Tag Archives: Bryan Garner

Rockstar English teachers

english111Two vie to be top writing consultants to lawyers. They are Bryan Garner, the style-and-usage manualist and legal lexicographer; and Gary Kinder, the creator of editing software that makes your writing clear and concise. English teachers run wild. Law firms pay them lots to teach lawyers to write right.

Both publish blogs about writing – mostly about usage. Garner’s is LawProse.  Kinder’s is WordRake – Write to the Point.

Both are very good. Rock-star English teachers is what they are though. Grammarians who work very hard not to be boring.

“Who” or “whom”? They tell which. (Don’t get them started on “which.”)

Garner hooked me recently, boring down on “whoever” and “whomever”. The rule is what you’d expect.

What caught me was the possessive of whoever. There are three possibilities: “whosever”, “whoever’s,” “whomever’s”.  Bryan wrote it up, so go read him.  In short, “whosever” is formally correct, but “whoever’s” is winning the battle colloquially. Many dictionaries don’t even include “whosever.” “Whomever’s” is always wrong.

The possessive of whoever.

Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.

Bryan Garner, the legal writing oracle, has now expanded his sway, publishing the HBR Guide to Better Business Writing.

In an interview, he says that most of us believe that we are good writers. This arises, he says, from a psychological phenomenon known as the Dunning-Kruger effect , which, boiled down, says that people who are incompetent in a particular domain tend to overrate their abilities because they don’t really know what is good, while people who are good tend to underrate their abilities because they have higher standards.

Dunning-Kruger Effect

Dunning-Kruger Effect

So, bad writers think their stuff is good. Good writers think their stuff is bad.

For legal writing, the bad writers are wrong and the good writers are right. Multiple drafts and different perspectives are always needed.

What is truly amazing is how good a draft may seem in the moment it is written and how bad it can look after it sits for a few days.

Hauntingly, Dunning and Kruger quote Charles Darwin: “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”

 (There are exceptions. I’m thinking about posting this right now. It just feels ready.)