A Gripping Issue of Notice-Provision Terminology: “Telecopier,” “Facsimile,” or “Fax”?

Every issue of contract language, no matter how minor, is worth addressing correctly. And some readers have clearly embraced that approach.

For example, I received the following note from reader David Baghdassarian, an associate at K&L Gates:

Have you opined on use of the word “telecopier” instead of “facsimile” (or “fax”)? I believe “telecopier” was Xerox’s brand name for an early fax machine, and using it to describe a fax machine is like using “Kleenex” to describe a tissue. I see “telecopier” regularly in documents and it always bothers me.

David is correct—Telecopier is a Xerox brand name, so it’s silly to use it when you want to refer to all facsimile machines. I confess that I used to use telecopier in notice provisions. I think I liked the symmetry with telephone. And I may even have thought it sounded more genteel than facsimile and fax, with that harsh “X” sound. Boy, was I a twerp.

In any event, telecopier is on the way out. It was used in only 219 contracts filed on the SEC’s EDGAR system in the past month, whereas in the same period 2,041 contracts used the word facsimile and 961 used the word fax.

As between facsimile and fax, I say use fax, with respect to both the machine and that which it transmits. Garner’s Modern American Usage says that fax “is now all but universal, in the face of which facsimile transmission is an instant archaism—and a trifle pompous at that.” It suggest that fax “is now perfectly appropriate even in formal contexts.” I agree.

But don’t write fax with all capitals, as if it were an acronym. It’s not.

One’s entitled to wonder how much longer fax and its variants will continue serve a useful function in contracts. They’re likely to go the way of the telex, which appears to be all but dead as a means of communication. Of course, telex was used in 185 contracts filed on EDGAR in the past month, but that’s less a testament to continued usefulness than an indication that all sorts of obsolete crud can be found lurking in contracts. But I’m prepared to have a reader tell me that telex is still useful in maritime contexts, or some such.

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.