 10th ed., Bryan A. Garner, Editor in Chief, Thomson Reuters, 2014.

Going back centuries, there has been a perception that lawyers and law-makers have intentionally obscured the meaning of the law in order to keep it to themselves. To quote Thomas Jefferson, “statues which, from their 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 themselves.” 1 The Writings of Thomas Jefferson 65 (Lipscomb ed. 1903)

Bryan Garner, editor of Black’s Law Dictionary, has written extensively about plain language in A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage. In his words, “The fundamental principle is that anything translatable into simpler words in the same language is bad style.”

Books available from the Massachusetts Trial Court Law Libraries define the problem and offer assistance toward writing with more clarity. Legal Language by Peter Tiersma (University of Chicago Press, 1999), Lifting the Fog on Legalese: Essay on Plain Language by Joseph Kimble (Carolina Academic Press, 2006), and Plain Language for Lawyers, 4th ed., by Michele M Asprey (Federation Press, 2010) are examples.

What else has been done or is being done to facilitate better communication between lawmakers or lawyers and the general public?

On the federal level, the Plain Writing Act of 2010 requires that federal agencies use ‘clear Government communication that the public can understand and use.’ Plain Language.gov is a website intended to aid in improving communication from the federal government to the public and help with compliance with plain language law.

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