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Friday, November 05, 2010

The "story"

Paul has written before, here at Prawfs, about the "Yale 'So'".  Because I am, as a rule, slow to pick up on things, I am just now starting to notice (what strikes me as) the pandemic-speed spread of the use by legal scholars, and also entry-level candidates, of the word "story" to replace, say, "account".  We note, often, that "there is a story [to the effect that X]" instead of "One could [or even 'I would'] argue [that X]."

My sense is that the turn-to-the-"story" started -- or Patient Zero emerged from -- the empirical-studies context, but I could be wrong.  Like any tic, I suppose "story" could be over- or mis-used (just like endless parentheticals can be misused.  Oops.) but, I have to say, I kind of like this one.  So (sorry Paul), . . . what's the story?

Posted by Rick Garnett on November 5, 2010 at 02:10 PM in Rick Garnett | Permalink


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I agree with others here. 'So' was common in everyday talk long, long, long before it became part of legal academic speak. I would not at all be surprised if the use of story stemmed from some more popular source.

Posted by: Kristen | Nov 6, 2010 7:51:35 PM

al-anon, you fail to see that once law professors adopt a habit -- even one that is pervasive in other aspects of academic culture or culture at large -- all other routes of transmission must be dispensed with, in favor of a careful inquiry into the institutional or personal source, internal to the legal academy, by which the habit can plausibily be asserted to have spread.

Posted by: peter | Nov 6, 2010 11:22:59 AM

The "story theory" of Trial Advocacy goes back decades. Then again, I suppose it is unlikely that academics would pick up a trope from something as munbdane as actual law practice.

Posted by: Steven Lubet | Nov 6, 2010 10:33:53 AM

In philosophy people talked about the need to have "a story" about things ("a story about reference" or mental causation, say) at least as long ago as when I started grad school, in '01. I doubt that they got the expression from law professors, and suspect that like saying "so" it's just a fairly common academic tick found all over.

Posted by: al-anon | Nov 5, 2010 10:52:44 PM

Could this be traced back to Akhil Amar? I'm trying to remember, but I think he likes saying "so" a lot, and I haven't talked to him for a couple of years.

Prof. Amar also is charmed with the way we economists use "story". In economics, it's long been standard lingo to use "story" in reference to a math model put into words.

Posted by: Eric Rasmusen | Nov 5, 2010 10:16:57 PM

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