A lexicon of linguistic lunacy! | Daily News


A lexicon of linguistic lunacy!

I only wish lawyers and doctors would speak a language that humans also understand. One of the great techniques for obfuscating our comprehension is to use words such as ‘obfuscate’. When I was in sixth grade the educational authorities jettisoned Latin as a subject on grounds that it was a ‘dead language.’ How then have archaic Latin phrases remained alive and kicking to an inordinate degree in both the legal and medical professions?

We once desperately rushed a relative who had collapsed at a party to hospital. The physician who examined him pronounced that he had suffered a ‘myocardialinfarction’. Why couldn’t he have cut the balderdash and referred to it in common layman’s language as a heart attack.

I think hard legalese, medicalese and botanical nomenclature is a way to increase the mystique of the professions. Sort of in the way that doctors might admit that myocardialinfarction just means a heart attack. Ah, yes, but you can bill much more for myocardialinfarction. Recently I was advised by a doctor to consult an Otolaryngologist. When I asked who or what that was he gave me the kind of look that doctors reserve for imbeciles and said: “An otolaryngologist is an ENT specialist.” I did and a week later I was assailed again by pretentious medical jargon: “You are suffering from a cochlea problem called otitismedia.”

I was relieved to find that my cochlea infirmity, despite its suggestive intonation, was not what I initially thought it to be. And do not confuse the ailment otitismedia with ‘yakko’ media persons who mispronounce the word ‘a tortoise’. I asked him what the heck it all meant. He explained that the cochlea is the inner ear. Similarly I was enlightened that otitismedia, in laymen’s language, is simply inflammation of the middle ear.

Testify and all its ‘testi’ related words have a funny history. Technically, testify comes from the Latin word testis, which simply means witness. But testis itself is related to the Latin word testiculus, which means exactly what you think it does. This most likely comes from the ancient Roman practice of swearing by one's testicles, which serve as a representation of one's descendants and ostensibly, one's legacy. While there is some debate over the exact involvement of the testicles in this practice, the association remains. You now have permission to giggle the next time you hear someone called to testify.

While there are a lot of medical words with Latin roots, muscle's root is cuter than most. It comes from the Latin word musculus, the diminutive of the word mus, which means mouse. So muscle comes from the Latin word for "little mouse." Evidently the Romans thought that certain muscles look like little mice under our skin. It's kinda cute if you don't think about it too much.

So, in legal jargon terms like res ipsa loquitur (the thing speaks for itself) is still often used to mean it is self-evident in court. Incamera from the Latin, (in the room) is also used to refer to meetings conducted in private with a judge, as opposed to in open court. And so it goes on: per incuriam, (through lack of care) is used of improperly made judgments. Obiterdicta – (the words said in passing) mean remarks made in a judgment that are persuasive but not binding on subsequent judgments.

The Latinites say: “Thank Heavens there’s no danger of surgeons changing the name of our bones.” The humerus in the upper arm is still the humerus, the tibia is still next to the fibula. If you happen to break your leg , be grateful for the ease of saying you’ve broken your tibia, rather than trying to work out the French-German for the bigger, stronger bone below the knee.

They also contend that Latin is far from being anachronistic. Not only do we still use plenty of original Latin in our everyday speech but it also dictates the structure of most of our words. After all, they assert that two thirds of English words are Latinate. The only way forwards is backwards, they claim, learn Latin, and history, medicine, law, language and botany click into super-sharp, bang-up-to-date focus.

Young lawyers often attempt to dazzle their audiences with superfluously colourful jargon. For instance, here is a typical legal oration: “The accused Gariabaldi de Lankageputha II, also known as Thatta Gariageputha…his father’s name is also Gariabaldi… is currently serving a custodial sentence in the Central Kandy District penal system.” Cutting out the gobbledygook his submission should simply have stated: “Gariabaldi de Lankageputha is a prisoner in Bogambara jail.” Years ago when I was a fledgling journalist I was asked to cover a controversial murder trial where both opposing Queen’s Counsel should have won ‘The Award For Convoluted Legalese’. This is how it went with translations added for the benefit of the reader:

Prosecuting counsel: This case your honour could be clearly viewed as actusreus (a criminal act) by the accused who was composmentis (of sound mind at the time). However, my learned friend here suggests primafacie (at first sight) that the investigation lacks corpusdelicti (the body of the victim). Be that as it may, I must elaborate de facto (in actual fact) we have evidence to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the accused was in flagrantedelicto (caught in the act) in articulomortis (at the moment of death) while committing summummalum (the supreme evil). Accordingly the key witness will attest to the sequence of events abinitio (from the beginning) that led from a verbis ad verbera (from words to blows).

Defending counsel: Your honour, this is all not clearly de jure (according to the law). I must stress that interalia (among other things) that the court be granted audialterampartem (to hear the other side). Evidently the onusproboandi (burden of proof) is solely in the hands of the prosecution. It is therefore nonsequitur (does not follow) that my client was present at the time the deceased was in extremis (at the point of death). In fact the evidence of the witness is decidedly contradictioinadjecto (a contradiction in itself).

And they say Latin is a dead language!

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