My current job involves processing a lot of correspondence from lawyers. One lawyer in particular always includes the same stock phrase in their emails: I annex an interim invoice. And I’ve always found it downright weird.
Everyone else is happy to attach their invoices. Not this person.
When I first came across an email like this, I assumed it was a mistake. Admittedly, not the kind of mistake a regular human being is likely to make, but then lawyers are hardly regular human beings.
But these emails kept coming in. Here this lawyer was, annexing things day and night like some 20th century European expansionist power.
And if experience has taught me anything, it’s that if a legal professional is repeatedly sending you correspondence you don’t understand, you should probably look into it. So I hit the books1.
Merriam-Webster quickly came to my aid, informing me that annex essentially does mean ‘to attach.’ Huh. Use of the word in a geopolitical sense (i.e. nicking land from other people) seems to have come about euphemistically2.
Nevertheless, this raised more questions. Like, why is the fourth listed sense not the first? Surely this is the most common usage nowadays? Could the M-W entry be due an update?
To answer the usage question, I consulted dictionaries aimed at English language learners. Checking learner dictionaries is my quick and dirty way of finding out how most people are using a word. (Quicker and dirtier than going straight to a corpus, that is.)
And lo! Both Collins and Macmillan put the landgrab definition front and centre.
In the case of Collins, the first definition given is informed by their COBUILD corpus. Additional definitions, more in line with the Merriam-Webster entry, are listed further down the page, but the editors appear to be making a deliberate choice to emphasize their corpus-based work.
Interestingly, the sense of ‘seize a territory by force’ is the only one provided by Macmillan.
Not the most rigorous detective work I’ve done, granted. But I’d feel confident saying my understanding of the word annex is in line with what everyone else thinks.
Still, my lawyer friend seems dead set on annexing as many invoices as they can. And fair enough – as I just learnt, it’s a quirky uncle of a synonym. Seeing the word in my inbox reminds me just how wonderfully stubborn and fusty lawyers can be with language (or anything, for that matter).
And by ‘books’ I mean search engine. ↩︎
“Have we stolen your land? Of course not! We’ve just incorporated it with our own.” ↩︎