Thursday, September 07, 2006

Latin: commenters speak

I have received these comments about my criticism of Latin in legal writing:
  • In response to the suggestion that vel non can be translated as "or lack thereof": yes, it could be so translated, but that is a much more cumbersome phrase than the concise vel non.

    The main problem with the use of latinisms is the shocking decline in education in the last two centuries. Whereas Dr. Johnson's fluency in Latin conversation was notable but not unusual, few students today can translate their school mottos. Perhaps law schools should ditch their trendy [topics] in favor of three years of remedial Latin.

  • I sense behind so much of the hostility to legal Latin the insecurity of the ineducated. Just because one doesn't understand Latin (even so blindlingly obvious a phrase as "inter alia"!) is no reason to strip law of one of its enduring traditions. So sorry you had to actually crack a book to look up something you didn't know before law school. Must have been quite a hardship.

    Why should the profession change to accommodate your ignorance? This selfish attitude is regrettably common and has gone hand-in-hand with the precipitous decline of the respectability of the profession. The law can do quite well without linguistic Jacobins like you, thank you very much.
Three random responses from Wayne Schiess:
  1. Adults have been saying for centuries that the younger generation isn't as well educated "as we were." Maybe it's true. But as a matter of pure brainpower, the students I teach today are considerably smarter than I was and than my peers were and than the students I taught 15 years ago were. About all you can really say is that they don't study the same things you did.
  2. When I hear a good reason for perpetuating the use of a dead language in law practice in 2006, I'll consider changing my mind. "It's traditional" is not a good reason. It was traditional for only men to practice law. Some traditional things should go. And "it's less cumbersome than or lack thereof" is unconvincing to me. I think all Latin is itself cumbersome. Besides that, I would never use the archaic phrase or lack thereof.
  3. Although I concede that the experts aren't always right, all the experts who write books on legal writing say we should avoid Latin words that are not terms of art. All.
By recommending we avoid Latin, perhaps I reveal that I am "ineducated." But by defending it because it's traditional or because some older, well educated people understand it, you can end up sounding arrogant.

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home