Get to the Point!

Don’t Be Tricked by These False Friends

By | Sep.11.17 | Communicating, Daily Dispatch, Get to the Point, Legal Writing

Some words sound like they mean one thing when they actually mean something very different. Using one of these false friends incorrectly could cause you a problem.

But It Sounded Right …

The term “false friends” traditionally refers to words in a foreign language that sound like English words. If you want a drinking glass in France, don’t ask the server for “glace”; you might get a glass, but it will be filled with ice, the translation of “glace.” You really will be embarrassed if you use the Spanish “embarazada” to mean embarrassed because it actually means “pregnant.” John F. Kennedy famously proclaimed, “Ich bin ein Berliner.”  Everyone knew what he meant, though in Germany the word “berliner” commonly refers to a jelly donut.

Attorney Alan Futerfas told the cameras that Donald Trump Jr. was prepared to make “a fulsome statement” about a certain meeting. While Mr. Futerfas may have meant that the statement would be complete, the definition of fulsome is loathsome, offensive. “Fulsome” is one of those words that is so misused that the incorrect usage is creeping into our common language as demonstrated by Mr. Futerfas. However, you should stay away from it to avoid unwanted repercussions.

Another mistake creeping into common usage is “verbiage” to refer to any speech or writing. “Verbiage” means wordiness, more words than are required for precision or clarity, and doesn’t refer only to verbs.

When a lawyer refers to the “enormity” of the alleged acts, the lawyer is not referring to size. “Enormity” is defined as wicked or outrageous, not enormous.

A suit by a homeowners association to cure a “noisome” condition refers to something offensive, foul or harmful, not noisy.

A nugatory contract is invalid. “Nugatory” may sound delicious, but the word has nothing to do with nougat candy.

I once got a call from someone who told me he was thrilled to be working with me because I was infamous. While “flammable” and “inflammable” are interchangeable, “infamous” does not mean “famous.” It means notorious, well-known for bad things. I suggested he consult a dictionary.

Don’t Guess

Your legal communications are important. If you are unfamiliar with a word, don’t use it without checking a dictionary. Otherwise, you could metaphorically step in a fulsome language poodle, uh, puddle.

Theda “Teddy” Snyder mediates workers compensation cases throughout California. She is also available for legal freelance writing assignments. An attorney since 1977, she has practiced in a variety of settings and frequently speaks and writes about settlements and the business of law. She is a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management and the author of four books published by the American Bar Association, including "Women Rainmakers' Best Marketing Tips, 3rd Edition" as well as "Personal Injury Case Evaluation" available on Amazon.com. Based in Los Angeles, Teddy can be found at WCMediator.com and on Twitter @WCMediator.

Illustration ©iStockPhoto.com

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