thumping the tub
Tub-Thumper - 1. A speaker or preacher who for emphasis thumps the pulpit; a violent or declamatory preacher or orator; a ranter. (from This blog will be a combination of reasoned posting somedays and an occasional rant.
Thursday, February 02, 2006
Laws are like cobwebs, which may catch small flies, but let wasps and hornets break through. Jonathan Swift

Laws are written in such a way that the average person finds it very difficult to decipher them. This is not a technical necessity, it is a ploy. If the public do not understand their rights fully, how can they fight to defend them?

Ordinary people are forced to rely on a set of trained lawyers who are highly paid and for the most part unlikely to be in the position of having to defend themselves against the laws they interpret on behalf of their clients. In effect it is a cartel between lawyers and bureaucrats who draft and interpret the law in a way that guarantees that their services are always required. Unsurprisingly, this happy relationship tends to produce a situation where more and more power ends up in the hands of the bureaucrats and the lawyers. The establishment does not like people who defend themselves in court because it cuts out the trained middle-man and brings people closer to understanding their rights.

If the laws were written in clear and plain language the power of these groups would be drastically reduced.

The 'Campaign for Plain English' is "an independent pressure group fighting for public information to be written in plain English." It has more than 10,000 registered supporters in 80 countries. It is not a plea for standardising English, far from it, "'Plain English' is language that the intended audience can understand and act upon from a single reading."

Here are some quotes from their website that they have translated into simple English...

Before - High-quality learning environments are a necessary precondition for facilitation and enhancement of the ongoing learning process.

After - Children need good schools if they are to learn properly.

Before - If there are any points on which you require explanation or further particulars we shall be glad to furnish such additional details as may be required by

After - If you have any questions, please ring.

There is also this from the 'Golden Bull' award, which is given to the most baffling use of English that the campaign could find...

Australian Taxations Office for its Goods and Services legislation

'For the purpose of making a declaration under this Subdivision, the Commissioner may:
a) treat a particular event that actually happened as not having happened; and
b) treat a particular event that did not actually happen as having happened and, if appropriate, treat the event as:

i) having happened at a particular time; and
ii) having involved particular action by a particular entity; and

c) treat a particular event that actually happened as:
i) having happened at a time different from the time it actually happened; or
ii) having involved particular action by a particular entity (whether or
not the event actually involved any action by that entity).'

As you can see from the before and after sections, there is no need for this sort of nonsense. If people understand their rights more then they can stand up for them in a much more effective way.

Sign up for the Campaign for Plain English here. You could also check out their Gobbledygook generator or look at the longest and clumsiest sentence they could find. I also think you might enjoy reading 'Jack and Jill' written as if drafted by a lawyer.

I can decipher legalese, but I learned more about the law from a couple of Bertolt Brecht lines than I did from a whole load of textbooks. Take this example from 'The Threepenny Opera' which is itself an update of John Gay's 'The Beggars Opera' - both of which I cannot recommend highly enough.

Peachum - "the law was made for one thing alone, for the exploitation of those who don't understand it, or are prevented by naked misery from obeying it. And anyone who wants a crumb of this exploitation for himself must obey the law strictly"

Brown - "I see, then you believe our judges are corruptible"

Peachum - "not at all, sir, not at all. our judges are absolutely incorruptible: its more than money can do to make them give a fair verdict."

Please join the campaign. This is not something like a fussy schoolteacher correcting you on your grammar, this is about knowing what your rights are and then fighting to preserve them. If you don't know you have something, you won't notice when it is gone.
posted by michael the tubthumper @ 3:06 pm  
  • At 6:19 pm, Blogger Quixotematic said…

    I've aways thought, given that the law (theoretically) applies to everyone equally, that all should have equal access to the law.

    This means that a lawyer is equivalent to a man who sets up a ticket barrier at a free festival and starts charging admission.

  • At 6:27 pm, Blogger michael the tubthumper said…


  • At 10:09 pm, Blogger edjog said…

    You and they have good points and I'm going to think about it some more before i decide whether to join or not. I have to say that i understood their "longest sentence" perfectly, but then again, have you ever seen a music industry contract? Fucking nightmares!

    Even a simple copyright waiver is far from simple. The gist of it is, "I'm signing to say you can do whatever you like with my contribution to this project, but only this project and in the context of this project, without fear of comeback from me." But, even when you are trying to be rock on with people, the minute they get to a 'hereinafter' or 'stated before/above/below' etc. it doesn't matter how fair the deal is, they think they're being robbed.

    But this isn't the fault of the language, it's because most people are very resistant to, if not incapable of, holding more than 2 thoughts in their mind at once. There's the prepository clause, the 'warning' that this applies to some other clause/s, that/those clause/s and whatever comes immediately next. The trouble with a lot of modern contracts also is that they are written almost entirely without punctuation, so that no-one can later argue that a section of a sentence is a separate clause from the main sentence. So you have to put your own in to break it up into its constituent ideas: more thought.

    The thing with the waivers above though, and i'm guessing many other contracts, is that unless it says something like "contribution to the work hereinafter refered to as the work or by The Title stated in section 1. 1. (a) hereinbefore", you've signed the right to reproduce your work away, and possibly your name and/or image, in perpetuity. Of course, you could use different phrases instead of the likes of unfamiliar 'hereinbefores', but that would make the sentences even more eye-glazingly long.

    I think some of the problem is that people are only taught complex grammar in an academic context. For many it has no relevance, they either don't listen or cannot remember it because it has no attendant experience to reinforce the learning. But if people were taught to read contracts at school, the skill of mental note taking, or even actually taking notes (if it's a heavy duty one), they might not have such a problem.

    I'd be willing to bet that a lot of it comes down to people being intimidated by unfamiliarity also. I know plenty of people who claim to be useless at maths, but they know damn well when someone's trying to short change them, often in transactions involving a combination of Imperial and Metric weights and measures whilst simultaneously working out the future ramifiactions of spending that money now on their future finances.

    Latent maths genii then? They don't have to be: we all learn or develope ways of simplifying the daily calculations like that into a series of one or two concept thoughts that can then be strung together one by one. It's a similar skill with reading legalese, i reckon.

    As far as i can tell, the main problem is not the language, it's the fact that the people writing it are crooks and are deliberately trying to pull the wool over our eyes. The wankers!

  • At 1:25 am, Blogger Lew Scannon said…

    Most of our politicians are former lawyers who, after spending many years writing laws and suckling at the public teat, go back in to private practice where they can interpret the gobbledygook they wrote after a rather long three martini lunch. How's that for a long and incomprehensible sentence?

  • At 12:26 pm, Anonymous Mickey Z. said…

    Yet another excellent, provocative post, Michael. I agree that the use of language is a powerful tool and I also agree with edjog that the widespread use of this tool is no accident. However, where I differ with edjog is this: If it is the fault of crooks, that doesn't preclude us fighting for clearer language. The way I see it, no matter who is in charge, we'll be in danger of getting rooked.

    Is that clear?

  • At 2:38 pm, Blogger michael the tubthumper said…

    forced to agree withmickey on this one.

    i see your point edjog but even if everyone was able to read and interpret this stuff there still is no particular reason to write that way.

    its all just wasted paper

  • At 4:17 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hey Michael.

    I totally agree, the law - both in written form and in the terms and procedures used in the actual courts - is often extremely complicated and can be utterly brain-busting for the uninitiated. This is a control mechanism, eh?

    I remember reading this article by poet Benjamin Zephaniah:

    And this bit in particular:
    As a poet, he became fascinated by the sounds and the words of the law. "The thing that struck me was the language of the courts. Sometimes I struggled to understand what the judge and barristers were saying, and when I asked afterwards what it was all about it was something really simple which had been put in a complicated way. But I do think the language is kept that way to exclude us, to intimidate us."

    Paul M.

  • At 4:17 pm, Anonymous Kirsteen said…

    A grand post! totally agree. Imagine the fucking uproar if our knowledge of our legal obligations was as scant as our knowledge of our legal rights?! I don't reckon you'd get away with nicking a car on the ground that you didn't know it was unlawful.

    Nope, the state makes damn sure we know what we CAN'T do but does its utmost to conceal our rights and liberties by contorting words and sentences in ridiculous and wholly unnecessary ways. Christ, lawyers barely know what the fucking statutes mean.

    We were all taught at school "don't do drugs", "don't steal stuff" etc and are aware that merely expressing an opinion may constitute incitement to terrorism, but no one ever bothered to simplify and teach people their basic civil liberties.

    If it is possible to simplify laws that the state want us to abide by then it is entirely possible to raise awareness of the rights and protections that the law affords to individuals. It is more important than ever before that people know what their rights and civil liberties are before thay renounce them unknowingly to the state in order to be "protected" from iminent threat of terrorists, paedophiles, drink drivers, petty criminals, heroine fuelled pensioners etc....

    The law should be used as a tool for representing and enforcing the rights of individuals against the state, not as a means by which the state can covertly oppress us.

  • At 4:29 pm, Anonymous Kirsteen said…

    Oh I forgot to ask, does anyone know what a "free-wheeling palmtree" is in the context of judicial review??! Ah, judicial logic at its finest.

  • At 4:45 pm, Blogger michael the tubthumper said…

    hi kirsteen

    i didn't even know they put trees on wheels!

    and i agree with you

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What is Tubthumping and who is doing it?

Name: michael the tubthumper
Home: Glasgow, Scotland
About Me: Tub-Thumper - 1. A speaker or preacher who for emphasis thumps the pulpit; a violent or declamatory preacher or orator; a ranter. This blog will be a combination of reasoned posting somedays and an occasional rant. 28 years old, I write and research for a couple of websites and also do my own stuff.
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Thumping The Tub Video

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I have made a few short movies. Here are links to free downloads for them all in the order that I made them (as far as I can remember). Please feel free to use, distribute, disagree with, shout at etc etc

  • Praise The Lord and Pass The Ammunition
  • This was a REAL song from World War 2. I was so stunned by it I had to make a movie

  • How Far Is It From Here to Nuremberg
  • This is my attempt at a video for the excellent, if worrying, David Rovics (see links) song

  • What You Like
  • I believe the word for this is "splenetic". Only 20 seconds long.

  • Imperial Measures
  • What is going on in Iraq? Some things you knew, some you didn't. A couple of bits of info are out of date now.

  • Wish You Were Here
  • Wish You Were Here is a 6 minute film about the unprecendted rate of animal extinction we are currently experiencing

  • Gorillas and us
  • I don't like creationism, neither did Douglas Adams

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    some of the blogs I look at
    Arse of the month

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    The inaugural 'Arse of the month' award goes to our very own Scottish First Minister Jack (Joke) McConnell. He seems to spend a lot of his time sucking up to english politicians and yet it appears they don't even know his name. Follow the link to see..

    It's All Gone Scottish

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    A list of some other Scottish sites and blogs most of which, if not all, are pro-independence. I don't agree with content on all of them obviously. Some are Scots at home, others abroad.

  • The Scottish Patient
  • Kim Ayres
  • Our Scotland
  • average tosser
  • 1820
  • big stick small carrot
  • J. Arthur MacNumpty
  • World of Jack McConnell
  • The Firefox Chronicles
  • Independence 1st
  • Radio Free Scotland
  • Scots and independent
  • Scottish Independence Guide
  • Small Nation
  • Inveresk Street Ingrate
  • Radical Glasgow
  • Want to Swot?

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    If you like this site and think it is time to start getting informed here are a few real favourites of mine that will help you blow away the corporate and government propaganda you are constantly bombarded with. It is added to every so often.

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  • a war crime within a war crime...
  • the menace of liberal scholarship
  • the modern era of law
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