Acronyms, ugh! - Professor B's World of Legal Writing
 
For those of you who think I am the only one who hates acronyms, check out this opinion from yesterday, National Paint & Coatings Assoc v. South Coast Air Quality Management Dist., at the California 4th District Court of Appeal website, http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/courts/courtsofappeal/4thDistrictDiv3/
which includes the following as its first footnote:


It is possible to write an opinion in the area of air pollution control law without descending into an alphabet soup of jargon-based acronyms familiar only to practitioners who live and, er, breathe this area of the law.  (E.g., Sierra Club. v. U.S. E.P.A. (7th Cir. 2007) 499 F.3d 653 (opn. by Posner, J).)  This point is of some substantive importance because the use of acronyms tends to obscure, certainly in the reader’s mind and sometimes even in the writer’s, the underlying reality of a case, and the legal issues on which it must turn.  For example, the case before us essentially revolves around two words widely used in federal and state air pollution control statutes, “available,” and “achievable.”  But when the words are incorporated into the widely used acronyms “BACT” -- for “best available control technology” or “BARCT” -- for “best available retrofit control technology” -- their full significance is obscured.  “BACT” and “BARCT” take on a life of their own, severed from the actual statutory language.

   Besides which, the literature in this area tends to be more difficult to read (at least for a non-specialist) because of the heavy use of acronyms.  Consider, for example, this sentence, committed on page 32 of the appellant’s opening brief:  “In June 22, 2000, CARB adopted an SCM for AIM coatings.”  Huh?  Even if one can figure out that “CARB” means “California Air Resources Board” and “AIM” means “architectural and industrial maintenance coatings,” one scurries around the brief looking for the first use of “SCM,” which, one finds from a passage about 11 pages before, means “suggested control measure.”  (Well, the use of acronyms is at least one way to force judges to re-read passages from the brief.)  It is all needlessly confusing.  (See Scalia & Garner, Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges (Thomson West 2008) p. 120 [“Acronyms are mainly for the convenience of the writer or speaker.  Don’t burden your reader or listener with many of them, especially unfamiliar ones.”].)

   We will therefore, in this opinion, in order to maintain a modicum of readability and register our small protest against the further uglification of the English language, avoid the further use of acronyms in this opinion.

   Except for this footnote.  It is also apparent that many specialists in this area are addicted to acronyms, and, more importantly, when researching computerized databases, are more likely to plug in “BACT” or “CARB” than their English equivalents, and may not find this case unless it contains those acronyms.  (Cf. Seibert Security Services, Inc. v. Superior Court (1993) 18 Cal.App.4th 394, 404-405, fn. 3 [choosing to use non-gender neutral term “fireman’s rule” in part because it is “more readily accessible to electronic researchers not enlightened enough to program ‘firefighter’s rule’ into their search requests”].)  We therefore now provide a list of common acronyms for this case and area of the law, so at least such researchers will be able to find this footnote:

   NPCA -- National Paint & Coatings Association, the plaintiff in this case, which we will call “the paint association.”

   SCAQMD -- South Coast Air Quality Management District, a regional regulatory agency and the defendant in this case, which we will call “the district.”

   VOC -- volatile organic compounds, generally used to make paint and other “coatings” last and adhere to surfaces, and which also make paint stink and pollute the air (by helping form smog).  Volatile organic compounds are what this case is all about.

   CAA -- Clean Air Act, federal clean air legislation going back to the Kennedy Administration.

   CCAA -- California Clean Air Act, enacted to bring California law into conformity with the federal Clean Air Act.  (See Health & Saf. Code, § 39500 et seq.)

   AIM -- architectural and industrial maintenance coatings.  While “coatings” has the industry-promulgated euphemistic feel as a fancy word for paint, we will use “coatings” where appropriate instead of paint because it is more accurate.  Something you put on something else to prevent it from rusting, or to protect it from the weather as distinct from making it look nicer, is, substantively, a “coating” as distinct from mere “paint.”  

   SCM -- suggested control measure.

   Rule 1113 -- the district’s basic rule governing the amount of volatile organic compounds in paint and coatings, which we will call “the rule.”  Technically it is an amended rule, having first been enacted in 1977. 

 



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