Avoiding the Curse of 'Whetherornot'
34 Pages Posted: 1 Jun 2014 Last revised: 2 Jun 2014
Date Written: May 30, 1996
For many years, countless lawyers and judges have exhibited a nearly complete inability to observe the important distinction between the word "whether" and the phrase "whether or not," and have mistakenly used the latter as if it were an acceptable substitute for the former. This article examines the way in which that error is reflected in published judicial opinions and in the transcripts of actual trials, and lays out the "Three Corollary Curses" that lie in wait for those who fail to assiduously maintain the distinction. It reveals, for example, how those who use "whetherornot" as a thoughtless substitute for "whether" inevitably descend into the absurdity of saying and writing "whether or not...or not," which is doubly redundant. The author reveals how the gratuitous inclusion of the words "or not" undermines written and oral expression not merely by adding a little useless prolixity, but also by injecting undesirable ambiguity and sometimes even literal absurdity into the lawyer's attempts at communication.
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