girl ipsa loquitur: Isn't it Ironic? Email me!

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Isn't it Ironic?

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Ever since Alanis brought us her ode to irony, people have been confused about what irony truly is. Rain on your wedding day? Is this, in fact, ironic? I guess if you have the intellectual depth of a puddle.

Here is my favorite example of irony. Prince changed his name to a symbol. He intended to be freed from the "word" that represented him. That's funny. The result was that almost everyone assigned words to represent the lack of words to represent Prince and he became "The Artist Formerly Known as Prince". Or, if you are very clever, he became "The Artist Represented by an Hermaphroditic Ankh with Bi-secting Tao Cross".

He found "Prince" too unwieldy and traded it for the ultimate in too unwieldy ~ Lots more words coupled with the urge to giggle every time you say them. I don't think that's what he was going for. But it's what he got.

That is irony.

I love language. It comes with rules and concise meanings. It makes explaining things to other people so much easier than grunting and pointing and jumping up and down. And I really love legal language. I will never forget the day I first learned about the legal term of art. It was like Christmas had come on the wrong day! I just got up that morning and there was a present for me that I didn't even know I was getting. My first little secret admirer gift from the law. (If you hang in there with Girl Ipsa Loquitur I'll have occasion to tell you about the whole affair I am having with the law)

The legal "Term of Art" is a precise use of a word or phrase acquired in a particular context, apart from it's general meaning. It is Lawyer code. Some of it is Latin (Res Ipsa Loquitur) but some of it is just every day English, imbued with special meaning. Special legal meaning.

Hang on a minute. I have to pause to savor that special legal meaning.

Malice Aforethought is a term of art. My mother used to use this term all the time when I was a kid. Someone was always doing this or that with malice aforethought. "Why would you do this? With malice aforethought!" (In her defense, I was doing all sorts of incomprehensible stuff as a kid, but none of it with a man-endangering state of mind)

"Reasonable" has to be both the best and the most contended legal term of all time. Everything turns on whether or not it is reasonable. Sometimes it's subjectively reasonable. Sometimes it's objective. It's average unless you are a specialist and then it's special. And who says what's reasonable? The judge, most times. But what standard do we evaluate him by? A reasonable standard, of course. Aren't most judges reasonable by definition? Judicial? And isn't it therefore reasonable to think that everything they do must be reasonable by definition? So, you are acting reasonably when you act like a judge. Whew! This gets me off the hook with the Dean for yelling "Rusty! Escort him from my courtroom." during remedies class last semester.

Is it any wonder that the neophyte gets lost trying to sort out what the lawyer has said?

So many people roast President Clinton (I started to write Mr. Clinton but quickly reminded myself that I like the guy.) for that infamous response;
"Depends on what is meant by is."

Hello? He's a lawyer. Everything depends on what is meant by everything. It's a wonder that anything ever gets settled or resolved in the law. But it does. Most times decisively.

So, I look forward to the legal jousting and wrangling with words, I really do. But the day to day application is far more satisfying. Like at the grocery store. When the produce guy says to me "Hey lady, did you know your kid is sitting in the freezer?" I can always say "Depends on what is meant by sitting."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your beloved President Clinton more correctly questioned, "it depends on what the definition of is, is." I do not personally like the man, but his gift for legal semantics appears beyond compare.

I may well write my doctoral dissertation on the meaning and origin of 'is' just so we can define this mother of all loopholes once and for all.

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