“24/7” and the Limits of Jargon [Updated: It’s Actually Informal!]

[Updated 10:30 p.m. ET, 9 May 2022:

Thanks to Josh’s comment, I now have a different take on 24/7. It’s not limited to contracts—one hears 24/7 in all sorts of contexts. So I don’t think it’s jargon. Instead, it’s informal. I suspect that it’s more common in speech than in writing; that’s often the case with informal usages. But it’s not restricted to a particular context or group of people, so it isn’t slang.

Otherwise, my analysis is unchanged. Can you think of any other informal usages that appear in contracts?]

Last month I did this:

It prompted a lot of responses, so I thought I’d take a closer look.

I used to think that jargon is bad, but I’ve come round to thinking of jargon as a neutral term—that jargon is, to quote Bryan Garner, “the special, usually technical idiom of any social, occupational, or professional group.” But whether jargon is suitable depends on the context and the reader.

24/7 is used in contracts. Here’s an example from a lease:

And here’s an example from an asset purchase agreement:

But I suggest that 24/7 doesn’t make the cut, for two reasons. First, it’s too clipped, too abbreviated, too casual—it speaks to a subset of potential readers, those in the know. And second, the logic is sloppy. Twenty-four hours a day? OK. Seven days a week too? You mean that 24 hours a day leaves open the question of which days? In that case, doesn’t expressing days by reference to weeks raise the issue of how many weeks? And what about months? And years? This logic has given rise to the variant 24/7/365.

And what works best depends on the context. In the first example, I’d be inclined to go with 24 hours a day, every day of the year. In the second example, how about round-the-clock? And for an electronic service, such as computer access or closed-circuit TV, nonstop?

We can differ on our choices—my main point is that it’s best to dispense with 24/7.

For the same reason, I recommend we dispense with net [number of days], as in Payment terms are net 30—it too speaks to a subset of potential readers. And regarding that example, it’s imprecise: 30 days from when? Instead, say Acme shall pay all invoices no later than 30 days after it receives an invoice, or whatever other arrangement you prefer.

But don’t legal terms of art speak to a subset of potential readers, namely those with a clue what a given term of art means? Yes, but that’s why we should limit our use of terms of art to those that express concepts that it would be unrealistic to express in some other manner. For example, I’m not inclined to try to express the concept of a security interest without using the phrase security interest. On the other hand, we could do without indemnify; see this January 2022 blog post.

About the author

Ken Adams is the leading authority on how to say clearly whatever you want to say in a contract. He’s author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, and he offers online and in-person training around the world. He’s also chief content officer of LegalSifter, Inc., a company that combines artificial intelligence and expertise to assist with review of contracts.

10 thoughts on ““24/7” and the Limits of Jargon [Updated: It’s Actually Informal!]”

  1. Some of the assessments about what is/isn’t “jargon” here seem arbitrary?

    How is 24/7 jargon if round-the-clock isn’t? I’d characterize them both as idiomatic, but not necessarily jargon.

    Using the definition of “the special, usually technical idiom of any social, occupational, or professional group” I’m not sure that 24/7 is particularly specific to any group? It’s certainly not limited to legal or even technical/business writing.

    I’m all for getting rid of legal jargon (I’d even do without security interest, or at least provide a definition if I was going to use it), but not sure efficient constructions like 24/7 are good targets.

    (As for the “net X” invoicing language, I usually leave it in as a concession to the accounting folks who are trained to look for it, but I provide a definition: “2%/10 net 60” means 100% of the invoiced amount is due 60 days after receipt of the invoice except that the amount due (before taxes) will be automatically reduced by 2% (to 98% of the invoiced amount before taxes) if payment is received within 10 days.)

    Edited: On further reading, I think the second example above (re Verizon) would probably be best served by deleting 24/7 entirely, since emergency is doing the heavy lifting in any event. The intention appears to be that Verizon will provide contact information that can be used both during regular hours, and also in an emergency (presumably, outside of regular business hours). Maybe even: Contact information for Verizon, including after-hours contact information for use during an emergency that arises outside of Verizon’s regular business hours…

    • I take your point that 24/7 is in general usage. How about calling it slang rather than jargon? Whatever we call it, I still think it’s too casual and clipped.

      In any event, thank you for making me think further about this! That kind of input is one of the big benefits of blogging.

      And wow, that turbocharged net 60 thing sure is jargon …

    • Following on to what Josh said, you can probably get rid of “24/7” in the first example, although not without restructuring. Here’s what I’m thinking:

      Subject to the Rules and Regulations and the rights of other tenants in the Project, Tenant may use the freight elevator to move freight or other items that cannot otherwise be moved in a passenger elevator. Landlord shall, at no additional cost to Tenant and on one or more occasions, issue a single use freight elevator access pass to Tenant’s designee promptly after Tenant notifies Landlord that Tenant intends to use the freight elevator.

      IMO, no need for 24/7 because the revision places an unrestricted obligation on Landlord to provide Tenant with a pass to the freight elevator. Perhaps more importantly, there are better was to structure the relations between the parties that avoid the need for 24/7. Landlord could, for example, give Tenant a permanent freight elevator pass with a right to unilaterally revoke the pass if Tenant misuses it. As an added bonus, neither party will have problems during non-business hours.

      But now this–is it possible to avoid using a 24/7/365 equivalent if you’re contracting with a call center?

    • Agree. I would say “at any hour of any day” or “at every hour of every day”, depending on context.

        • English has some gaps, but ‘at all times’ isn’t one of them.

          Speaking of gaps in English, Indian English uses ‘prepone’, which means ‘reschedule to an earlier date, time, or both’. It’s easily understood as the opposite of ‘postpone’, but it hasn’t caught on in the UK or in the US as far as I know.

          As a lad, moving meetings and such ‘up’ and ‘back’ confused me. One uses ‘up and down’ imagery, the other ‘back and forth’ imagery. The asymmetry is, to use one of Dr. Adams’s favorite words, ‘unhelpful’.

          A gap in American English is revealed by the very helpful British use of ‘agree’ as a transitive verb: ‘The parties agreed the contract’. What a dance Americans do to express that simple idea.

          Sometimes other languages reveal gaps in English. German ‘mieten’ and ‘vermieten’ concisely distinguish what tenants do from what landlords do. English uses ‘rent’ or ‘lease’ and lets the context sort it out.

          Things like this are worth looking into 24/7.

  2. Ken:

    On the net-30 item, I’ve always wondered if the word “net” isn’t hiding a lot of interesting stuff. Like if you are selling goods and shipping them, there’s usually a process for credits for damages goods. I think that might be part of what “net” means in that context — net of credits for damages deliveries. But it could be net of other things. What if there is a dispute over something that is not a current-month event. Can the customer hold back money on account of that dispute on the basis of the word “net”? It seems better to avoid all of this and — as you suggest — be explicit about what gets paid and when.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.