The Law of Cliches

While we were discussing the term “boilerplate” in class, I found it immediately interesting how each of us was able to come up with distinct examples of what we thought constitutes boilerplate without being able to really define what boilerplate actually is. As I struggled to accurately define boilerplate, the example that crept into the back of my mind was legal boilerplate (more specifically, boilerplate contract clauses). I have been reading a lot of contracts recently and unsurprisingly, each seemingly individual contract shares a few boilerplate clauses that are meant to serve the same purpose. I began to think that, while Lainey mentioned that boilerplate could often be used to persuade its readers without providing any concrete information, examples of contract boilerplate were not meant to persuade, but to provide information in a seemingly vague manner. A lot of boilerplate phrases could function in different ways based on the context, but what I think makes a lot of sense is the idea that boilerplate is so popular and necessary because of how generally vague it is. For instance, in one contract I was reading, the clause that I had already seen time and again was “By signing this contract you agree to keep company information confidential and within your control at all times. All private information will be returned to the company immediately upon termination.” While clauses like this are not necessarily void of meaning, they are perfectly vague in that they encompass enough of general idea of confidentiality that further clarifying clauses do not need to be included in the eyes of the law.

Additionally, I looked into some of the cliches that people in legal writing urge you to consider omitting. A few examples of cliches in legal writing would have been hard to point out without being actively involved in the study of law (or legal writing), but once I read them, it became clear just how cliche many of the terms we hear in both legal and everyday writing are. For instance, phrases like “slippery slope,” “point of no return,” “no stone unturned,” and “begs the question” were all examples that I think could be considered very cliche not just in the context of law but in many other areas as well.

One thought to “The Law of Cliches”

  1. Lauren,

    I just wanted to say that I also really struggled to fully define “boilerplate”. When I first attempted to write this blog post yesterday, I realized that I didn’t have the words to describe exactly the notion I’d gotten about the term in class. I feel like sometimes writing terms are hard to define because there are so many words that can be put together in so many combinations it’s impossible to have a full grasp of what every example of a term could look like. Also, words are so subjective and, of course, what connotations they carry for us as readers depends so much on past experience and what we bring to reading the piece. Like, I could be shown an example of boilerplate and think it qualifies as such for one reason, and someone else could read the same words through their own different lens and identify the phrase as a true example of boilerplate for a different reason. Each person knows the phrase is boilerplate but would provide different definitions of the term if asked. I guess what I’m trying to say is I’m glad someone else was also a little in the dark on this, if only because it acknowledges how hard it can be to fully understand words and their meaning!

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