Blawgletter's old friend Bryan Garner has taken to writing for the ABA Journal. We love his monthly column, "Bryan Garner on Words".
If you've ever sampled Bryan's oeuvre — which ranges from Making Your Case (with Justice Antonin Scalia) and Black's Law Dictionary to Rules of Golf in Plain English – you may have deduced that Bryan has not only a vast supply of words but also quite a lot of the showman.
The B.G.O.W. column in the September 2013 Journal highlights what we mean. Bryan there goes to town on "useful words that lawyers ought to know." What does he have in mind by "useful"?
Thus Bryan tells us:
If I were to hazard a fairly educated guess, I’d say that American lawyers’ vocabularies range roughly from 45,000 to 135,000 words. Further, I’d guess that those who know 100,000 to 135,000 words have, on average, at least double the income of those who know only 45,000 to 70,000 words. I would also guess that there are many more lawyers at the lower end of the scale than at the higher end.
Perhaps you’re aware of E.D. Hirsch’s influential new essay, “A Wealth of Words,” in which Hirsch makes several important arguments, including these three:
• “Vocabulary size is a convenient proxy for a whole range of educational attainments and abilities—not just skill in reading, writing, listening and speaking but also general knowledge of science, history and the arts.”
• “Correlations between vocabulary size and life chances are as firm as any correlations in educational research.”
• “Between 1962 and the present, a big segment of the American population began knowing fewer words, getting less smart and becoming demonstrably less able to earn a high income.”013 BGOW as a for-instance. Bryan there goes to town on "useful words that lawyers ought to know." But we soon learn that "useful" means "worth money".
We agree that knowing precise and pleasing but rare words implies that you have smarts, and using deipnosophist, rhabdomancy, defenestrate, or even ulotrichous or calipygian at just the right moment can do you a lot of good with brainy judges or Ph.D. clients.
But nothing works nearly so well, in all phases of law practice, as having a knack for making complex things simple. Leonardo da Vinci said "simplicity is the ultimate sophistication."
By all means, get yourself a fab vocab. But use it to make the hard easy.