Give a Clue (A Linguistic Whodunit)

vol. 96, no. 6 Mich. B.J. 60 (June 2017)

3 Pages Posted: 4 Aug 2017  

Mark Cooney

Western Michigan University Cooley Law School

Date Written: June 30, 2017

Abstract

This column cites and quotes a number of cases in which ambiguity caused by passive-voice phrasing determined the outcome or hindered a court's interpretation of a statute or pleading. The column presents this material within the context of a mock British murder mystery, complete with thinly veiled references to characters from the popular board game Clue. It's a short humor piece with a serious message to lawyers: passive voice is a substantive issue in the law, not merely a matter of style.

Keywords: passive voice, active voice, usage, ambiguity, syntax, writing, legal writing, grammar, plain language, plain English, clarity, vagueness, drafting, statutory construction, statutory interpretation

Suggested Citation

Cooney, Mark, Give a Clue (A Linguistic Whodunit) (June 30, 2017). vol. 96, no. 6 Mich. B.J. 60 (June 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3012696

Mark Cooney (Contact Author)

Western Michigan University Cooley Law School ( email )

2630 Featherstone Road
Auburn Hills, MI 48326
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.cooley.edu/faculty/cooney.html

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