Monday, March 23, 2015

Justice Blackmun's blood oath

BlackmunUtah State political science professor Greg Goelzhauser recently reported in the Green Bag about a"blood oath" by Justice Harry Blackmun (pictured at left), who was known as a wordsmith and a grammarian. It seems that Blackman and Reporter of Decisions Henry Putzel agreed to root out the terms parameter and viable from Supreme Court opinions. Blackmun's objection to the first was that it is a mathematical term and not a synonym for boundary, and he saw viable as a medical term meaning "capable of living."  Thus he disliked the phrase "viable alternative."

In addition to its being incorrect in many contexts, I object to parameter as just plain stuffy. But I think viable can work metaphorically, as in "She has a viable claim."

If I took a blood oath it would be against the rampant incorrect use of "as such" and "begs the question." The first phrase includes a pronoun--such--that must have an antecedent, but there isn't one when the phrase is used to mean therefore. And begs the question refers to a specific logical fallacy, a kind of circular reasoning. It does not mean "raises the question."

(jdf)

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