The Language of Deniability

For every type of nerd, there was something to be keeping an eye on last week. Who was in and who was out in the Cabinet? Would the US shutdown ever end? And most importantly, which missing Doctor Who episodes had been found?

Some people have been waiting 45 years to see this.

Some people have been waiting 45 years to see this.

There was rumour upon rumour. The BBC “could not confirm.” Everything is suggested, alleged, sneaking around midnight embargoes, huddled in the realm of rumour.

The realm of rumour, like any country that’s easy to travel to but hard to get to know, has its own language. It’s the language of the armchair lawyer. Of Have I Got News For You when they’re trying to be funny and non-defamatory at the same time.

It’s the language of someone’s dad talking to an insurance company when he’s worried about liability for an accident.

"In fact, I believe the tree may have been primarily at fault..."

“In fact, I believe the tree may have been primarily at fault…”

Allegedly. Cannot confirm (but disinclined to deny). Claims. Suggests. A spokesperson says. At least [shrug], that’s what I heard. A reasonable chance. Can’t be certain. All accompanied by gross overuse of the subjunctive.

We’re so used to working with this kind of pseudo-lawyer-speak that it can be very hard to avoid it even when you want to.

Yet the value of forcing yourself out of that weird no-win, no-fee lawyers’ and tabloid journalists’ headspace is immense. State facts in lawyer-speak and people will treat them like anything that’s come out of the realm of rumour: with disdain, and a sense of dissatisfaction that will linger even if they turn out to be true.

State what you know to be true with certainty and your brand will appear dependable.

After all, if you sound like you’re unafraid of lawyers, then you must really be confident in what you’re selling. If you’re that confident in what you’re selling, it must be good.

If you’re not a lawyer and you want to stop sounding like you are one – or if you are a lawyer and the same applies – get in touch with Chris. He may be able to advise you. Allegedly.