July 15, 2017
Two scenarios: (ENGLISH versus LEGALESE)
1.) An unmarried man and woman had been living together for 8 years. Most of the time they argued so much that the man would simply tell her to “shut up” and go into his separate bedroom. Occasionally the woman would attempt take a “whack” at him, but the man easily warded off these physical attacks.
Eventually the woman filed a claim (“lawsuit”) against the man, stating that he was emotionally abusive; and that for all of the last 8 years she had “suffered” severe emotional distress, as well as physical harm when the man, in self-defense, would block her blows. The woman wanted total ownership of the apartment which they had purchased together on a 50-50 basis.
The judge asked the man if he had also suffered, either emotionally or physically, during these 8 years. The man responded that the situation was often very uncomfortable, but not unbearable; and he did NOT suffer.. The judge then returned to the woman, asking her about her suffering. She talked on and on about how much she suffered due to this man.
When the judge returned from his chambers, he dismissed the woman’s claim with prejudice. (meaning no appeal possible).
QUESTION: Why did the judge so rule?
ANSWER: As usual, the answer lies in the difference between ENGLISH and “LEGALESE”. In everyday life (ENGLISH), to suffer means ” to undergo or feel pain or great distress”.
However, in “legalese” (mostly taken from Latin and French), to “suffer” means “To put up with; tolerate; to permit (someone to do something): “suffer the little children to come unto me.; to tolerate or accommodate oneself to; to tolerate or allow: “I do not suffer fools gladly.”; To permit; allow: “They were not suffered to aspire to so exalted a position as that of streetcar conductor” (Edmund S. Morgan). Thus, in legalese “suffer” means to tolerate and allow something to happen, with the implication that consent has been given. This is especially true if the person “suffers” or allows something for an extended period of time, without any attempt to fight back or alter the situation.
(CHECK the legal and regular dictionaries!)
2,) A young man stood before a judge for a traffic ticket. The judge asked him to enter a plea. The man replied, “I am an idiot.” Whatever the judge asked him, he continued to state only that he was an idiot. The judge then asked the man if he understood the judge. The man replied, “No, I do not understand. I am an idiot.” After several minutes of this back-and-forth, the judge dismissed the case. As the young man turned to walk out of the courtroom, the judge announced to all the other 75-plus people about to appear before him for traffic offenses that if they simply would stand up and clearly state that they were an idiot, that person’s case would also be dismissed. NOT one additional person stood up and called himself an idiot.
The judge and the “idiot” young man clearly recognized the legal game they were playing against each other. In regular English, an idiot is defined as a stupid person, etc. However, in “legalese” an idiot is defined as a “private person, layman, from idios, own, private; private man, with no professional status, one who lacks professional knowledge; layman, person lacking skill”. The judge was trying to pull the young man into the court’s JURISDICTION, whereas the young man was rebutting the judge’s PRESUMPTION of jurisdiction by repeatedly stating that he was a private man with no professional status or skills that would place him under the court’s jurisdiction.
The judge then asked if the man “understood the judge”. In English “to understand” means to comprehend. However, in “legalese” “to understand” means “to stand under”. In short, the judge was asking if the man “stood under the jurisdiction of the judge and the court”. Once again the young man rebutted the judge’s presumption of jurisdiction; and with NO jurisdiction over this private man, the judge had no choice other than to dismiss the case.
John-Henry Hill, M.D., Ph.D.