“Forthwith”—A Quaint Archaism

Methinks forthwith has as a fusty, moldy air about it. I wasn’t surprised to see it included, along with the likes of hither and mayhap, in this list of quaintly archaic words.

But lo and behold, forthwith was used in 502 contracts filed in the past month on the SEC’s EDGAR system, as compared with 1704 contracts using a more sensible word, promptly. Lawyers, quaintly archaic? Say it ain’t so!

But thank heavens for small mercies—no sign of hither and mayhap on EDGAR.

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.

6 thoughts on ““Forthwith”—A Quaint Archaism”

  1. Ken:

    Do you mind sharing your EDGAR search URL with us? You use EDGAR significantly to discuss the usage of various terms and I’ve not been able to replicate your results.

    Additionally, I’d like to learn a little more about why you choose EDGAR as the standard by which you measure phrase usage. It seems to me that while it’s an available repository, it’s quite skewed to very specific types of documents (public companies don’t file all of their contracts with the SEC).

  2. As a junior lawyer, I once tried to use “immediately” rather than “forthwith” when drafting an agreement, for just the reason you mention. This provoked, from the partner who was reviewing my draft, a deep discussion of whether immediately might be misunderstood as meaning “next to” or physically proximate rather than immediate in time, and whether immediate was as short a time frame as forthwith. He also pointed out that the courts were familiar with the duration of forthwith in the context of court orders. His conclusion was that he preferred forthwith.

    I was so traumatised by this discussion (about 18 years ago) that I haven’t had the courage to go back to immediately or think up some other word. Perhaps after reading this blog I will feel able to put this experience behind me… :)

  3. So, if you want someone to do something really, really, really fast, right away, and your contract is governed by New York law, can you say “in a New York minute”?

    Note: the first time I ever heard that expression, I assumed it meant at a *leisurely* pace, since nobody in New York is on time for anything–which is why plays that start at 8:00 don’t really start until ten past.

  4. Jeff: Sorry to be late responding to your comment, which I only now retrieved from the spam pile.

    In this case, the search terms I used were the words at issue—no surprise there. I mostly search the exhibit 10 (Material Contracts) filings, although for M&A purposes I’ll usually search exhibit 2 (Acquisition and Reorganization Plans).

    As to why I use EDGAR, if you have suggestions for an alternative corpus I might use, I’m all ears.


  5. A note on the list of archaic terms to which your post links . I suspect that your readers who practice admiralty law may disagree that such listed words such as abaft, alee, and athwart have faded from use. These words may be old, but they still have vitality when properly used.


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