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Get to the Point!

The Prosody Pitfall

By Theda C. Snyder

You’ve finished the memorandum in support of your motion, and it’s beautiful, lyrical even. The words have a lilt, which you are sure will persuade the reader of the virtues of your argument. But wait, has prosody led you astray?

What the Heck Is Prosody?

Prosody has to do with meter, intonation and rhythm, principally of poetry, but also prose. For the spoken word, prosody also comprises tone, tempo and pitch. Prosody is what makes the difference between a sincere compliment and snide sarcasm. Think about the way tone can change the meaning of the reaction, “What a talent!”

Prosody is what lures you to choose the wrong word because, darn it, it just sounds right. That’s the culprit for the ubiquitous use of “I” instead of “me.” It’s why you use false-friend words like “verbiage,” thinking it refers to any string of text when it really means surplusage. And it’s why you keep adding adjectives and adverbs like “very” and “clearly” when your argument would be better served by concision.

By the way, did you see what I just did there? I used parallelism, a type of prosody, to create a string of (hopefully) memorable illustrations of my point.

Avoid the Primrose Path of Prosody

You can escape the prosody trap by relying on that standby, the dictionary. Make sure you are using every word correctly, not just because it sounds right in context. It’s really the only way to make sure your reader doesn’t react like Inigo Montoya in “The Princess Bride”: “I do not think that word means what you think it means.”

Illustration ©

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Categories: Communicating, Get to the Point, Legal Writing
Originally published June 23, 2020
Last updated June 30, 2020
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Teddy Snyder Theda C. Snyder

Theda “Teddy” Snyder mediates civil disputes, workers’ compensation and insurance coverage cases, including COVID-19 related coverage disputes, in person or by video. Teddy has practiced in a variety of settings and frequently speaks and writes about settlements and the business of law. She was a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management and is the author of four ABA books, including “Women Rainmakers’ Best Marketing Tips, 4th Edition” as well as “Personal Injury Case Evaluation” available on Based in Los Angeles, Teddy can be found at and on Twitter @SnyderMediation.

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