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Legal Commentary: Prawfs
We Must Use Big Words
By Dan Markel, Ethan Leib, Rick Garnett, Matt Bodie, Paul Horwitz , Steve Vladeck, and Orly Lobel
As law professors, we must use big words.
Nay, allow me to restate, viz., it is incumbent upon us to deploy brobdingnagian lexemes.
Coming from a journalism undergraduate education, I grew up with a disdain for big words. If something can be said simply, so much the better.
But I have grown to have a different perspective as a law professor. When teaching class, if a big word pops into my head, I drop it like it?s hot.
Why? I figure it?s my responsibility. If we, the learned academics, don?t use the big words, who will? If language goes unused, it withers and dies. And, hey, there are many words out there, which, while no one really wants to use them, it would still be nice to keep them technically alive. Thus, someone must use them. That someone ? especially when it comes to legal words ? is us, the lexerati.
I?m doing my part. In fact, I?m liable to use big words even if I am not entirely sure what they mean. Many people would be mortified at the thought of misusing a word in front of a bunch of people. Not me. As a scholar, I figure, it?s my job to have new thoughts, to introduce original ways of looking at things, and, as I see it, to use words in entirely novel ways.
More than that, I figure it?s also my job to make up completely new words. So if something pops into my head, and it sounds like a word, I?ll just say it.
I?d give you some examples, if I could, but I can?t. How am I supposed to know what words I?ve made up or misused? No one is going to tell me they know better. Hello! I?m a law professor.
But I am confident that I?m using at least some words incorrectly. How can I be so sure? It?s a numbers game. Big words are so omniscient in my vocabulary, the odds are nanotesimally small that I?ve used them all correctly and that they all, in fact, exist.
A close friend of mine in law school ? who was born with a severely reduced capacity for embarrassment* ? once interrupted her federal courts class to ask what the word ?precatant? meant. It was about the tenth time in as many minutes that the professor ? one of the nation?s leading legal scholars, I might add ? had dropped the word into the lecture. So finally, my friend couldn?t stand it anymore, and she just raised her hand and asked what the heck it meant.
Uproarious laughter ensued.
?You?ve never heard of the word?? the prof asked incredulously. He nonetheless obliged by reciting the definition of ?precatant.?
Now, here?s the funny part: ?precatant? is not a word. (The prof apparently meant ?precatory.?) Or, I should say, ?precatant? wasn?t a word, at least not until it was used by one of the nation?s leading legal scholars.
I think the English language will withstain.
* to whom I am now married
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