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The Birth of Legalese

Taken from the novel, Nix Ex Machina.

There was once a park keeper who, strolling around his park one day, noticed that the grass was being worn away by everyone walking over it to take short cuts across the paths. So he spent the next evening making up a batch of very simple and clear signs that read: ‘Keep off the grass.’

The next day he took the signs in his wheelbarrow and set about placing them around the park. He erected the first sign on a piece of grass right nearby to where a gentleman was standing. The gentleman didn’t move. So the park keeper shouted, ‘Can’t you read the sign?’

‘Of course I can,’ came the reply.

‘So why don’t you keep off the grass then.’

‘Because,’ replied the man, ‘I am not off the grass. The word ‘keep’ implies continuing in something you are already doing, so I can move off the grass or I can keep on the grass, but I cannot keep off the grass without being off the grass in the first place.’

‘Can you please get off the grass?’ said the keeper.

‘If you insist,’ came the reply and with that the man walked away.

So the park keeper walked on and found a young lad sitting on the grass, smoking a cigarette.

Placing a sign nearby, the keeper pointed to it and said, ‘Keep off the grass.’

‘Am doing,’ replied the lad. ‘Been on straight tobacco for a year now.’

The keeper walked on further and found a woman who was walking her dog. Although she was on the path the dog was walking on the grass at her side.

‘Keep off the grass,’ said the keeper, as he thumped the sign into the ground.

‘I am off the grass,’ replied the woman.

‘But your dog is not,’ said the keeper.

‘My dog cannot read,’ she insisted.

‘Then can you keep your dog off the grass?’ he pleaded. ‘No living things are allowed on the areas between the paths.’

The woman stooped down and began picking the grass.

‘What are you doing now?’ shrieked the keeper.

‘No living things are allowed,’ the woman replied calmly, ‘and this grass is a living thing.’

‘Leave the grass alone!’ he bellowed, and she hurried off.

He came back to the first sign to check it had not been vandalised and found the man from earlier, standing back where he had been before.

‘I thought I told you to keep off the grass,’ said the keeper.

The man chuckled. ‘You want to practice what you preach, you’ve walked all over the grass putting those signs up.’

‘That’s different,’ replied the keeper. ‘As a park employee I need to walk on the grass in the upkeep and care of the park. You however, are to keep off the grass.’

The man looked down at his feet. ‘But with everyone having walked all over this spot, there is no longer any grass to keep off.’

The keeper went home fuming and painted the following sign.

It read as follows:

Keep off the grass. Version two. This version supersedes and replaces all previous versions of the ‘keep off the grass’ notification.

Summary: An executive order, issued by the park authority, by the power vested in the same body by the ruling council of the town, ordering all visitors that are not authorised under the employment of the park authority to withhold from all and any physical activity that may, according to the park authority’s definition, harm the grass areas in any way, including, but not limited to, walking upon, rolling, jumping, dancing, strolling, crawling and fornicating upon the aforementioned grass areas.

Definition of terms:

Visitors — these shall be defined as any and all non plant life-forms that do not regularly habituate the park, including, but not limited to, members of the public, their domesticated pets and livestock, and any motorised vehicles or other mechanical transportation devices. This does not include park employees performing a function to sustain and maintain the park, their tools and lawnmowers. Other exemptions shall include the pigeons, ducks, and all other domesticated animals as introduced by the park authority. Any and all non domesticated animals within the park, including insects, rodents, bacteria shall also be exempt, except whereby their number or presence through health risk or sheer volume approaching plague proportions shall be deemed to require their exclusion through special measure, whereby certain third parties may be authorised by the park authority to access the grass areas (see ‘grass areas’ definition below) and spray chemicals that may temporarily harm the grass, but only in order to resolve the issue that has arisen to deem their presence necessary, at the parks discretion. Acceptable wildlife shall not include – homeless people, tramps, drunks, pre-coital couples, post-coital couples, couples still in the act, and roller skaters.

Grass areas – These shall be defined as the earth areas that are enclosed within the wooden bordering between the paths. Where erosion has removed all evidence of grass, these areas shall still remain within the domain of the ‘grass areas’ and where the wooden bordering has come adrift shall not be considered an acceptable right of way into the prohibited zones. Any person in confusion as to the dominion of the grass areas should refer to the official map (Park Authority Grass Area Jurisdiction Diagram, in force as of June 2001, Park Reference: GrassJun2001).

Harmful activity – This shall be defined as any activity that brings any part of any visitor (see ‘visitors’ definition above) into contact with the grass areas (see ‘grass areas’ definition above) or any activity that brings any harmful substance into contact with the grass. This includes, but is not limited to, alcohol, fire, any and all bodily fluids and other organic excretions, irritants, except for third parties authorised in special circumstances as outlined in the definition of visitors (see ‘visitors’ definition above).

Other exemptions – Visitors (see ‘visitors’ definition above) who cause harmful activity (see ‘harmful activity’ definition above) to the grass areas (see ‘grass areas’ definition above) without intent to do so (including, but not limited to falling, slipping, being pushed by peers, tripping, succumbing to an immobilising medical condition and dying), shall not be held accountable for such action provided that they, at the first opportunity, remove themselves, by the most direct and least harmful route, from the grass areas and immediately notify the park authority as to the incident. In the case of death leading to a person infringing upon the grass areas, any person accompanying the recently deceased shall be responsible for their removal, except where this act involves disturbing the scene of a crime, whereby the police shall have full jurisdiction over the immediate area. Where a person is responsible for the death of another that leads to the dead party causing harm (see ‘harmful activity’ definition above) to the grass areas (see ‘grass areas’ definition above) then that person may face a fine for littering, on top of the additional charge of murder or manslaughter that may also ensue.

Miscellaneous – The grass restrictions within this notification refer at all times to domestic English grass as grown here for the viewing pleasure of visitors (see ‘visitors’ definition above). The grass referenced within this act does not cover any plant substance introduced into the park for the intention of inserting the substance, or its derivatives (including, but not limited to, the fumes of incinerating the substance), into a living thing (including but not limited to yourself, your partner, your domesticated animals), with the sole purpose of causing unnatural behavioural changes within the subject. Such acts are not covered here, except where they lead to visitors (see ‘visitors’ definition above) harming (see ‘harmful activity’ definition above) the grass areas (see ‘grass areas’ definition above), but may contravene the laws of this country and other park acts and regulations, including, but not limited to, ‘No littering,’ ‘No running’ and ‘No feeding the animals.’

These terms and conditions of ‘not walking on the grass’ are subject to change without due notice being given. Other restrictions and codes of practice not listed here may be in force and their exclusion from this notice does in no way nullify their effective jurisdiction.

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