Grammar Giggle – Presidents Day

Happy Presidents Day! I’m assuming this school was talking about the holiday honoring ALL of the U.S. Presidents and not just one President. Remember, with apostrophes you start with the correct word–in this case, “Presidents” because you’re talking about all the Presidents–and then make it possessive by adding an apostrophe (and an “s” if necessary). NOTE: various sources disagree about whether the apostrophe belongs at all. Since the apostrophe denotes possession and the holiday is to honor U.S. Presidents and not a day that belongs to those Presidents, no apostrophe is probably more correct. In any event, this school sign is obviously incorrect.

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Capitalization in Legal Documents

A reader asked about capitalization in legal documents. It sounds like it should be simple but research shows lots of people have their own ideas about what should be capitalized. The Gregg Reference Manual says there is no uniform style for capitalization in legal documents, but common practice is to capitalize key terms such as the parties and the type of document you are working on. Since we’re talking about legal documents, I checked The Bluebook (19th ed.). Here is a quick breakdown of capitalization “rules” according to both sources:

Court – The word “court” is capitalized in these instances:

  • Always when referring to the United States Supreme Court
  • Always when the name of the court is spelled out, i.e., the United States District Court.
  • When your document is talking about the specific court that will rule, i.e., “We ask the Court to rule in favor of the Plaintiff”
  • Do not capitalize the word “court” when talking about a ruling in another case, i.e., “The court in Roe ruled . . .”

Parties – When referring to the parties in your particular document, capitalize their designation:

  • “The Plaintiff files this Reply in Support of Motion to Dismiss.”
  • However, “The defendant in Smith v. Jones used the unclean hands defense.”

State – Capitalize the word “state” in these instances:

  • When it is part of the full name of the state, i.e., the State of California
  • When the word it modifies is capitalized, i.e., the State Education Director
  • When referring to the state as a party to the litigation or as a governmental actor, i.e., “The State filed its Answer on January 14, 2014.”

Titles of Documents – When referring to a document that has been filed in the same matter in which you are filing your document:

  • In the Motion to Dismiss, Plaintiff alleges . . .
  • Under the Court’s February 10, 2014, Order . . .

As for other defined terms in legal documents, I personally think it is much clearer if a term is defined and then capitalized throughout:

  • ABC Corporation (“Corporation”) hereby agrees . . .
  • The doctors employed by St. Joseph’s Hospital (“Doctors”) . . .

This can be tricky when a defined term is used in describing another case. Only capitalize the defined term in YOUR case. If you can substitute the full name of the defined term, you can capitalize it. For instance, using our definition of “Corporation” above:

  • “At all times relevant hereto, Corporation was engaged in business in the state of Arizona.” Here, “. . . ABC Corporation was engaged in business . . .” is correct since you are talking about the defined Corporation.
  • HOWEVER–“In Smith, the corporation was engaged in the business of providing license plate holders through Internet sales.” Note that in this example, the corporation you are referring to is a corporation in the Smith case, not ABC Corporation.

The same basic rule applies to defined documents:

  • In its Motion for Summary Judgment (“Motion”), Plaintiff is attempting . . .. The Motion is untimely.

One thing I did learn is that in legal documents using Bluebook style, words in headings are capitalized except for articles, conjunctions, or prepositions of four or fewer letters unless they begin the heading. This is different than the Gregg style for regular writing. See Things Are Coming to a Head[ing]!

What rules do you have for capitalization in legal documents? Please share them in the comments.

 

 

More Quickies!

quick-tips-for-flyersHere is a compilation of tidbits that didn’t quite warrant their own blog post, but are interesting enough to share.

  • Is it wreck havoc or wreak havoc? According to the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary, wreck means “a vehicle, airplane, etc., that has been badly damaged or destroyed; a ruined or destroyed ship; an accident in which a car, airplane, train, etc., is badly damaged or destroyed.” On the other hand, wreak means “to cause (something very harmful or damaging)” and “bring about, cause <wreak havoc>.” So the correct phrase is to wreak havoc.
  • Personal pronouns like myselfhimself, herself, etc. can ONLY be used in certain circumstances:
    • to reflect back to the subject – found myself craving a nap on my day off.
    • to emphasize a noun or a pronoun that has already been expressed – The secretaries themselves did all the work for the buffet.
    • Do NOT use a compound personal pronoun unless the noun or pronoun to which it refers is in the same sentence.
      • The reservations are for the Smiths and myself. (There is nothing for myself to refer back to here, so it should say “the Smiths and me.”)
      • John and myself can meet on Tuesday. (It should be “John and I can meet on Tuesday.”)
  • Family terms using the prefix great or the suffix in-law should always be hyphenated. However, terms involving step or grand are kept solid.
    • My great-grandmother lived in Arkansas.
    • John’s son-in-law wanted to move his family to Alaska.
    • I love being a grandmother.
    • Sara’s stepchildren are a blessing in her life.

Pretty quick, huh? I hope you learned a little something. Remember to email any topics you would like to see covered to proofthatblog@gmail.com!

 

Hyphenate Here, Hyphenate There, Everywhere We Hyphenate!

I see a lot of confusion over hypenated words like “follow-up,” “up-to-date,” “$40,000-a-year salary,” etc.

Before we dive into that, we will have a very basic grammar lesson. I’ve admitted before that I am NOT a grammar guru and these parts of speech sometimes confuse me, so we will get basic here (for my sake if nothing else!). An adjective answers the questions what kindhow many, or which one. An adjective modifies the meaning of a noun or a pronoun. A noun is a person, place, object, idea, quality, or activity. A verb is a word that expresses an activity or a state of being. An adverb answers the question whenwherewhyin what manner, or to what extent. Now that that’s out of the way, on to our discussion.

The basic rule is that where the word that may need hyphenation serves as an adjective phrase describing a noun, it is hypenated. Where it serves as a verb and adverb, it does not get hypenated.

  • The follow-up report will be on your desk in the morning. (Here, follow-up [adjective phrase] describes the kind of report [noun] so is hypenated.)
  • I will follow up [verb/adverb] with a report [noun] on business done so far this month. (In this sentence, follow up is a verb phrase–it is the action I will take on the report.)
  • The up-to-date computer program was able to do a lot more and more quickly.
  • The information is as up to date as possible with the information I have.
  • The new job afforded him a $40,000-a-year salary.
  • The salary at his new job was $40,000 a year.

You would also hyphenate a compound adjective when it occurs before a noun where those words are not in their “normal” order or “normal” form and need the hyphen to hold the words together. For instance:

  • The high-tech equipment makes my job easier. (It is equipment that reflects a high level of technology.)
  • I don’t envy speakers on the rubber-chicken circuit. (A speaking circuit where banquet food [usually “rubber chicken”] is served to participants.)

Where these phrases appear other than before the noun but are in an inverted order and not in a “normal” order, retain the hyphen.

  • The new equipment was very high-tech. (The equipment reflected a high level of technology.)
  • My purchase was tax-exempt. (The purchase was exempt from taxes.)

The same basic rule applies to compounds with numbers:

  • A 12-story building. (A building of 12 stories.)
  • sixth-grade student. (A student in the sixth grade.)

If you can’t figure it out, find the noun and if the words potentially in need of a hyphen are describing that noun, it should be hyphenated. If they are acting as the sentence’s verb and adverb, do not hyphenate.

Hopefully that helps you decide when to hyphenate (and when NOT to!).

Because Awesome!

 

I’ve seen a couple of places a new “Word of the Year” as voted on by the American Dialect Society (“ADS”) for 2013. The ADS fancies itself “the best” because, like the Oscars, it is the last group to choose the “Word of the Year” at its January conference. ADS’s word for 2013 is because–both as its Word of the Year and as the most useful word of 2013. Why did they choose because? First some background on the ADS. It is a group of linguists, lexicographers, and other language scholars. This group holds an annual three-day conference full of academic sessions and paper presentations and holds it in conjunction with the Linguistic Society of America so they have nearly 200 people voting on their Word of the Year and other awards. The ADS even has a New Words Committee. A whole committee dedicated to seeking out new words. But on to why because is the ADS Word of the Year.

According to Ben Zimmer, chair of ADS’s New Words Committee, because is “. . . a very old word that’s deeply embedded in the language, which people are finding new ways to use, and very often it’s intentionally laying with established rules of grammar. I think the fact that this is such a linguistic innovation really appealed to a room full of linguists.”

So in addition to using because before a full clause or with the word of, it is apparently now appropriate to use it to precede a noun, like because job, or before an adjective, like because awesome

Other ADS winners were most creative (catfish, which is to misrepresent oneself online–usually on a social website), most unnecessary (sharknado, made famous by a made-for-TV movie), and most likely to succeed (binge-watch, which is watching several episodes of a show in one sitting).

It will definitely take me a while to get used to this one, but hopefully I can get used to it because awesome! (It will take a LOT of getting used to!)