His Excellence

In Justice Ralph Anderson‘s recent opinion in Wieters v. Bon-Secours-St. Francis Xavier Hospital, Inc., No. 4374 (S.C. Ct. App. Apr. 23, 2008 ), he opines:

The cognoscenti of health care nomology trust and rely upon Peer Review Statutes as the quiddity and hypostasis of the hospital/physician relationship. The quintessence and elixir of the peer review process is confidentiality.

Okay, while I am probably one of the worst offenders of writing in this fashion, even I think this passage is a tad much. I’m not nearly as offended by the use of obscure or big words–I happen to think that modern, simplified language wrongly ignores many more precise if overly-loquacious terms favored of old–as I am by their redundant or sloppy use.

The tipoff for me here is the use of the conjunctive “and” twice in the span of eleven words. There is no elegance in the phraseology, “quiddity and hypostasis” or “quintessence and elixir,” only length. The point would have been much more eloquently made if the author had chosen one term or the other, instead of throwing both in for good measure–twice.

Plus, I like to reserve this kind of florid language for times when you are trying to make a point with either humor or irony. It’s okay to sound pompous in my book, as long as you do so with a wink or some wit. A good rule of thumb I follow is to never use more than two words that your reader would likely have to look up in a single sentence (and then only rarely). If you must or you insist on using such words, spread them out through several paragraphs so they don’t hit your reader all at once. Here, Justice Anderson used six obscure terms in two adjacent sentences.

Of interest, one commentator over at Volokh notes that Justice Anderson is notorious for such jeremiads (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

Thx to Volokh and the South Carolina Appellate Law Blog