« Does Constitutional Criminal Procedure Stuntz the Growth of Real Criminal Justice? | Main | Concurring »

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Survey -- Legal Academic Jargon

We are honored by the presence of Marty Lederman, who posts a comment to my earlier piece spotlighting an article by Bill Stuntz.  He asks a question that is orthogonal to my post, which was itself orthogonal to Stuntz's piece: When the hell did law professors start using the word "orthogonal" so much, and why?  Good question.  My own answer is that it is a more elegant and subtle way to say what law professors say all the time, and especially those who blog -- but not only them, as anyone who's heard the questions at a faculty workshop or job talk or the comments at a faculty meeting can attest: "But enough about the subject at hand -- let's talk about me, and the things I'm interested in."  My alternative answer:  OK, it's academic jargon, but it's still better than "subaltern." 

Given the lawprof preponderance among our readers, let me ask this question, my little tribute to Marty's amusing and painfully perceptive question.  If you were putting together a glossary of favorite legal academic jargon, what would you include on that list?  I'm obviously not referring to legal terms of art, like secured creditor or intergovernmental tax immunity.  I'm talking about pure academese.   Law professor jargon surely overlaps with other academics' jargon (although, come to think of it, "subaltern" never really caught on in the law schools), but I'm sure we have folkways of our own.  My own list, for a start (and duplication is welcome), would include "problematize," "interrogate," "vexed," "on" as a substitute for "in" or "according to," as in "on this view...," and, to go slightly broader, the overfrequent use of "Now,..." at the beginning of sentences.

Other candidates?  (Humorous) definitions are also welcome.  Even though it was orthogonal to my original post, on Lederman's view this is a vexed (and vexing) question, and it worth interrogating the issue.      

Posted by Paul Horwitz on October 5, 2005 at 02:57 PM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Survey -- Legal Academic Jargon:


I was a math major. Got yelled at by my legal writing instructor for putting 'orthogonal' in a brief. To me, it made perfect sense and summed up the point. Now I find out its hip jargon.

Posted by: gr | Apr 4, 2006 11:29:36 PM

Inchoate obviously.

Posted by: Dush | Mar 5, 2006 9:48:38 AM

As a practicing lawyer, not a prof, there's words or phrases that appear in briefs all the time that you'd never see elsewhere.

First, there are the latin phrases -- ipse dixit, a fortiori, and haec verba are three common ones.

Then there are the phrases lawyers use around the water cooler, like "split the baby," my wife shudders whenever I use that phrase at home,

there are those words in briefs that you never see in the real world but are real world words -- sophist, specious, chimera.

Posted by: pj | Dec 26, 2005 7:49:09 PM

Man propositions. The intellectual designer dispositizes. Dropped in to see what orthogonality Mr. Marty Lederman might proffer, having read some timely material of his on scotusblog during the walk and chewgum Tom Goldstein performed for our benefit during the Roberts cruise through committee a few days ago. I retain a lot of respect for orthogonality, though; although you all are correct that it imputes the topic is rocket science; 3-D inertial systems +time. Yet, consider the interesting mapping some economists are using with Excel innovatively displaying 4 variables, though, perhaps, as our compeers suggest, Microsoft itself has a block for linear discursive expository; my imperssion is MS is vastly improved, even helpful. Complexity is alright. Perhaps too many of us have adapted. Well, time to evolve. Our Symantec times in which we live, all is innoculated, even our inanimate computer.

Posted by: John Lopresti | Oct 6, 2005 2:11:57 AM

It's true that engineers use "orthogonal", but in that context it actually means something specific - that is, it's a term of art, rather than a device for obfuscation.

Anyway, for my contribution, I vote for "arguendo". As for "dispositive", Microsoft Word doesn't even recognize it as a word. That's probably a bad sign.

Posted by: Jim | Oct 6, 2005 12:30:46 AM

How about using "trouble" as a verb, meaning (something like) "challenge", "unsettle", or "'problematize'"?

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Oct 5, 2005 11:28:36 PM

"De Ricoeur" -- bravo!

On the use of "and" in place of "v." or "versus," this was fairly commonplace in Canada, where I did some of my law school education, so it may be an Anglo-American thang rather than academic jargon as such.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Oct 5, 2005 8:22:35 PM

The conjunction "and" in place of "v" when pronouncing case names. As in "Hawkins and McGee," and "Roe and Wade" (not to be confused, of course, with Rowan and Martin). I don't do this myself, as least not that I'm aware of, and I don't know how common it still is, but it was standard practice among my own professors at Stanford.

I used to hear "conflate" all the time as a practicing lawyer, but I had a colleague who had studied hermeneutics, and for him, it was de Ricoeur.

Posted by: Mike Madison | Oct 5, 2005 8:16:12 PM

Conflate is a word that I have heard maybe three times outside of a legal argument. However, it's very common in law review articles.

Also, dispositive. Used outside the legal world? Yes. But not nearly as much as within.

Posted by: Kaimi | Oct 5, 2005 6:57:22 PM

One has to separate real terms of art that actually do have meanings ("utility") from complete blinkered nonsense ("orthogonal").

But at least orthogonal is a real word, albeit one that only is appropriately used in math classes that no lawyer has ever taken! My favorite is "incentivize." For when "subsidize," "reward," and "encourage" just aren't made-up enough!

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Oct 5, 2005 6:49:08 PM


I plead guilty to using all of these at least once!

Posted by: Laura | Oct 5, 2005 5:31:07 PM


BTW it's not just lawyers or academics that use "orthogonal". Engineers employed by real-world technology companies like it too; that and "granular," as in, "let's not get too granular about this issue."

Posted by: Bruce | Oct 5, 2005 4:52:53 PM

1. "Utilize," as in utilizing the word "utilize" rather than "use"
2. "Speak to," instead "discuss" or "address"
3. Complexify...there's really no way of explaining this one.
4. "Evidence", as in something evidences something else
5. Anything following a colon in a title, e.g. "thoughts on," "some thoughts on," "notes on"

Posted by: zakkramer | Oct 5, 2005 4:08:32 PM

Post a comment