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Using Foreign Words in Legal Writing Is Not Necessarily Your Pièce De Résistance

Posted By Kathy Sieckman, PP, PLS-SC, ACP, Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Grammar Nuggets: LanguageA good friend asked if I would write on the use of foreign words/languages in English writing, particularly whether we should include the foreign characters, accent marks, etc. in our legal writings.

 

The basic answer is sometimes.

 

If a foreign word has become a part of the English language, like résumé, it does not need to be italicized. NOTE: I am using italics here just to emphasize the words I am talking about. Some words and phrases will retain the diacritical marks, such as the accent marks in résumé, vis-á-vis, and the circumflex in paper-mâche, but the words are not italicized.

 

According to The Bluebook A Uniform System of Citation, foreign words and phrases that are used often in legal writing and are familiar to the legal community are not italicized, but foreign words and phrases that are very long, obsolete, or uncommon Latin, should be italicized. For instance, do italicize:

  • Ignorantia legis neminem excusat ("ignorance of the law does not excuse")

But not:

  • quid pro quo

Note, however, that id. is always italicized (including the period), but e.g. is only italicized when it is used as a signal as in See, e.g., Smith v. Brown. In re and ex rel. and other such procedural phrases are always italicized.

 

Avoid using Latin or other foreign words and phrases where it is not necessary and where an English word or phrase will work just as well and that will avoid the issue altogether; but when you do use them, if it is well known to the legal community or well-integrated into the English language, retain its diacritical marks, but do not italicize.

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