Can You Say That in English?

(Note from me: Thanks, WordPress, for saving only the title and making me rewrite this. I assure you, the original was better.)
This past week has been contracts week for me — three of them, each about 15-20 pages. As I read my way through them, I kept wondering why they were so convoluted. Editors tell us all the time that our manuscripts need to be clearly and tightly written, that we need to get our point, cut any unnecessary words.
Yet publishers write contracts that take fifty long words to say what could be said in ten normal ones. The first chunk of the contracts is spent defining terms — who the publisher is (hereafter referred to as Publisher), who the author is (hereafter referred to as Author) and what the manuscript is (hereafter referred to as the Work).
I’m a smart person, but legalese, especially when the sentences run 60 words or more and couldn’t be diagrammed by the best English teacher I’ve ever had, just doesn’t compute for me. I wouldn’t go so far as to say, “Let’s do this on a handshake and a promise,” (Garth Brooks and a Rogers County jury just taught Integris hospital better than that), but does it have to be so complicated?
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9 thoughts on “Can You Say That in English?

  1. They do it to confuse the signee and then when there is a dispute, whip it out and point out the section where your eyes glazed over and you fell asleep. 🙂

    • You got that right, Mags. I’ve heard tales of various lawyers reading the same clause in the same contract coming up with three or four different takes on what it means. I’ve learned the most important clauses (I hope!) and will trust my agent on the rest.

  2. What you need is a great friend to read it for you and tell you whether it’s worth the paper it’s written on.
    Oh. Wait. That’s what you do for the rest of us.You need a friend like you! LOL.(And we appreciate it!) Would that be Bob?
    No matter how awful long, convoluted,, undiagramable or confusing the contract is, I’d love to be suffering in your shoes.
    Just saying.
    Come to think of it, though, I’d still have to call you. 🙂

    • LOL. Some vocabularies just don’t register in my head. Finance/investments is another one that comes to mind. I can read an article three times and still be in the dark when I’m done.

      You’ll get in these shoes. Now that you know what speaks to you as a writer, you’ll be making your next sale before long.

  3. Hey, everyone needs to earn a living. The only way the legal department can justify themselves is by making contracts convaluted to the point no one else can understand them. Course, that’s just my poor, uneducated opinion. 😉

    • Uneducated — snort. Seriously, sometimes legal can’t even agree how to interpret them. Maybe if they’d trade for plain English, then all the lawyers could go be politicians. 🙂

  4. The legalese is a pain. But hey, everybody’s got to have something to read. Who says lawyers don’t just love reading contracts. Maybe they stay up nights waiting eagerly for the next contract to read.

  5. It took me three days to get through my first contract. Then I went over it again, just to make sure it didn’t have anything I didn’t like.

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