Ernest Hemingway and Legal Writing

Ernest Hemingway, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of several classic works, was born on this day in 1899. He is remembered for many things, including his love of Key West, Florida and the polydactyl cats that now bear his name (as well as the legal battle involving their residence at his estate.) He is, of course, also celebrated for his writing, especially the minimalist approach to syntax and phrasing that characterize his greatest works.

Much has been written about the merits of Hemingway's style, particularly his clear and economical use of language. His signature approach has been touted by many legal writers, including Justice Anthony Kennedy, who, much like Papa Hemingway himself, has banished -ly adverbs from his legal prose. The Wall Street Journal addressed the topic of adverbs and legal writing a few years ago, describing the -ly adverb in this way:

"No part of speech has had to put up with so much adversity as the adverb. The grammatical equivalent of cheap cologne or trans fat, the adverb is supposed to be used sparingly, if at all, to modify verbs, adjectives or other adverbs. As Stephen King succinctly put it: 'The adverb is not your friend.'"

The ever-sensible Bryan Garner, editor of Black's Law Dictionary and the undisputed dean of legal writing, takes a more sensible approach, praising Hemingway's avoidance of unnecessary modifiers, while also acknowledging his skill in using adverbs effectively. If you'd like to tailor your legal writing to more closely match Hemingway's style, the Hemingway Editor can help. Happy Hemingway Day!