Garner Highlights Wallace’s Musings on Legal Writing

quackthiswayLegendary Texas lexicographer Bryan A. Garner has posted an article on the ABA Journal’s website excerpting his long-form interview book Quack This Way: David Foster Wallace & Bryan A. Garner Talk Language and Writing.  The excerpts in the article relate to portions of the book that Garner deems relevant to legal writing.

Wallace shares his insights on intelligence-based professions filled with good readers but poor writers, the origins of complicated writing filled with professional jargon, and on crafting solid argumentative prose. Conducted in 2006, the interview features two professionals clearly at the top of their fields in understanding words and how to use them. Yet we can also observe a conversation that goes deeper, seeking insight into the human element that drives usage and style in writing.

Says Wallace on writing for professional peers: “[I]n many tight, insular communities—where membership is partly based on intelligence, proficiency and being able to speak the language of the discipline—pieces of writing become as much or more about presenting one’s own qualifications for inclusion in the group than transmission of meaning. And that’s how in disciplines like academia—or, I’ve read some really good legal prose, but when it’s really, really horrible (IRS Code stuff)—I think that very often it stems from insecurity and that people feel that unless they can mimic the particular jargon and style of their peers, they won’t be taken seriously and their ideas won’t be taken seriously.”

Royalties from the book, released in October of 2013, will go to support the David Foster Wallace literary archives, housed in the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas—Austin.