Lawyers Against Redundancy Unite

Legalese embraces redundancy. Legalese embraces redundancy. Legalese … sorry, just getting in the spirit. In a convoluted dispute regarding a real estate conveyance, Judge Mark P. Painter, Ohio Court of Appeals, First District, offered his common sense take on the phrase “free and clear title” and other legal redundancies:

Free and clear mean the same thing. Using both is an unnecessary lawyerism. Free is English; clear is from the French clere. After the Norman Conquest, English courts were held in French. The Normans were originally Vikings, but after they conquered the region of Normandy, they became French; then they took over England. But most people in England, surprisingly enough, still spoke English. So lawyers started using two words for one and forgot to stop for the last nine hundred years.

So free and clear do not mean separate things; they mean, and were always meant to mean, exactly the same thing. Just as null and void and due and payable mean the same thing. All of these couplets are redundant and irritating lawyerisms. And they invite just what has happened here—an assertion that they somehow have different meanings.

The Norman Conquest was in 1066. We can safely eliminate the couplets now.

What’s your favorite legal redundancy?

Kohlbrand v. Ranieri, 823 N.E.2d 76, 78 (Ohio Ct. App. 2005).

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Andrew Jay McClurg is a law professor whose teaching and research interests include tort law, products liability, legal education, privacy law and firearms policy. He holds the Herbert Herff Chair of Excellence in Law at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
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