Sunday, November 6, 2011

Advice to a Young Would-Be Patent Law Scholar - 06 (MERELY and CLEARLY)

In  Advice 05 - Those NEVER and ALWAYS Rules of Writing, I mentioned my own rule about MERELY and CLEARLY:
Never use merely or clearly more than once in every 25 pages.
I also pointed out that the purpose of a NEVER/ALWAYS rule is not so much to prevent or mandate anything, but to make the writer self-conscious whenever ne starts to violate the rule, which in turn will lead to less and more of the NEVER and ALWAYS behavior, respectively.

The main reasons I do not like words like MERELY and CLEARLY are:
  1. They allow the writer to be sloppy and lazy.  
  2. They insult the reader.
If the referenced information is so MERE, the author's previous discussion of it in comparison to other factors ought to have demonstrated its mereness.  If the referenced conclusion is so CLEAR, the author's development of the arguments ought to have persuaded us already.

An author who writes MERELY or CLEARLY, either thinks nis readers are stupid or hasn't done nis job (or hopes they are because ne hasn't).

Another reason I dislike such words is that
3.  They are used as code for "I am a member of the club." 
The lawyer's club, in this case, with no disrespect meant to the beautiful dormitories at the University of Michigan.  They are words that ought to be on a law school bingo card.
See if you are unfamiliar with the concept. (Unfortunately that site does not have a lawschool version yet.) Other candidates for the bingo card are paradigm, cabined, conversation, any word formed by combining where or there with a preposition (therefrom, whereby, and so on), and just about anything in Latin (the one I dislike the most is vel non). Want to add to the list? Please write a comment!

When I read or hear those clubby bingo words, I immediately look for other signs of a failure to think things through, to  marshal the facts carefully, or to structure the argument convincingly, and I almost always find them.

Last, but maybe first,
4. or 1.  Using "merely" or "clearly" violates my ALMOST NEVER/ALMOST ALWAYS rule:  Use adjectives and adverbs sparingly.  Instead, color your writing with the nouns and verbs.
Another post, amplifying my reasons to favor  nouns and verbs over adjectives and adverbs is coming soon.
typo in link corrected 11-14-2012