“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.