Useless Legal Latin: Arguendo


All professions have specialized pseudo-languages of their own. English is fine for general communication purposes, but when you get a group that has to regularly convey to one another a set of complicated ideas that are difficult to couch in standardized language it becomes useful to have certain words and phrases that mean nothing to the untrained ear.

Sometimes this makes people outside the specialty angry. Lawyers get a lot of crap for all the latin terminology that worms its way into their discourse, as well as for the unusual and specialized meaning given to regular English words. Also, and I don't know if people give them crap for it, lawyers do deserve a certain amount of scowling for their occasional rhetorical excesses in creating standard terminology (my personal favorite in this regard: "You can't admit that evidence! It is the fruit of the poisonous tree!" Another fun one: "We won't be able to get anything out of the CEO unless we can pierce the corporate veil.") Still, a lot of the crap that people give is wholely unwarranted. If moral philosophers had to give a full enunciation of what exactly the categorical imperative was every time they wished to reference it, they wouldn't get a damn thing done.

Some of the criticism, though, is warranted. You will be shocked to learn that there is a lot of latin jargon in the law that serves no useful purpose. It's just there to make people who aren't lawyers feel excluded from legal conversations. Most lawyers do use these useless wods and phrases, though few consciously intend it to be exclusive; it's just a bad habit that they pick up in law school and never think to correct.

So, for the purpose of edification and mockery, I present the first in (perhaps) a series of utterly useless bits of legal latin: Arguendo. Arguendo means "For the sake of the argument." That's it. As used in a sentence: "Assuming, arguendo, that you had not already ruled in our favor on an earlier issue, these relevant facts mean that we would win the present argument even in the counter-factual bizzaro world that exists only in this pointless footnote." Arguendo contributes nothing to the clarity or meaning of legal language, it merely says to people "Look at me! I have a Juris Doctor and believe myself to be quite fancy!"

Do not use arguendo. If you hear somebody using it, tell them, "While we are in the world of counter-factuals, I see that you are assuming, arguendo, that anyone in this room gives two shits about your law degree."


Preliminary comment before finishing reading: if I am the referent to the categorical imperative mentioned above, I mention it not for grammatical purposes but because of a truly charming photograph from an SFMOMA exhibit which was recently described to me.

Picture a street intersection, somewhere in Eastern Europe. Two long roads stretch off perpendicular to one another. Where they meet, a traffic policeman is standing in white gloves and a crisp uniform. He is holding up one hand to indicate that traffic must halt, but nowhere, along either of the long straight streets, is a car in sight. The photograph is titled, "The Categorical Imperative".


Heh. Interesting.

In a sense, you are the cause of my using the phrase "categorical imperative" there, because your use on the blog post title planted the phrase in my brain. But I don't think I intended any sort of meta-circular commentary on your post or anything.

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This page contains a single entry by Zach published on May 22, 2007 8:53 PM.

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