Fear of using the same word twice. "Monologophobe" was coined by Theodore Bernstein of the New York Times, who was quoted as saying, "A monologophobe is a guy who would rather walk naked in front of Saks Fifth Avenue than be caught using the same word more than once in three lines of type." Writers sometimes are accused of so called "elegant variation", which sounds like a compliment but is really a sarcastic criticism for someone prone to using unnecessary or endless synonyms for the sake of creating variation.

Are you a monologophobe?  Are you one of those writers who takes a grade school teacher's instruction too seriously and never use the same word twice?  Are you worried that your reader will be bored unless you vary your vocabulary?


Consider these sentences:

"Restrictive covenants in employment contracts are scrutinized more closely than those in business sale agreements because the courts presume an imbalance in the parties knowledge and bargaining power. Courts will not easily undo the consensus of the parties."

Did the writer intend a difference between contract, agreement, and consensus?  The reader won't know.

What about this example?

"We will likely succeed on a motion to exempt Andrew from oral examination. Where there is a risk of psychological harm, particularly for a child, the court has discretion to waive the requirement that a party submit to oral discovery. To persuade the court to exclude Andrew from the general rule, we must prove the risk of harm with cogent evidence, preferably from Andrew's doctor.

Will the reader know you mean the same thing when you say exempt, waive, and exclude?

Watch for unintentional vocabulary variations that send your reader off on an unintended side trip. Every time you change a legally important term, your reader thinks it must mean something different; otherwise, you would not have used a different word.

Try This

Lupe is struggling with a client advice letter to the beneficiary under a will. Help her out by highlighting in green terms that show needless variation.

"You asked me to look into your inheritance from your uncle, who passed away last month. He wrote a new will and testament last year with specific testamentary dispositions. Your uncle left you several legacies. First, he devised his cottage in Muskoka to you. He also made a bequest of funds from the proceeds of the sale of his house. Furthermore, he gifted you the contents of his home. Last, he made you a testamentary gift of his shares in the Royal Bank."

"You asked me to look into your inheritance from your uncle, who passed away last month. He wrote a new will and testament last year with specific testamentary dispositions. Your uncle left you several legacies. First, he devised his cottage in Muskoka to you. He also made a bequest of funds from the proceeds of the sale of his house. Furthermore, he gifted you the contents of his home. Last, he made you a testamentary gift of his shares in the Royal Bank."

The client wondered whether all of those legal terms meant the same thing or if each one impliesd something different. "Why did the lawyer use different terms if they are all the same? Should I be worried?"

Consistent Use of Key Terms

You may think repetition will bore the reader. On the contrary: consistent use of key terms actually keeps the reader focused, interested, and on track.

You have more freedom to vary terms without legal significance. See how Karita wrote this paragraph:

"The accused was charged with operating a motor vehicle while impaired. He was driving hiscar erratically and 10 kph over the posted speed limit.  The police officer stopped the redconvertible after a short chase and arrested the driver after he failed the breathalyser test.  The accused claims the police target red automobiles driven by young men."