We all know the hoary saw about how normal people “get out of their car” but police “exit the vehicle.” Sometimes, stereotypes exist because they are true. And yes, both lawyers and cops tend to use ten words when one will do.

For example, here’s a police officer showing you an incredibly complicated way to get on the stand and say you saw someone give someone else some drugs:

I observed Tanya Burgess. She was standing in the middle of the street in 15 Henry Street and there was other people in the area, but there was a lot of abandoned cars in the area, and there’s gentlemen working on the cars, fixing up the cars, and at one time I saw at one point I observed — she was later identified as Pamela Williams walk into the area and they had a short conversation, they went across the street into a grocery store and they came back, and at one point Tanya Burgess pulled out a packet of heroin out of her fifth pocket of her pants and handed it to Pamela Williams and in return she received cash.

The best part about that quote has to be that the police officer actually starts to say he saw something but then corrects himself to say “at one point I observed…” instead. If there is a God above, he/she/it is forcing first-year law students and police academy enrollees to edit that collision of words into a coherent sentence or two.

It is easy to assume that these word pile-ups stem from an unwarranted love of the sound of their own voice, and that may be true. Often, though, it also seems driven by a fear that unless you use every available word, you might be misunderstood. That is the only conceivable explanation for this officer’s testimony:

Q: And where were you standing when this was going on?

A: We were standing approximately five feet out, two to five feet out from his front porch. There was a walkway that goes from his driveway up to his front porch, front door area, and we were standing within that walkway area.

By the time I got to the end of that sentence, I was far more confused about where they were standing than if he had simply said “five feet out from his porch.” This officer was also very concerned that you understand that he understands how you can tell if someone is sweaty:

Q: What did you notice regarding Mr. Westerfield?

A: I noticed that he was sweating profusely from under his arms. Both arms.

Thank god he noted it was both arms. One-underarm-only sweating is probably indicative of some sort of disorder. Also, has anyone ever said that someone was “sweating lightly?”

Q: How could you tell?

A: He was wearing a light gray shirt, and the sweat from underneath his arms had darkened the shirt.

The only necessary answer to “how could you tell someone was sweating?” is “I saw them sweating.”

Lawyers, do not get smug. Everyone knows we are just as bad — maybe worse. Witness this prosecutor in the OJ Simpson trial answering a simple question about why something should be continued:

Why is that? Because basically in an effort to be able to resolve the situation more expeditiously than with a full blown hearing. And I have been speaking with Mr. Jones. I am going to be handling this motion on the part of the people and it may be through proffers we can simply get this resolved by this court in a more expeditious fashion.

Extra points for getting “expeditious” in there twice.

Being a famous lawyer does not insulate you from terrible talking. Behold William Kunstler defending the Chicago Seven:

In an introductory fashion, I would just like to state that only you will judge this case as far as the facts go.

Well then.

Special Bonus: (Spoiler-Free) Serial BINGO!

Are you listening to Serial? Of course you are, because everybody and their mother is listening to Serial. You should be listening because it is great, but also because you can play Cop Talk Bingo in nearly every episode.

Thus far, I have heard “I spoke to [him] and he advised me” instead of the far more word-frugal “he told me.” There was also the delightfully convoluted “the caller further advised me prior to concluding the phone interview.” Apparently, that is opposed to the caller telling you something over the phone. The police also remind someone that when you answer a phone, that phone is in your possession, as we unfortunately have not managed to answer phones telepathically.

Regrettably, I did not get to hear an officer ask if someone exited the vehicle or proceeded at a high rate of speed. One came delightfully, tantalizingly close by telling someone he got out of his vehicle. I still have four episodes left, though, so maybe I will get my wish.


  1. Paul Spitz says:

    Transactional lawyers can also be apprehended as being perpetrators of this grievous assault on words in a language manner of speaking. My favorite blasphemy is “for any reason whatsoever.”

  2. Sam Harden says:

    I bet most lawyers’ billing entries also qualify. Mine sure did. “Conduct telephone conference” … “in anticipation of preparing initial draft of [pleading / motion / etc]” … and my favorite “make attorney’s notes therefrom.” If it sounded complicated it meant you were working extra hard.

  3. Brian Mayer says:

    That kind of convoluted talk is not meant to communicate what the words seem intended to say. Instead, it is to communicate “I fit in” to the speaker’s supervisors, peers, or clients. The more incomprehensible to lay persons, the more the speaker fits in with the person paying them, the better.

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