Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Spelling, Commas, and the Constitution

Oregon recently voted to change some of the language in its constititution to bring it more in line with national conventions (e.g. the legislative, executive, and judicial "departments" will now be referred to as "branches").  This prompted the Christian Science Monitor to reflect on spelling, usage, and grammar in the U.S. Constitution.  The famous document may be a model for democracies but not for legal writing students:

The most notable flat-out spelling error, according to Mount, is "Pensylvania," with only a single "n" in the first syllable. Pennsylvania, as we all know, was named for William Penn. That an entire commonwealth was named for one man somehow makes me feel better about Trump Tower and its ilk.

The original Constitution includes such archaisms as "chuse" for "choose" and "controul," as well as "British" spellings such as "defence." Noah Webster and his Americanizing spellings still lay decades in the future as the Framers labored (laboured?) in Philadelphia.

There is even an "it's" where "its" is called for – see Article I, Section 10.

Some modern students of the Constitution are surprised at its original Capitalization. Almost every important Noun seems to begin with a capital Letter, and what's up with that?

And what about punctuation? The commas in the Second Amendment alone have inspired reams of legal writing.


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