Really Quick Law Quiz …. with Answers

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.


  1. kenneth johnson · ·

    Greetings John, good lesson to learn about the word suffer.
    Another misunderstood word is shall. We are shall to death. We shall; stop, pay, register, get a license, etc. You never see we are ordered to; stop, pay, register or get a license.
    Shall is a word of futurity.
    Go to a fast food place, my I take your shall? my I take your order? Yet, when our public servants present a code, you shall register, we jump like peasants and register.
    The 13th amend. forbids involuntary servitude; therefore, your servants will never order you to perform, they just shall you to death.
    As to your lesson about the traffic ticket. I have to disagree with your commentary.
    When in an admin. court; court like setting, they speak a language unknown to the common man; legalese, as you mention.
    Let’s call legalese Chinese. You don’t speak Chinese, so you can’t understand anything they say, not even do you understand.
    I am an idiot, ok, i am not a learned man. Then the judge say, do you understand and magically i speak Chinese and give a coherent answer. Oh, so i am not an idiot after all.
    John, you can’t be an idiot and speak Chinese and give a coherent answer, this I disagree with you.
    Either you are an idiot or you are not.
    I believe the only correct response would be; i do not understand the language of this court as I am an idiot. Judge, do you understand the charges? I do not understand the language of this court as i am an idiot.

    1. Ken,

      I.) FIRST:

      Both “MUST” and “SHALL” mean “MAY”; they do NOT mean “REQUIRED” !!!!!!! (Thus if a statute states you “SHALL” or “MUST” do something, it means that you MAY choose to do it OR you MAY choose NOT to do it – it is YOUR CHOICE!)

      You’ve probably been told that you “Must” file a form, or you “Must” disclose a number. Let’s take a closer look.
      US Supreme Court in US vs. Minker, 350 US 179 at page 187: “Because of what appears to be a lawful command on the surface, many citizens, because of their respect for what only appears to be a law, are cunningly coerced into waiving their rights, due to ignorance.”
      US v. Tallmadge 829 F2d 767: “… One who relies on a legal interpretation by a government official assumes the risk that it is in error… it has also been held or said that `the government could scarcely function if it were bound by its employees unauthorized representations'” Goldberg v. Weinberger, 546 F2d 477.
      Caterpillar Tractor Company v. US, 589 F2d 1040 (also see GEHL Co. v. C.I.R. 795 F2d 1324): “Informal publications of IRS all the way up to revenue rulings are simply guides to taxpayers and taxpayer relies on them at his peril.”
      United States Supreme Court Federal Crop Insurance Corp. v. Merril, 332 US 380 (1947): “… Anyone entering into an arrangement with the government takes the risk of having accurately ascertained that he who purports to act for the government stays within the bounds of his authority … and this is so even though, as here, the agent himself may have been unaware of the limitations upon his authority.”
      Fields v. US, 27 App DC 433: ”Words like “may,” “must,” “shall,” etc., are constantly used in statutes without intending that they be taken literally.”
      Brinkley v. Brinkley, 56 NY 192: “Must” as used in statutes has been frequently construed not to be mandatory
      Fort Howard Paper v. Fox River Dist. 26 NW2nd 661: The word “shall” in a statute may be construed to mean “may,” particularly in order to avoid a constitutional doubt.
      Gow v. Consolidated Copper, 165 Atl. 136: If necessary, to avoid unconstitutionality of a statute, “shall” will be deemed equivalent to “may”.
      George Williams College v. Village of Williams Bay, 7 NW2nd 891: “Shall” in any statute may be construed to mean “may” in order to avoid constitutional doubt.
      US Supreme Court, Cairo and Fulton RR Co. v. Hecht, 95 US 170: As against the government, the word “shall” when used in statutes is to be construed as “may,” unless a contrary intention is manifest
      Ballou v. Kemp, 95 F2nd 556: The word “shall” in a statute may be construed as “may” where the connection in which it is used or the relation to which it is put with other parts of the same statute indicates that the legislature intended that it should receive such a construction.

      I hope that you are using a LAW DICTIONARY such as:
      1.) BLACK’s LAW DICTIONARY,2nd Edition, 1891
      2.) BLACKs_LAW_DICTIONARY_4th_ED-Rev_1968
      3.) BOUVIERS_LAW_DICTIONARY__1856_Edition
      PLUS a “regular English dictionary” PRIOR to Webster’s

      A good law dictionary should list important COURT DECISIONS, which you should look up.

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