Best efforts and reasonable efforts, a rhetorical flourish?

The EC and Astrazeneca are disputing about the meaning of the term “best efforts” in the vaccine supply contract.  This has a special resonance for me as I’ve recently read  Kenneth Adam’s “A manual of style contract drafting”  where he advises against the use of the term “best efforts”: I agree with his description of it as a rhetorical flourish. It tells one contract party that the other party wants them to believe it will do its best but is otherwise ambiguous.

The problem of the term “best efforts”, which, unlike reasonable efforts, is also used in ordinary speech as well as contracts, is that it is unclear how far a contracting party has to go to perform the contractual undertaking. It has sometimes been regarded as a synonym for reasonable efforts but often as a term on a continuum where best is something more than just reasonable. In other words, your best effort might involve you in having to undertake unreasonable actions. If, for example, raw material to produce the contract product is only obtainable at exorbitant prices, then reasonable efforts might release you from your contractual obligation but best efforts perhaps require that you acquire the raw material despite it being economically extremely disadvantageous to do so. This would make the term unworkable in contracts; according to Adams, US courts have overwhelmingly rejected that best efforts represents a more onerous standard than reasonable efforts.

The use of reasonable efforts excludes some of the uncertainty of “best efforts” but, of course, the court still has to decide what reasonable efforts consist of  (commercially reasonable?).  If the EU wanted to say (as they claim now) that the term meant that Astrazeneca was released from performance of the contract provisions if the vaccine had not been approved, then it might have been better to state this carve out explicitly and leave efforts out of the picture altogether. If it goes so far, a court will have to decide whether “best efforts” extends so far as forcing Astrazeneca to break other contracts.

The problems with the term best efforts are not new. It’s interesting that the EU. with access to any amount of legal expertise should lay itself open to a tussle on the meaning of this term (and also what Astrazeneca had in mind by use of the term).

Swedish exceptionalism and progress with dew

Sweden’s divergent approach to dealing with the pandemic has attracted a lot of international attention. But I’ve seen nothing written about the Swedish form of government, which differs from arrangements elsewhere in Europe (I’m not sure about Finland). Government agencies in Sweden have much more autonomy and even power than those in, for example, the UK, where a government minister can and will intervene in the day-to-day work of agencies subordinate to the ministry.

In Sweden, such intervention would be unconstitutional (see Chapter 12, Article 2 of the Swedish constitutional document Regeringsform). Ministries in Sweden, with few exceptions, have a small number of employees and are predominantly policy-making bodies, while the government agencies perform the everyday work in their sphere.

Thus in the UK a government minister might resign (at least in the old days…) if there was some spectacular inadequacy in an agency subordinate to hisher ministry. This wouldn’t happen in Sweden – the Director-General of the agency might go but not the minister.

The government can influence the agencies by its power of appointment and dismissal of the senior figures in the agency, the Director-General and his assistant. It also sets the budget for the agencies. And can engage them in dialogue if it considers that the agency is straying from the adopted policies but it in principle doesn’t intervene in the day-to-day work of the agency (or has to be rather discreet if it intends to do so…).


I suppose the ideological justification of this would be the division of powers where the legislative and the executive are separated. However, it’s also interesting from the point of view of the influence of the electorate over the government in universal suffrage (shielding activities of government from popular influence).

International commentators have remarked on the apparent hands-off conduct of the Swedish government in the pandemic, where the Public Health Agency has been in the forefront of attention. This may have suited the politicians (trust the experts) but it’s not just a political wheeze but part of the Swedish way of doing things.

I haven’t seen much, if anything written about this in more popular sources but there is an interesting article by Lars Jonung “Sweden’s Constitution Decides its Covid-19 exceptionalism” (June 2020). published by the Department of Economics at Lund University (Working Paper 2020:11).

Apart from dabbling with the Swedish constitution, I have been fine trimming my organisation of time, with a regular (4-5 hours) session of commercial work or work on one of my projects, the afternoon spent on working with languages and exercise, and the evening on lighter reading. My plan is to repeat this structure every day (inspired by Trollope of all people…). My aim is to counter my tendency to drift away from commonly accepted notions of time (uphold the Circadian rhythm); and to use time more efficiently.

Among my new word acquisitions for the week are “ligature” and “endogamous”. I  knew the binding and connect meaning of ligature but didn´t know that it was the formal word for “joined letters” such as the “ae” written together in Danish or conjoined letters in Bengali.

And “endogamous” as the practice of marrying within a specific social group (endo (within) + gamous to do with marriage). Rather obvious just that I hadn’t reflected on it before.

And I made a small step towards improving my disastrously low knowledge of things natural and scientific. If the answer sheet to an exam paper for entry into the Uttar Pradesh civil service is correct,  dew does not form on cloudy nights (as heat leaving the earth is radiated back by the cloud). I haven’t thought much about dew before and it´s nice to be able to think about that when wandering around early in the morning after a cloudy night…

Homonyms and Euphrosyne

I’ve known the meaning of synonym at least since I was in the early years of secondary school. And somewhere along life’s passage, I’ve picked up antonym.

But I’ve been foggy about homonym until the other day when I checked it.

It started well. Homonym is a word that is said or spelt the same as another word but has a different meaning, for example write and right.

And the sub-categories homograph and homophone, easily identifiable as “same spelling” and “same sound”, “Minute” (time) and “minute” (record of a meeting) are therefore homographs while “new and “knew” are homophones.

Easy, peasy but then what about “heteronym” and “heterograph”. I learn that a heteronym is a homograph with a different pronunciation.  Looking back at my definitions, I see that a homograph is a word that is spelt the same but not necessarily pronounced the same. Some homographs then are heteronyms and some not.

And words that sound the same as other words, but are spelt differently and have different meanings are heterographs. At this point, my head begins to spin. What was supposed to be a quick two minute check of the meaning of a word is taking on alarming dimensions and eating up my morning work session.

I abandon the search but as it’s irritating to allow the weeds of unknowledge to flourish in a corner of my brain, I can’t resist going back for more.

Then I learn that a heterograph may also be referred to as a homophonic heterograph.

The categories interpenetrate but I’m shaky on the heteros. I also make the acquaintance of polysemy – words with the same pronunciation and spelling but with different meanings, such as mouth (rivers and facial orifice). And capitonym, a word that changes its meaning when capitalised such as Polish and polish. And that a language can be more or less heteronymic, for example, English, which is littered with heteronyms.

Having muddled through for many years accompanied just by synonyms and antonyms, I decide to let the matter rest.

I’ve also been attracted by a nineteenth century lady with the first name Euphrosyne. To start with I thought it must be biblical but the “euph” should have made me suspect a Greek origin, which proved to be the case. The name originates from Euphosyne, one of the Charities (Graces in Roman times). According to Wiki (quoting Jennifer Larsson (2007), Ancient Greek Cults), she was the goddess of good cheer, joy and mirth (merriment).

According to Hesiod, Euphrosyne had two sisters Thalia (the joyous one associated with abundance) and Aglaea (goddess of beauty, splendour and adornment), together the Charities. They are usually depicted dancing together and I have seen them often in Botticelli’s well-known painting Primavera without realising who they were.

The Greek poet Pindar states that these goddesses were created to fill the world with pleasant moments and good will. Usually the Charites attended the goddess of beauty Aphrodite.

A heavy responsibility to go through life with the name of “merriment” but perhaps more fun than being called Chastity even if harder work than Faith or Charity. These names called after personal attributes amuse me and I fantasise about people called Melancholy or Tepid (or even Schaden, the black sheep of the Freud(e) family, published under poetic licence….).

Wiki also tells us that there is an asteroid named after Euphrosyne and much more curiously a family of marine worms (I wonder why – was this the act of some researcher with impaired hearing looking for a name for a merry worm?), I’ve mislaid the source now but one of the distinctive features of this family of worms is the relative length of the notochaetal prongs. My grasp of marine worm terminology is a bit shaky and, for once, I am happy to let it be.