“In Other Words”

The other day I encountered in other words in a contract. An Edgar search indicates that it occurs often enough to be worth mentioning. In effect, in other words allows the drafter to take a second crack at articulating something. As a general matter, say something once, why say it again?

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.

11 thoughts on ““In Other Words””

  1. Because people are different. A future reader might have trouble grasping Version A but might more easily grasp Version B.

    I know, ideally the drafter would write Version A so that it’d be precise and understandable by all at first reading. Unfortunately, drafters don’t always have time for that.

  2. Two thoughts:

    I agree that “in other words” should be a signal to the drafter to lean on the backspace key and take another stab at it.

    I also appreciate what I’m thinking is your nod to vintage Talking Heads lyrics to make that point.

  3. D.C.: As excuses for suboptimal drafting go, I don’t find “I didn’t have enough time” very compelling.

    Jeff: Yes, you spotted my allusion. I’m showing my age …

    And here’s another reason to avoid in other words: the second way of expressing the concept may not be exactly equivalent to the first, leaving the parties to fight about which controls. A contract refers to “a motorcycle, in other words a powered two-wheeled vehicle”; the parties start fighting over whether a bicycle with an electric motor is a motorcycle for purposes of the contract.


  4. A very obvious difference in interpretation comes between judges and ordinary readers. This is more important when the readers are not sophisticated. If one purpose is for people affected by the language to understand it (which I know is often exactly what is not wanted), then the drafter may have to express matters in some standard way to get the expected judicial reception but rephrase it in a manner than an ordinary reader can understand. Venturing beyond pure contracts, this often makes sense in estate planning documents. There are magic words needed for tax consequences, for example.

  5. Josh Ard, not all state judges are sophisticated readers either. Many come from the criminal or personal injury bar more rather than from commercial litigation or transactional practice.

  6. When I catch myself thinking or writing “in other words,” it simply means that my thoughts aren’t sufficiently clear. It might be a step in the process of getting a first draft on paper, but it’s not a good end point, for the reasons cited above. At least some of the time, giving an example might make more sense.

  7. I have used “in other words” exactly once. It was an appellate brief, and I had just spent the previous five pages making the case that my client had been forced into a Hobson’s Choice, where no matter what course he took at trial, it was going to bite him.

    In a new paragraph I wrote, “In other words, damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.”

    However, I would never imagine putting a phrase like in other words into a contract. It’s practically an invitation to litigate an ambiguity.

    It’s a point I tried to make in a recent blog post of my own – sometimes words are imprecise. Good legal writing chooses the *right* word, as opposed to adding multiple synonyms (e.g. “cease and desist”). Isn’t it easier (and blunter) just to say “stop”? http://www.persuasiveauthority.net/?p=44

  8. If you cannot convey your point as clearly as you would like, use an illustrative example; don’t restate the point using different words.

  9. Ditto with a capital D to Jim Brashear’s comment. I see this phrase more and more often, especially from younger lawyers at larger firms (at the risk of generalizing). I was taught that good drafting mandates that you say things only once, lest you create ambiguity. The well intentioned draftsman who violates this rule only creates hairline fractures that litigators will hammer on until they become full blown crevasses.


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