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‘Well that put the cat among the pigeons,’ a lawyer colleague of mine once opined whilst on a conference call to French clients.
‘Quoi?’ screamed the awkward and protracted silence down the ‘phone.
‘Un chat parmi les pigeons?’
By this point, the conversation had moved on and, sadly, the French clients had missed the point entirely on liquidated damages: the fact that damages must be a genuine pre-estimate of the loss; and that penalties are not permitted in English law.
They were still trying to work out why the charming English lawyer suddenly interjected with a discussion about his cat unexpectedly being inserted into a flock of pigeons.
Now, I speak French. My Gallic shrug is among the best. It took years of hard and determined practice.
However, I know from bitter experience that cute little turns of phrase in French, whilst adding much colour and character to the language, make it so much more difficult to understand—in business and legal contexts in particular.
So imagine what it must be like for any speaker of a foreign language when they are trying to understand the complexities of English law through the medium of English idioms?
Many British (including me) work in such a unilingual environment that we simply forget to speak clearly. We forget that for many people English is a second or even third language. It is remarkably common to forget this. It remains one of the greatest complaints I receive w
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