>> Banned words and phrases

Banned words and phrases

By Judge Mark P. Painter

Previous columns have banned pursuant to, such, said (meaning the), provided that, however (to start a sentence), clear, in order to, by means of, infra, and/or (it almost never is), and on or about. This column adds some more to the list:

* There is no reason

Using there words is a lawyerism. Ban these words: therein, thereof, theretofore, thereunder, and any more that pop up.

* Don’t go here

Likewise, never use hereafter, hereinafter, herewith, hereby, and hereinabove. You can simply drop the here or eliminate the word entirely.

* Where are we at

Where words are banned for the same reason: they are unnecessary and distracting. Kill whereby, wherefore, whereof, and especially the legal whereas.

* Me, myself, and I

Pronouns such as herself, himself, and myself are too often misused. The case will be tried by Mary Smith and myself is simply wrong. Nothing is wrong with the two-letter me. And the sentence makes the writer seem pretentious. Even worse: The case will be tried by myself. That construction is not only grammatically wrong, it can be misleading – does it emphasize that I am trying the case alone?

These pronouns are only used intensively – as in I, myself, will meet with the president – or reflexively, as in I shot myself in the foot. The former emphasizes the actor; the latter refers back to the actor. Just don’t ever use myself for me.

* In can be out

We have already banned in order to. The in order adds no meaning – to is fine. The same theory applies to many other in phrases: in punishment for, in payment for, in order that. But many other in phases can easily be simplified:

in the event of = if

in advance of = before

in spite of = despite

in opposition to = against

in preference to = over

There are other substitutes for each, but you get the idea.

* It’s not necessary

Many lawyerisms begin with it. Especially when starting a sentence, it signifies a weak construction, often containing a nominalization – taking a perfectly good verb and turning it into a noun.

Some phrases that can simply be deleted from the sentence, making it stronger and more direct:

It is important to note … If it’s important, the reader will get that.

It is significant …. Same.

It should be remembered … You’re telling the readers that they are so stupid they don’t remember what you said a few paragraphs ago?

It is … Strike it and you will have a better sentence.

Some it phrases can easily be translated:

It has come to my attention … How about I understand or I have learned?

It is apparent that … You’ll save words and add meaning by using apparently or evidently.

Robert Hartwell Fiske, editor of the online journal Vocabula Review (www.vocabula.com), has a handy book called The Dictionary of Concise Writing, which has 10,000 entries suggesting how to fix wordy phrases. It can be found at www.marionstreetpress.com and amazon.com.


I always show the readability scores for the column. Statistics for this column: 13 words per sentence, 13% passive voice, and grade level 8.2, though the numbers are skewed because of the bad examples.


Mark Painter has served as a judge on the Ohio First District Court of Appeals for 11 years, after 13 years on the Hamilton County Municipal Court. He has taught as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Law since 1990. Judge Painter is the author of five books, including The Legal Writer: 40 Rules for the Art of Legal Writing. The third edition of that book was published in 2005. The rules cited in this column are from that book, and it is available from http://books.lawyersweekly.com. Judge Painter has given dozens of seminars on legal writing. Contact him through his website, www.judgepainter.org.