A Slubby Mass of Words
Warning: legalese ahead
This is an entry in the Saturday series of Timeless & Timely called “Off the Clock,” where we focus on words, a quirk of history or literature, or something just plain fun. Make sure you don’t miss a single issue.
“Lawyers, I suppose, were children once.” — Charles Lamb, c. 1825
At the end of the week, with April Fool’s Day landing squarely on Friday, I couldn’t escape the inexorable wave of humor, hectored upon me with all the nuance and affability for which the internet is known presently.
Did I say “humor”?
It was more like a series of bad jokes. Or awkward pranks.
April Fool’s Day
frequently never disappoints.
However, one exchange on Twitter led me to think about humor in legal terminology.
As King Arthur said to Sir Lancelot, “Surely, you joust.”
But I kid you not.
And don’t call me Shirley.
Legalese is a recognized language. It could most broadly be considered the jargon of the legal profession: terminology that is useful to and recognized by lawyers.
I was having a conversation with my friend Kerry Gorgone (a trained lawyer) about the seven-hour and 37-minute gap in White House call logs from January 6, 2021.
She mentioned this concept:
“Adverse Inference: If the trier of fact finds a party guilty of spoliation, it is authorized to presume or infer that the missing evidence reflected unfavorably on the spoliator’s interest.”
I wasn’t struck by the legal aspect of it (because quite simply, it’s common sense), but rather by the word spoliation.
That’s “the destruction, alteration, or mutilation of evidence especially by a party for whom the evidence is damaging.” 1
Isn’t that a great word?
As someone who enjoys writing and a good pun or turn of phrase, my mind wandered back to what is probably the most recognized punny headline in the history of The New York Post (a rag that is notorious for its salacious slinging of superscripts):2
If more Americans were familiar with the legal term “spoliation” these days (is there a time when we ever were so erudite?), the Post might have run a story about the 7 1/2 hour gap in the White House call logs with this headline: