Since the 1987 appearance of A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage, Bryan A. Garner has proved to be a versatile and prolific writer on legal-linguistic subjects. This collection of his essays shows reveals both profound scholarship and sharp wit.
The essays cover subjects as wide-ranging as learning to write, style, persuasion, contractual and legislative drafting, grammar, lexicography, writing in law school, writing in law practice, judicial writing, and all the literature relating to these diverse subjects.
Some have called Garner a controversialist, and he doesn't shrink from controversy here: he engages legal academia, at word-bungling law reviews, at writers who interlard their writing with overlong citations, at judges who use extremely arcane words for little or no reason, and at the many conventions that tend to mire legal writing in perpetual mediocrity.
In one of the most entertaining chapters -- "Bizarreries" -- Garner takes on judges who pun on litigants' names, legal writers who mangle Latin, and, in one of the most extended yet entertaining exchanges imaginable on such a subject, and people who take preposterous positions on wording issues (such as whether "Sincerely" is an erroneous complimentary close). There are moving tributes to Professor Charles Alan Wright, Judge Thomas Gibbs Gee, and Sir Robert Megarry (whose last book Garner finished). There are piquant book reviews that damn the work of some famous writers, such as Lynne Truss (Eats, Shoots & Leaves) and the linguist Stephen Pinker, as well as enthusiastic recommendations of books that Garner finds meritorious. In the final chapter, Garner collects "recommended sources on language and writing." This one-of-a-kind bibliography guides readers to seminal texts in virtually every language-related field, from brief-writing to playwriting to poetry to linguistics to general semantics.
In her foreword, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg declares the book to be "a 'must read' primer" for her law clerks. Anyone with a lively interest in language, writing, and law will find this book hard to lay aside.
Excerpt from a Review by William Safire
"Garner on Language and Writing," by Bryan A. Garner (American Bar Association, $60, but worth it for 800 pages and a thorough index, which is becoming a lost art). In his current compilation of a lifetime's profound essays and speeches, Garner wades into language and legal controversy and often lets his hair down. He recalls a breakfast with Justice Antonin Scalia, who declared that he cared a great deal about words and their proper use.
"There's a word for people like me," Scalia said. "An essayist in Harper's coined it." Garner helped out by recollecting SNOOT, an acronym for "Syntax Nudniks of Our Time," described by the novelist David Foster Wallace as "this reviewer's nuclear family's nickname à clef for a really extreme usage fanatic, the sort of person whose idea of Sunday fun is to hunt for mistakes in the very prose of Safire's column." (Those misteakes are inserted by subversive copy editors.)" --William Safire, New York Times, 4/26/2009
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