Wednesday, November 1, 2006

"It cannot be gainsaid..."

I don't know about you, but when I'm reading a judicial opinion and run into the phrase "It cannot be gainsaid..." I feel a sense of revulsion... almost dread. Why is the judge (or clerk) writing like this? Why the sudden desire to sound like a fusty old gasbag? I start mistrusting everything.

The one I just ran into is in Byrd v. Blue Ridge Rural Electric Cooperative, a 1958 opinion written by Justice Brennan: "It cannot be gainsaid that there is a strong federal policy against allowing state rules to disrupt the judge-jury relationship in the federal courts." What purpose do the first five words of that sentence serve (other than to annoy me)?

Supreme Court justices have only used the word 113 times in the entire history of the Court, but more than 70% of these were since 1950. It was only used 18 times before 1900. (There are also 59 occurrences of "gainsay.") I mention these details because they bear out my suspicion that this is sheer pretension, a modern person's idea of how to sound like you came from the 19th century. I'm irked that the modern Justices ever affect a 19th century tone, and I'm further irked that they lack an ear for it.

IN THE COMMENTS: Other irksome expressions that judges need to stop using: "it is beyond peradventure," "it is beyond cavil," and "obloquy."

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