Legal English blogs/Blogs zur englischen Rechtssprache

I’ve mentioned weblogs on legal English before, I think, and I’ve certainly mentioned Jeremy Day’s blog on English for Specific Purposes, Specific English. But I haven’t yet put them on my blogroll, although I think they must be highly relevant here.

Here is a link to the legal English entries on Jeremy’s blog. The latest one, My first and worst legal English lesson, is a great description of what can go wrong when you present yourself as more expert than you are – certainly a risk not only for non-lawyers teaching legal English, but for lawyers too. If you’re helping lawyers to improve their English, you don’t have to be the source of legal knowledge, but the facilitator.

The entry earlier than that, Legal English blogs, is a whole year old and gives links to other blogs on legal English (including Transblawg!).

And here’s another one: English for Law, by CKL, with many suggestions for teaching materials sources.


Excellent Practicle Guide, 18 Dec 2009
By …
This review is from: The Pocket Book of Proofreading: A Guide to Freelance Proofreading and Copy-editing (Paperback)
I am studying proofreading and copy-editing via a correspondence course, which is fine, but I was searching for additional help and practicle exercises without having to pay a fortune. I found it in this neat, concise and easy to read book. The writers style is very positive and even some of the more complex areas are handled with ease. The exercises included are worth the price alone. If you are thinking about becoming a proofreader,already studying through a course and/or just want some information about the whole subject look no further. I looked at many alternatives and eventually chose this after reading the reviews. I hope you do the same. If like me you live outside of the UK try for this book, in the English books section, it’s cheaper because the price is already in euros.

( customer review of The Pocket Book of Proofreading)

Cheaper because the price is already in euros?

First German court hearing in English/Erste Verhandlung auf Englisch (LG Bonn)

As reported in an earlier entry, hearings in English are now possible at three international commercial chambers in Aachen, Cologne and Bonn. Both parties have to agree to waive the use of an interpreter. The first such hearing took place on May 10 at the Bonn Regional Court (Landgericht). There is a brief report in German in the Kölnische Rundschau, but it does not go into detail, and indeed, the reporter was apparently unable to assess the effectiveness of the language:

Premiere in Bonn: “Good afternoon”, begrüßte Manfred Kaufmann, Vorsitzender der neu eingerichteten 19. Zivilkammer des Bonner Landgerichts, die Parteien: Dann erläuterte der Handelsrichter in englischer Sprache die juristische Problematik der vorliegenden Klage: Eine Aktiengesellschaft belgischen Rechts wirft darin einem Bonner Unternehmen Vertragsbruch vor. Worum es im Detail ging, blieb dem Prozessbeobachter – im Handelsenglisch nicht geübt – im Verborgenen.

However, a colleague, Martina Niessen, Diplom-Dolmetscherin, has kindly reported to translators’ mailing lists on the hearing, which she attended.

To summarize: the courtroom was rather small, seating scarcely more than twenty, but there were SAT1 TV cameras there and a reporter and photographer. The three judges’ wives were reportedly all native speakers of English. Both parties had German lawyers, and the plaintiff also had a Belgian lawyer.

None of the parties was a native speaker of English. The case related to a Belgian company which supplied the Cuban government with electronic components, and a German company which supplied such components to the Belgian company. The German company has been taken over by a U.S. corporation, and so problems have been created by the U.S. embargo against Cuba. The court wanted the parties to reach a compromise, in part because a large amount of Belgian documents in French and Cuban documents in Spanish would have needed to be translated (so much for simplifying matters by using English as the court language!).

There were some language problems. For example, it was necessary to spell names, and the judges were not used to spelling in English. The words plaintiff and defendant were confused several times. Our colleague had the impression that they would have liked to express themselves in German.

The two German lawyers called for a Grundurteil. This is a decision as to whether the plaintiff’s claim has merit, literally a ‘basic judgment’, a kind of interim judgment. I haven’t got my library with me, but I gather Dietl-Lorenz does not contain a term (German judges often consult this dictionary and if it makes a suggestion they are usually happy with it). Nobody knew what the English for Grundurteil was, so they used the term Grundurteil in German – probably the best thing they could do. I would have consulted my English translation of the Zivilprozessordnung for this blog entry, and indeed this is a reference the courts might consider having at hand, but none of these dictionaries or translations are authorities in themselves: the user needs to have the background knowledge to decide which, if any, suggested terminology works.

The record of the proceedings was dictated in German by the presiding judge. The Grundurteil is to be pronounced on 31 May. The hearing was 90 minutes long. One of the associate judges (Beisitzer) spoke excellent English, apparently.

The judges had a tendency to start complex sentences which they could not finish.

Other language problems: the Federal Court of Justice (Bundesgerichtshof, BGH) was referred to as ‘he’.
Kritik was translated as critic, not criticism.
Gewinn was translated as gain, not profit.
Power of attorney had to be explained to the Belgian.

It does seem odd that – obviously – German law is always involved. It is difficult enough to talk about legal issues in a foreign language, but it is even harder to be constantly translating German law into a foreign language. And this is precisely what is not practised if you do an LL.M. in the USA or UK. It’s something you need to work on.

Pronouncing the English alphabet: I used to get students to write the letters in groups according to the vowel sound, like this (this presumes the British pronunciation of Z as zed – if it is pronounced zee, it goes in the second line instead:


Many thanks to Martina for this report. I’d love to attend one of these hearings!

British and US spelling rant/Britische und amerikanische Rechtschreibung

This rant developed out of my reply to a comment.

There are some spelling differences between BE and AE. This is not a secret, and I would think that every person educated enough to be using a bilingual law dictionary knows what they are or can check up somewhere else.

Nevertheless, I have seen a number of bilingual law dictionaries that give both spellings, even though space for legal content is limited. (I’m limiting this to DE>EN dictionaries, but the problem arises in the other direction too). For instance, in the latest Romain DE>EN, I find:

Entziehung einer Lizenz: revocation of a US license/GB licence

The old Romain just had revocation of a licence.

In Romain, the same abbreviations are used for spelling and law. Thus:

Gesellschaftssatzung f US (corporate) charter/GB memorandum and articles of association

The small dictionary by Karin Linhart uses AE and BE for spelling and US and Br for law.

zu Geld machen: to realize (AE), to realise (BE)

Nachlassverwalter bei gesetzlicher Erbfolge: ErbR administrator (US)

This is odd, because this is the UK term too (of course, one can’t always generalize for the whole of the UK or the US, but that is a separate question)

Even odder:

Tagebuch: diary (BE)

There may be some confusion with Kalender here.

Kalender: m calendar, diary; Terminkalender diary (BE), in den Kalender eintragen to diarize (AE), to diarise (BE), to calendar.

But as far as I am concerned the AE/BE spelling distinctions could be thrown out. Of course, this would leave situations where a purely US term, for instance ‘Your Honor’ (used in only one court in England and Wales – most common is ‘My Lord’) might be spelt in the US way and the rest in the British way, depending on the editor’s decision. This is illogical, but many things are illogical in dictionaries – complete consistency is not achievable because language and law are complex.

Similarly, the Langenscheidt Alpmann Fachwörterbuch Recht gives both spellings and uses AE and BE for both spelling and law:

Straftat f (CrLaw) criminal act; criminal offence (AE offense); crime

Erblasser m (BE) deceased; (AE) decedent; testator

The spelling differences are not given in Cornelson’s Wörterbuch Recht, only the law differences.

Dietl has:

Straftat criminal offence (offense); penal act (Verbrechen, Vergehen)

This at least doesn’t waste space telling us which spelling is which.

Lundmark’s Talking Law Dictionary has:

Lizenz: licence (-se)

This is also an improvement from the point of view of space.

Now two particular points that annoy me: ise/ize and judgment/judgement

The fact is that the –ize ending is quite common in BE, though not as common as –ise. I’ve mentioned this before, and here is some evidence.

I therefore wish dictionaries, and the EU English style guide, would not prescribe what is right and wrong here in BE. Above all, as said before, I think nearly all Germans believe that –ize is wrong in BE. Possibly it’s easier to remember: US is A, UK is B. If people think they can make such black-and-white distinctions between the USA and UK, they are much mistaken.

Pam Peters, in The Cambridge Guide to English Usage, prefers –ize (she’s Australian). She quotes OUP, which of course always uses –ize, and then says that contemporary British writers prefer –ise – but the gap is not very wide, see the British National Corpus:

realise 3898, realize 2234
recognise 3641, recognize 2104

There is an even greater preference for –ise in Australian spelling, possibly reinforced by the Australian government. And there are words that have to be written –ise anyway (advertise, advise, supervise, surprise and many more). But US dictionaries are allowing advertize, comprize and other forms, according to Peters.

Equally annoying is the belief of German bilingual law dictionaries that judgment is the AE spelling and judgement the BE spelling. In fact, judgement is commonly used in general BE texts, but UK lawyers tend to write judgment. I’ve been here before too

And even Garner makes the point (thanks, Tom!):

Judgment is the preferred form in AmE and seems to be preferred in British legal texts, even as far back as the 19th century. Judgement is prevalent in British nonlegal texts, and was thought by Fowler to be the better form. Glanville Williams states that, in BrE, ‘judgement should really be the preferred spelling.’

Legal entity/Legaleinheit

I wrote about legal entity earlier.

Now Professor Noack of Unternehmensrechtliche Notizen points out that the term Legaleinheit is creeping into German.

Google nennt immerhin ca. 1 600 Treffer, der Duden kennt das Wort noch nicht, ebensowenig die juristischen Lehrbücher. Mir ist der Begriff auch erst so richtig aufgefallen, als ich die Einladung zur außerordentlichen HV der Deutschen Telekom AG las: “Zur Steigerung der Wettbewerbsfähigkeit sollen T-HOME und T-MOBILE in Deutschland in einer Legaleinheit zusammengeführt werden.” Dann wird erläutert, dass Vermögen im Wege der Ausgliederung auf eine GmbH übertragen werden soll.

(There are c. 1,600 ghits; term is not in Duden or German law textbooks. In an invitation to an extrarodinary general meeting of Deutsche Telekom, it is used to refer to a GmbH after a merger).

It seems to me that they could often use Gesellschaft to refer to a new association of persons. Gesellschaft means either company (US corporation) or partnership. Legal entity works quite well for this in English, or it would if people didn’t so often use it to mean a company (legal person).

On the whole, the term seems to be used by people who don’t quite understand what they’re writing:

Die LWSG existiert weiter, allerdings mehr oder weniger nur noch auf dem Papier als so genannte “Legal-Einheit”, das heißt als juristische Firma, aber ohne eigene Geschäftsführung.

(This relates to Evonik, who seem keen on the term elsewhere too).

Definitions found on the Web:
rechtliche Person
rechtlich eigenständiges Unternehmen

Guido Westerwelle

It was widely reported and tweeted yesterday that Guido Westerwelle, the FDP (Liberal) party leader who will be Germany’s next foreign minister, refused to speak English when requested to do so (28th September).
Es ist Deutschland hier

The BBC correspondent asks Westerwelle to speak English, and Westerwelle says that as this is a German press conference in Germany, he can take questions in English but he will answer them in German.

This seems perfectly OK to me, but a lot of other Germans have been making fun of him for this. I admit he gets tactless after answering, when he says in German ‘We can meet outside the conference for tea and speak English, but it’s Germany here’. I hope his manners improve as foreign nminister.

Now Cem Özdemir of the Green Party has made a video Cem Özdemir asks BBC to stay with us promising German speakers of English will be back after the next elections in four years’ time.

I really can’t see that this video does the Greens any good either.

LATER NOTE: The Independent has an article by Philip Hensher, Flummoxed by foreign tongues, supporting Westerwelle too, and mentioning the decline of foreign language teaching and university courses in the UK:

Some people, even in Germany, have criticised Westerwelle for his insistence, and suggested that in fact he couldn’t answer in English. Actually, though his English is certainly not as horribly wonderful as many German politicians’, and he does seem to make some trivial mistakes, it is perfectly serviceable. More curiously, what did the BBC think it was doing, sending a reporter to a press conference in Germany on the German elections, knowing that he couldn’t or wouldn’t speak any German?

See also blog entry by Gabi (in German)

Official Dictionary of Unofficial English as free download

Grant Barrett’s Official Dictionary of Unofficial English is available as a free download (PDF).

Since my book The Official Dictionary of Unofficial English is now available on the bootleg e-book sites (“pirate” is the wrong term, I think), I’ve decided to make it available for download at no cost. This is not a big deal. The book never sold more than a few thousand copies, the copyright is mine (even though the publisher, McGraw-Hill, incorrectly printed the copyright as theirs), the book is being remaindered, and all the rights are now reverting to me.

But the main point here is that I’d like to draw people to my site for the free download, not to some shady place on the Internet.


A reference on a translators’ mailing list to Anglo-Saxon accounting conjured up visions of, at best, Fred Flintstone with an abacus. It reminded me of the blurb in Erlangen (in the early 1980s) saying I taught Anglo-Saxon law.

A Google for angelsächsisches does reveal sites relating to Old English, but also the term Angelsächsisches Modell, translated sometimes as ‘Anglo-Saxon’ model (i.e. in inverted commas), Continental or Anglo-Saxon, the British and American ‘Anglo-Saxon’ model, or the so-called Anglo-Saxon model, which shows that at least some journalists are aware it isn’t really English.

An Anglo-Saxon model in Ipswich Museum:

It was mooted that the term Anglo-Saxon was first used in French in the late 19th century, actually meaning Jewish (les financiers anglo-saxons). But that seems to be past.

Motorroad or Motorrad?

I gather that the open source mapping community is using the new English word motorroad to mean a highway with motorway-type access restrictions.

I just hope this will not confuse the Germans, who think it’s a two-wheeled motor vehicle:

Ummeldung Motorroad im selben Kreis! Neues Kennzeichen möglich?


man kann ja auch “langsam” fahren und muss net immer aufdrehen ..
also ich kenne mich , ich haize mit dem roller net so auf der straße weil ich respekt gegenüber der maschine habe …und bei dem motorroad wäre ich halt noch vorsichtiger !
ab und zu mal auf der autobahn stoff geben dagegen spricht ja mal nix …

(Hat tip to Trevor)