Plain-Talk Pushers Pepper Poor Pieces Of Legalistic Prose -- Attorneys Across The U.S. Submit 30 Examples Of Atrocious Writing

DALLAS - The plain-language advocates of the Texas Bar got tongue-tied on a new state law insisting that "only safe and wholesome shellfish shall be shucked."

In the "2nd Annual Legaldegook Awards," the Plain Language Committee of the State Bar of Texas came up yesterday with examples of written excess.

The "Save The Period" award went to the introductory sentence of an Alabama brief that exceeded 300 words.

Then came the winning "Foggy Footnote" entry: "Non-contingent, conceptual, semantic connectedness is an absolutely necessary condition for sameness of meaning. If two terms meant the same thing, then normal language users find themselves inclined to perceive a necessary, conceptual, unbreakable connection between the two things. Frequent correlations are insufficient to prove connections of meaning."

"We're looking for delightfully atrocious pieces of legal writing," said Bryan Garner, a Dallas attorney who heads the committee.

They got plenty. Attorneys from across the country submitted 30 entries to the contest.

The Texas law was given the "She-Sells-Seashells Award" for lilting legislative alliteration.

"Shucking of Shellfish - Shellfish shall not be subjected to contamination while being held or processed. Shellstock to be shucked shall be stored . . . in such locations that contamination from standing water or splash from foot traffic does not occur. . . . Only safe and wholesome shellfish shall be shucked."

This year, the committee also created a Hall of Fame to honor lawyers for their lucid prose.

The inductees include Thomas Jefferson; Abraham Lincoln; Jeremy Bentham, an 18th-century philosopher and economist; Timothy Walker, an Ohio lawyer who started the Cincinnati Law School; Charles Beardsley, a Texan who led the American Bar Association in 1940; and Fred Rodell, a Yale law professor who died in 1980.

The Hall of Fame counterbalances "the negativity of the Legaldegook Awards," Garner said. And it shows "the plain-language movement is nothing new."

In 1848, Walker wrote that a lawyer might say "Have an orange" this way: "I give you all and singular my estate and interest, right, title, and claim, and advantage of and in that orange, with all its rind, skin, juice, pulp, and pips, and all right and advantage therein, with full power to bite, cut, suck and otherwise eat the same, or give the same away, as fully and effectually as I. . . ."