Pleonasms in Legal English

Pleonasms—the use of more words than are necessary to convey meaning—in oral and written forms of English legal jargon often take on a single meaning. They consist of synonyms taking the form of doublets (e.g. “terms and conditions” or “null and void”) or triplets (e.g. “give, devise, and bequeath”), which in many cases can be translated into other languages using a single term. In fact, some writers suggest avoiding these expressions unless a special effect is desired, as in the case of the phrase used by default in sworn testimonies and statements: “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” which we have heard time and time again in Hollywood blockbusters.

Despite this suggestion, translators, who rather than being the authors of a source text are instead entrusted with reproducing it in a target language, need to come to a decision based both on their own professional criteria as well as on the demands and preferences of their clients, who in some cases may require a literal translation and in others may be more concerned with the proper transmission of the central idea than with maintaining strict adherence to the original. It is for this reason that, in cases such as “in any way, shape, or form,” “rest, residue, and reminder,” and “any action, cause, or suit,” translators may choose to use a single term in the target language and, in this way, be faithful to the “concept” of the source text, or they may find (if possible) three equivalent synonyms in the target language with the goal of being faithful both to the “concept” and to the “style” of the original content.

Among other examples of doublets and triplets are:

Doublets: power and authority; goods and chattels; object and purpose; will and testament; execute and perform; all and every; due and owing; for and on behalf of; etc.

Triplets: ready, willing and able; hold, possess and enjoy; cancel, annul and set aside, etc.

It is important to remember that, while the translator is the professional that is most skilled in sorting through an array of possible translations, it is equally important to find out the preferences of the client, as it is the latter who will be the ultimate receiver of a product that must be personalized to his or her own needs.