The English Pedant – If lawyers ruled the world

Job adverts often list the duties involved, but in the last few years they have been closing loopholes with the phrase “including but not limited to”.

That’s just in case you thought the unpaid “intern” position you’re desperate enough to apply for doesn’t also involve making the tea and going to the shop to get the dinosaur boss some cigarettes.

It’s a phrase that bears the restless, nervous, looking-over-the-shoulder mark of the lawyer, whose life revolves around loopholes but who only likes those that work in his favour. Bringing this sort of nonsense into the day-to-day sphere of activity for non-lawyers is not just a sign of the level of distrust we have in our fellow man. It is a step onto a slippery slope to a place where we can’t just be ourselves.

What does “including” mean, anyway? It means that those things referred to are part of a group of things. It doesn’t mean they are the group itself, in its entirety. And nobody ever thought it did mean that, until some lawyer planted the seed of doubt in a client’s mind.

Perhaps it even first appeared in a legal firm’s own terms and conditions, covertly stating that not only would they be charging us a day’s salary for writing a letter, but they would also be adding on the cost of the ink and the paper, plus wear and tear on the printer and keyboard. And what about the typist’s nails? They don’t come cheap, and somebody’s got to pay for her to have 10 different designs on her fingers, including (but not limited to) various colours, the national flag and her family’s coat of arms.

The Lawyer's marriage contract

To take this sort of practice to its logical conclusion, we would all have our terms and conditions in a silicon chip in the skin on the back of our neck, much like dogs are electronically tagged. It’s just that the originators of all this – the ones who love a good term and condition because you never know when you can trip someone up with it – will have so much information that other people’s scanners couldn’t read them

For the rest of us, though – the man and woman in the street, going peacefully and honestly about our business – our T&Cs would read “Yeah, whatever. Here is the phone number of a psychiatrist who specializes in paranoia, although that is just one of her specialities and should not be construed as a limitation or a complete list of her abilities.”

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