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On Language

I read a lot (and I mean a lot) of legal documents, principally trusts. Some of these date back to the early 1900s. Similar to when I look at an old building, I always wonder ‘What was the world like when this was new? Who was the person who signed the document or built the building?’.

Unfortunately, in both cases it is very hard to answer the questions. Most of the trusts I see have impersonal language to a degree that if you tear off the first page and the signature pages you have no idea who created the trust nor who is to benefit from it. Many ‘speak’ in the third person using terms like grantor, settlor or trustor instead of a simple ‘I’.

If the document is to ‘speak’ to future generations shouldn’t it have a real ‘voice’ rather than a machine generated one?

Speaking of language, I received the following from a friend. It ‘speaks’ for itself.

These glorious insults are from an era before the English language became boiled down to 4-letter words.

A member of Parliament to Disraeli: “Sir, you will either die on the gallows or of some unspeakable disease.”
“That depends, Sir,” said Disraeli, “whether I embrace your policies or your mistress.”

“He had delusions of adequacy.” – Walter Kerr

“He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.” – Winston Churchill

I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure.” – Clarence Darrow.

“He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.” – William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway).

“Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I’ll waste no time reading it.” – Moses Hadas.

“I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.” – Mark Twain.

“He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends..” – Oscar Wilde.

“I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend, if you have one.” – George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill.
“Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second … if there is one.” – Winston Churchill, in response.

“I feel so miserable without you; it’s almost like having you here.” – Stephen Bishop.

“He is a self-made man and worships his creator.” – John Bright.

“I’ve just learned about his illness. Let’s hope it’s nothing trivial.” – Irvin S. Cobb.

He is not only dull himself; he is the cause of dullness in others.” – Samuel Johnson.

“He is simply a shiver looking for a spine to run up.” – Paul Keating.

“In order to avoid being called a flirt, she always yielded easily.” – Charles, Count Talleyrand.

“He loves nature in spite of what it did to him.” – Forrest Tucker.

“Why do you sit there looking like an envelope without any address on it?” – Mark Twain.

“His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork.” – Mae West.

“Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go.” – Oscar Wilde.

“He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts… for support rather than illumination.” – Andrew Lang (1844-1912).

“He has Van Gogh’s ear for music.” – Billy Wilder.

“I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn’t it.” – Groucho



On Language