Simplifying contract language

The Case for Plain-Language Contracts, by Shawn Burton, Harvard Business Review Jan/Feb 2018

I’ve read a lot of arguments about the use of plain English, and I haven’t often been convinced by them. Now this article by Shawn Burton is at first glance an interesting one (thanks to Inge for recommending it on Twitter), but contains some problems.

Are pages of definitions; words like “heretofore,” “indemnification,” “warrant,” and “force majeure”; and phrases like “notwithstanding anything to the contrary herein,” “subject to the foregoing,” and “including but in no way limited to” necessary for an agreement to be enforceable? Is there some counterintuitive value in useless boilerplate language? Does a contract really need 15-word strings of synonyms; all-cap, italicized, bolded sentences that span multiple pages; awkward sentences containing numerous semicolons; and outdated grammar to be worthy of signature? In my opinion, the answer is a resounding no.

Of course, it would be a good idea to remove archaic words like ‘heretofore’, but what about words with a legal meaning like ‘force majeure’. (The ’15-word strings of synonyms’ are one of the reasons some legal translators prefer to translate from German to English even if German is their native language, because German contracts are simpler, partly because terms are backed up by the Civil Code and other legislation.)

Burton writes: ‘Business leaders should not have to call an attorney to interpret an agreement that they are expected to administer.’ I have my doubts about that. And the ‘litmus test’ was whether a ‘high-schooler’ could understand the contract. Maybe this worked with simplified contracts for customers, but surely not for every type of contract.

Here’s an example from the end of the article:

That article contains other useful links.

Merry Christmas

Here’s wishing a partially completed Merry Christmas to all readers.  (Ebor Street)

Here is some information on VAT on Christmas trees in Germany:

Plastic tree: 19%

Real tree sold on the market 7%

Real tree not deliberately grown, sold by farmer 5.5%

Real tree deliberately grown, sold by farmer 10.7%

Private sale or sale by small non-VAT-registered business: 0%

(Corrections to this translation may be added in the comments)

Die Höhe der Umsatzsteuer, die Sie für Ihren Tannenbaum bezahlt haben, hängt ab von der Herkunft und dem Verkäufer des Baums:

  • Der ganz normale Umsatzsteuersatz in Höhe von 19% wird fällig bei künstlichen Bäumen, das dürften meist Weihnachtsbäume aus Plastik sein.

  • Der ermäßigte Umsatzsteuersatz von 7% wird angewendet, wenn es sich um einen echten Baum handelt, der zwar artgerecht aufgewachsen ist, aber durch einen Gewerbetreibenden (zum Beispiel einen Baumarkt) oder einen nicht-pauschalierenden Landwirt verkauft wird.

  • 5,5% Umsatzsteuer will der Fiskus sehen, wenn der Baum zufällig irgendwo im Wald aufgewachsen ist und von einem Landwirt verkauft wird, der sich für die Pauschalierung der Vorsteuer entschieden hat.

  • Kaufen Sie bei einem pauschalierenden Landwirt, der den Weihnachtsbaum in einer Sonderkultur großgezogen hat, fallen 10,7% Umsatzsteuer an.

  • Falls der Weihnachtsbaum-Verkäufer Ihres Vertrauens Privatverkäufer oder Kleinunternehmer ist, zahlen Sie gar keine Umsatzsteuer.

Amerikaner/black and white cookies

I always thought Amerikaner were a German thing and wondered where they got their name from, but it turns out they are a New York cookie (via smitten kitchen).



(Image by Ben Orwoll, public domain)

Amerikaner certainly used to be made with a form of ammonium carbonate called Hirschhornsalz (Salt of Hartshorn/baker’s ammonia) in German. This is widely sold in Germany, especially at this time of year. I saw it being used by London Eats, who posts Christmas cookies from abroad at this time of year:  Fedtebrød.

If you don’t want to make do with baking powder or bicarbonate of soda, the German Deli sells Hirschhornsalz, and also potash and Lebkuchen spice.

German Döner Kebab

German Döner Kebab shops are apparently everywhere.

Of course, it is a German thing. I think this is ‘Mile End coming soon’.

If you want to find out what meat they use, you have to click on the Location tab, which gives a choice of UK, UAE, Qatar, Oman, Egypt, Sweden and Bahrain.

For the UK, you get Chicken, Beef or Mix. In Germany it was virtually always Turkey, sometimes beef if you were lucky.

Where’s the lamb? I think it’s because Germans don’t like it.