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March 23, 2011


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Interesting thesis, but the elevated diction and unnecessary jargon("theorization" "legal argumentation" "constitutive ethical propositions ") only serve to obscure the arguments. The author would be better off writing clearly rather than trying to "sound smart" through the use of bloated prose. Everyone can tell from his resume that he's brilliant -- no need to adopt an impenetrable writing style to prove it.

Anon in SF

Amen, juniorprof! Amen.

It's a shame that your criticism applies to so much legal scholarship.


The bizarre thing is that Mr. Greene worked at Sports Illustrated before going to law school, so he probably not only knows how to write in plain English, but is probably pretty damn good at it. It's a shame that his scholarship (judging from SSRN abstracts) uses so much jargon and convoluted language. I'd love to read this article if I didn't have to wonder what is meant by a "rhetorical resource" or an "ethos-based argument."

But it's not fair to slam just one author, since, as you point out, my criticism applies to much legal scholarship. Additionally, given Greene's excellent placement record, a junior prof like me should probably try to emulate Greene's style rather than criticize it. It's just too bad that the legal academy drives many (perhaps through a shared sense of insecurity) to write in such a poor style.

Patrick S. O'Donnell

There's jargon and there's jargon, as we say, and the unwanted variety frequently involves terminology largely exclusive to a group or school of thought within a particular field or discipline prone to laudatory or uncritical communication amongst its members and disinclined to writing for a wider circle of readers or, when doing so, refusing to clearly define, explain or elaborate on the meaning of (sub)disciplinary or technical terms. Terms like "theorization," "legal argumentation," and "constitutive ethical propositions" are hardly arcane or obscurantist, if anything, they may be used so routinely as to occasionally be uninformative or vague but I doubt very much that they represent jargon in a pejorative sense. As a non-law person, I found the paper very easy to read, in fact, the prose was uncommonly accessible as such things go. If this is what counts for "elevated diction," I'm all for it.


I'm with Patrick on this one. I don't have a background in formal philosophy or any cognate field (just a plain old JD), and I thought this abstract was a clear and engaging summary of a truly novel and interesting idea. I actually share juniorprof's reaction that much legal scholarship is poorly written and/or boring, but I think this work is a blessed exception to, not an illustration, of this general proposition.


Perhaps the problem with the legal academy is that many think that bad prose is good prose.

Surely there is a more plain-English way of saying something like: "[T]heir status is reaffirmed as subsequent interpretive communities avail themselves of the rhetorical resource the anticanon represents."

Perhaps this type of language is commonplace among the type of scholars who pursue this work, in which case it'd be ok to the extent that law professors should write only for other law professors. And, to be fair, the article seems to be geared towards law professors and not the real world (e.g. " I argue that it is vital for law professors. . . )

To move away from discussion of Mr. Greene, I think it's generally possible to write about constitutional law without jargon, though (Chemerinsky's work immediately comes to mind). And I wonder why so many judicial opinions are hard to read, when Judge Easterbrook can write about even highly technical topics in a straightforward manner.

I do think there is a major divide between scholars who specifically adopt a conversational tone and those who don't.

Patrick S. O'Donnell

Disciplinary fields of intellectual inquiry, legal or otherwise, develop specialized vocabularies or "jargon," and thus it is not possible for such fields to avoid jargon. The substitution of "plain-English" in the above example may result in a "dumbing-down" of what is being said (i.e., in what the author intends to say), in an undue narrowing of the semantic depth and/or breadth of what the author meant, the substituted or "simpler" words carrying distinctly different connotations and implications. Thus "plain-English" is not everywhere and always better or the most appropriate form of English: Chemerinsky's treatise on constitutional law does NOT read like his editorials for the Los Angeles Times, and for good reason. An everyday "conversational idiom" is not always appropriate for technical or complex concepts, any more than Twitter is everywhere and always emblematic of an ideal form and forum of communication.

Incidentally, the world of law professors is very much part of the "real world," albeit often a small part and sometimes a complex and rarefied part, especially for those insufficiently socialized into this academic domain (i.e., one's particular vantage point largely determinative in how one might characterize this part of the real world).

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