So we decided to send Jack to sleepover camp this year. You remember Jack, right?

Well, he’ a little older now. This is the first year that he’s eligible for camp, and he’s really been looking forward to it. We’ve been sending him letters every day, and we include the sports section from the local paper so he can keep up with the World Cup.

On Friday, about a week after dropping him off, we received his first letter:

Now, that letter might strike you as a little whiney (with a slight undercurrent of seething rage). Maybe you’re annoyed that I even made you read it in the first place. But you know what? It didn’t bother me when I read it for three reasons.

First, I know Jack pretty well, so I was prepared for something like this. He is, shall we say, an enthusiastic rule follower. When we watch soccer games, Jack doesn’t cheer for a team. He cheers for the referee.

Second, I love Jack unconditionally. So there’s that.

Third, I read and write legal briefs for a living. I’m used to bellyaching. Jack’s letter is maybe the third bitchiest thing I’ve read this week. Maybe.

Which raises the question: Is complaining effective advocacy? Probably not; your judges certainly don’t think of you like I think of Jack, and even he’s not making many friends in this post. (Which is more than a little unfair to him. Jack is a cool little guy.)

I’m not alone in this opinion. Ross Guberman surveyed a bunch of judges, and they gave him a list of terms that annoyed them:

  1. disingenuous
  2. clearly wrong
  3. baseless
  4. specious
  5. without merit
  6. frivolous
  7. unfortunately for [the other side]
  8. sanctionable

Get the little man a thesaurus, and some of these show up in Jack’s letter.

Although I will admit I was surprised to see “without merit” on the list–it strikes me as pretty anodyne. A quick Lexis search said that the (very civil) Supreme Court of Virginia has used the phrase “without merit” in 1,465 opinions, and “disingenuous” in 19. When I asked Ross about this, he suggested that the objection has less to do with tone, and more to do with tedium.

That’s fair. The phrase can get old. Imagine if your life was spent reading that things lack merit 20 times a day.

As a service to the judiciary, then, here are some other ways to say “without merit;”

  • wrong
  • mistaken
  • incorrect
  • inaccurate
  • not so
  • nope
  • unlikely
  • implausible
  • off-target
  • off-base
  • faulty
  • flawed
  • illogical
  • non sequitur
  • imprecise
  • fallacious
  • argle-bargle
  • balderdash
  • horsefeathers
  • a bit of a stretch
  • wide of the mark
  • FAKE NEWS!

And, of course, the classic: