BUSINESS LETTERS THROUGHT LEXICS

From the lexicological point of view isolated  words  and phrases mean  very little.  In context they mean a great deal, and in the special context of  contractual  undertakings  they mean everything.  Contract  English  is  a prose organised according to plan.

And it  includes,  without limitation,  the right but not the obligation to select words from a wide variety  of  verbal implements and write clearly, accurately, and/or with style.

Two phases of writing contracts exist:  in the  first, we react to  proposed contracts drafted by somebody else,  and in the second,  which presents greater challenge,  we compose  our own.

A good contract reads like a classic story.  It narrates, in orderly sequence,  that one part should do this and another should do that,  and perhaps  if  certain  events  occur,  the outcome will be changed. All of the rate cards charts, and other reference material ought to be ticked off one  after another according to the sense of it. Tables and figures, code words and mystical references are  almost  insulting  unless  organised and   defined.  Without  organisation  they  baffle, without definition they entrap.

In strong stance one can send back the offending document and request a substitute document in  comprehensible  English. Otherwise a series of questions may be put by letter,  and the replies often will have contractual force if the  document  is later contested.

A sampling of contract phrases

My observations about English so far have been general in nature. Now it appears  logical  to  examine  the  examples  of favourite contract  phrases,  which  will help ease the way to fuller examination of entire negotiations and contracts. a full glossary is beyond reach but in what follows there is a listing of words and phrases that turn up in  great  many  documents, with comments on each one. The words and phrases are presented in plausible contract sequence, not alphabetically.

"Whereas" Everyman's idea of how a contract begins.  Some lawyers dislike "Whereas" and use recitation clauses so marked to distinguish them from the text in the  contract.  There  the real issue lies;  one must be careful about mixing up recitals of history with what is actually being agreed on. For example,  it would be folly to write: "Whereas A admits owing B $10,000..." because the  admission  may  later  haunt  one,  especially if drafts are never signed and the debt be disputed.  Rather less damaging would be:

"Whereas the  parties have engaged   in   a   series   of  transactions   resulting  in   dispute  over  accounting  between them..."

On the whole "Whereas" is acceptable, but what follows it needs particular care.

"It is understood and agreed" On the one hand, it usually adds nothing, because every clause in the contract is "understood and agreed" or it would not be written into it.  On the  other  hand, what it adds is an implication that other clauses are not backed up by this phrase: by including the one you exclude the other. “It is understood and agreed” ought to be banished.

"Hereinafter" A  decent  enough little word doing the job of six ("Referred to later in this  document").  "Hereinafter" frequently sets  up abbreviated names for the contract parties.

For example:

"Knightsbridge International  Drapes and Fishmonger,  Ltd  (hereinafter "Knightsbridge").

"Including Without Limitation" It is useful and at  times essential phrase.  Earlier  I've noted that mentioning certain things may exclude others by implication. Thus,

"You may  assign  your exclusive British and Commonwealth rights"

suggests that you may not assign other rights assuming you have any. Such pitfalls may be avoided by phrasing such as:

"You may  assign  any  and  all  your  rights  including without limitation your exclusive  British   and Commonwealth rights".

But why specify any rights if all of them  are  included? Psychology is  the  main  reason;  people want specific things underscored in   the   contracts,   and   "Including   Without Limitation" indulges this prediction.

"Assignees and  Licensees"  These  are  important  words which acceptability depends on one's point of view

"Knightsbridge, its assignees and licensees..."

suggests that Knightsbridge may hand you over to somebody else after contracts are signed.  If you yourself happen to be Knightsbridge, you  will want that particular right and should use the phrase.

"Without Prejudice" It is a classic. The British use this phrase all by itself,  leaving the reader intrigued.  "Without Prejudice" to  what  exactly?  Americans  spell  it  out  more elaborately, but  if  you  stick  to  American  way,  remember "Including Without Limitation",  or you may  accidentally exclude something by implication.  Legal rights,  for example, are not the same thing as remedies the law  offers  to  enforce  them. Thus the American might write:

"Without prejudice to any of my existing or future rights or remedies..."

And this leads to another phrase.

"And/or" It  is an essential barbarism.  In the preceding example I've used the disjunctive "rights or  remedies".  This is not always good enough, and one may run into trouble with

"Knightsbridge or Tefal or either of them shall..."

What about both together?  "Knightsbridge and Tefal", perhaps, followed by "or either".  Occasionally the alternatives become  overwhelming, thus   and/or   is   convenient   and  generally  accepted, although more detail is better.

"Shall" If one says  "Knightsbridge  and/or  Tefal  shall have..." or   "will   have...",  legally  it  should  make  no difference in the case you are consent in using  one  or  the other. "Shall",  however,  is stronger than "will". Going from one to another might suggest that one obligation  is  stronger somehow than  another.  Perhaps,  one's position may determine the choice. "You shall", however is bad form.

"Understanding" It is  a  dangerous  word.  If  you  mean agreement you  ought  to  say  so.  If  you  view  of  affairs that there is no agreement,  "understanding" as a noun suggests the opposite or comes close to it.  .it stands,  in fact, as a monument to unsatisfactory compromise.  The  softness of  the word conjures  up  pleasing  images.  "In  accordance with our understanding..." can be interpreted in a number of ways.

"Effect" Here  is  a   little   word   which   uses   are insufficiently praised.    Such   a   phrase   as   "We   will produce..."  is inaccurate,   because   the  work   will    be subcontracted and   the  promise-maker  technically  defaults. Somebody else does the producing. Why not say "We will produce or cause to be produced..."?  This is in fact often said,  but it jars the ear.  Accordingly "We  will  effect  production..." highlights the point with greater skill.

"Idea" This word is bad for your own  side  but  helpful against others.  Ideas as such are not generally protected  by law. If you  submit  something  to  a  company with any hope of reward you must find better phrasing than "my idea".  Perhaps, "my format"  or  possibly  "my  property" is more appropriate. Naturally, if you  can  develop  an  idea  into  a  format  or protectable property,  the  more  ambitious  phrasing  will be better justified.

"As between us" It is useful,  because people are  always forgetting or   neglecting   to  mention  that  a  great  many interests may  be  involved  in  what  appears  to  be  simple dialogue. "I reserve control over..." and "You have the final power of decision over..." sound like  division  of  something into spheres,  but  frequently  "I" am in turn controlled by my investors and "You" - by a foreign parent company,  making the language of division inaccurate. Neither of us really controls anything, at least ultimately.

Thus  it  will  be  useful  to say, "As between us, I control..." and so on.

"Spanning" Time  periods  are  awkward  things: "...for  a period commencing August,1 and  expiring  November,15..."  is clumsy; "...from  August,1 to November,15..." is skeletal when informing how long a contract obligation endures.

But  during  particular time  periods  one  may be reporting for work,  for example, three days out of every five, or doing something else that is within but not completely parallel to the entire time period involved.

A happy solution is the word "Spanning". It goes this way:

"Throughout the period spanning August,1 - November,15 inclusive you will render services  as  a   consultant three days out of every five."

It will  be  useful to put "inclusive" at the end for without it you may lose the date, concluding the period being spanned.

"Negotiate in Good Faith"  The  negotiators  have  worked until late at night,  all points but one have been worked out, the contract will never be signed without resolution  of  some particular impasse.  What is there to do?

Agree to "Negotiate in Good Faith" on the disputed point at  later  time. This  is done frequently,  but  make no mistake about the outcome. The open point remains open. If it happens to be  vital  you  may have no  contract at all.  "Negotiate in Good Faith" is one of those evasions that must be used sparingly. At the right time it prevents collapse, at the wrong time it promotes it.

"Confirm" It suggests, of course, that something has been agreed upon before. You are writing now only to make a record of it. "I write to confirm that you admit  substantial  default  in delivery" Frequently we encounter it in ordinary correspondence: "Confirming your order", "Confirming the main points of our agreement", and so on.

"Furnish" It is a handy word which  usefulness  lies  in the avoidance  of worse alternatives. Suppose you transact to deliver a variety of elements as  a package.

"Deliver"  leaves out, even  though  it  may  well  be implied,  the preliminary purchase or engagement of these elements, and at the other end it goes  very far in suggesting responsibility for getting the package unscathed to where it belongs.

Alternatives also  may go wrong,  slightly,  each with its own implications.

"Assign" involves legal title;  "give" is  lame  and  probably  untrue; "transmit" means  send.

Thus  each word misses some important - detail or implies unnecessary things.

"Furnish"  is  sometimes useful when more popular words fall short or go too far. It has a good professional ring to it as well:

"I agree to furnish all of the elements listed on Exhibit A annexed hereto and made part hereof by incorporation."

Who is  responsible for non-delivery and related questions can be  dealt  with  in  separate  clauses.

"Furnish"  avoids jumping the  gun.  It keeps away from what ought to be treated independently but fills up enough space  to  stand  firm.

The word is good value.

"Right but Not  Obligation"  One  of  the  most  splendid phrases available. Sometimes the  grant  of  particular rights carries with it by implication a duty to exploit them. Authors, for example,  often feel betrayed by their publishes, who have various rights "but do nothing about them." Royalties decrease as a result; and this situation, whether or not it reflects real criminality,  is repeated in variety  of  industries  and court cases. Accordingly it well suits the grantee of  rights to make  clear at the very beginning that he may abandon them. This possibility is more appropriately dealt with in  separate clauses reciting the consequences. Still, contracts have been known to  contain  inconsistent  provisions,  and  preliminary correspondence may  not  even  reach the subject of rights. A quick phrase helps keep you out of trouble: "The Right but  Not Obligation". Thus,

"We shall have the Right  but  Not  Obligation  to  grant sublicenses in Austria"("But if we fail, we fail").

Even this magic phrase has its limitations  because  good faith may require having a real go to exploiting the rights in question. Nevertheless "Right but Not Obligation" is useful, so much so   as  to  become  incantation  and  be  said  whenever circumstances allow it. I the other side challenges these words, it will   be  better  to  know  this  at  once  and  work  out alternatives or finish up the negotiations completely.

"Exclusive" It’s importance in contract English is  vast,  and its omission   creates  difficulties  in  good  many  informal drafts. Exclusivity as a contract term means that somebody  is -barred from dealing with others in a specified area. Typically an employment may be exclusive in that the employee  may  not work for  any  one else,  or a license may be exclusive in the sense that no competing licenses  will  be  issued.

Antitrust problems cluster  around  exclusive  arrangements but they are not all automatically outlawed.

It follows that one ought to specify whether or    not   exclusivity   is   part   of   many transactions. If not,  the  phrase  "nonexclusive"  does  well enough. On  the  other hand,  if a consultant is to be engaged solely by one company,  or a distributorship awarded to nobody else except  X,  then  "exclusive"  is  a  word  that deserves recitation. "Exclusive Right but Not Obligation" is an example that combines  two  phrases  discussed  here.

The  linking of concepts is a  step  in  building  a  vocabulary  of  contract English.

"Solely on  condition that" One of the few phrases that can be considered better than its short counterparts. Why not just   "if"? Because  "if"  by  itself  leaves  open  the possibility of open contingencies:

"If Baker delivers 1,000 barrels I will buy them" is unclear if you will buy them  only  from  Baker.  Therefore what about "only if"? Sometimes this works out, but not always.

"I will buy 1,000 barrels only if Baker delivers them" is an example  of "only if" going fuzzy.  One possible meaning is "not more than 1,000 barrels" with "only" assimilated with the wrong word. Here then a more elaborate phrase is justified.

"I will buy 1,000 barrels solely on condition that  Baker delivers them" makes everything clear.

"Subject to"  Few  contracts  can do without this phrase. Many promises can be made good only if certain  things  occur. The right   procedure   is   to   spell  out  these  plausible impediments to the degree  that  you  can  reasonably  foresee them.

"We will deliver these subject to our receiving  adequate supplies";

"Our agreement is subject to the laws of Connecticut";

"Subject to circumstances beyond our control ".

Foreign esoteric words

Every now  and then a scholarly phrase becomes accepted in business usage.  "Pro  rate"  and  "pari  passu"   are   Latin expressions but concern money.  "Pro rata" proves helpful when payments are to be in a proportion reflecting earlier  formulas in a  contract.  "Pari  passu" is used when several people are paid at the same level or time out of a  common  fund.  Latin, however, is not the only source of foreign phrases in business letters.

"Force majeure"  is a French phrase meaning circumstances beyond one's control.

English itself  has plenty of rare words.  One example is "eschew"; how  many  times  we  see  people  struggling   with negatives such  as "and  we  agree not to produce (whatever it is) for a period of X". The more appropriate phrase would be

"we will eschew production".

But here it should be mentioned  that  not  everyone  can understand such  phrases.  Therefore rare words should be used only once in a long  while.  Those  who  uses  them  sparingly appears to be reliable.

Some words against passive

Until now the  study  of  writing  business  letters  has consisted largely  of  contract  phrases  accompanied by brief essays evaluating  their  usefulness.  The   words   are   only samplings and are presented mainly to conduce writing business letters in a proper way.  It will be wrong,  however, to bring this list  to an end without mention of a more general problem that arises in connection with no fixed word pattern at all. It arises, rather from using too many passives. Such phrases as "The material will be delivered";

"The start date is to be decided";

"The figures must be approved" are obscure ones leaving unsettled who it is that delivers, who decides,  and who does the approving.  Which side it is to be? Lawsuits  are  the  plausible  outcome  of  leaving it all unsettled. Passives used in contracts can  destroy  the  whole negotiations. "You  will  deliver"  is better for it identifies the one who will do delivering.  Certainly,  "must be approved by us" violates other canons.  "We shall have the right but not the obligation to approve" is less unfortunate.  There  is  no doubt that passives do not suit business letters,  and if they go all the way through without adding something like "by  you" or "by us" they are intolerable.  Once in a long while one may find passives used purposely to leave something  unresolved.  In those circumstances  they  will be in class with "negotiate in good faith", which I've examined earlier.

Bibliography

1.WINCOR, RICHARD Contracts in plain English

2.БАСС Э.М. Научная и деловая корреспонденция