Monday, June 26, 2023

Evening Note for Monday, June 26

 Thought for the Evening: Legal Doublets

The legal doublet is a common feature in Anglophone legal language (and not unheard of in other legal systems). In a legal doublet, things are specified not by a single term but by a binomial, a conjunction of two terms:

metes and bounds
aiding and abetting
breaking and entering
terms and conditions
will and testament
cease and desist
hue and cry

There seem to be several different causal stories that contribute to the creation of legal doublets. Sometimes they arise from intersections of language -- so one might have a Norman term and an Anglo-Saxon term, and both are used to make clear what is going on in both languages. Sometimes they indicate sequences, like 'breaking and entering', where the crime has two parts, 'breaking' (i.e., opening a closed boundary) and 'entering' (i.e., crossing it). In other cases, like 'aiding and abetting', the two components are overlapping but distinct (to aid is to provide support and to abet is to incite or encourage). Others, like 'metes and bounds' are tied to historic practices. In others, we seem to have a hendiadys, where the two components are basically synonymous; this seems to be the case with 'hue and cry'. However, in all cases, the components are partly submerged -- the binomial works as a single label.

There is currently a significant movement in law to eliminate legal doublets as redundant verbiage. I think this is a serious mistake. For one thing, the doublet form often marks off a specific legal usage. 'Terms' or 'conditions' could be taken any which way; 'terms and conditions' you know to be legal. And there is a considerable practical importance in signaling to people when terms are being used in a legal and not necessarily a colloquial sense. Second, the doublet can function as a mnemonic for the issues involved -- 'breaking and entering' gives you the essential elements of the crime, where as a single word for it does not. In addition, there is usually good practical reason not to change legal terminology unless the laws themselves have fundamentally changed.

Regardless, legal doublets are interesting in a broader sense in that they are examples of a very common linguistic phenomenon, which we might call 'associative entanglement'. Two terms put into association with each other can modify each other's meaning. Sometimes this is purely a matter of changing registers of formality -- 'cease and desist' is a much more formal, and thus in many ways a much more emphatic, order than 'cease'. 'Null' and 'void' are both less formal, and thus less emphatic, than 'null and void', which suggests a definitive dissolution. 'Will' and 'testament' are synonymous, but both are less solemn than 'will and testament'. In other cases, each term specifies the kind of meaning that is relevant to the other. We see this in 'breaking and entering', in which the kinds of 'breaking' and 'entering' are specified to be those relevant to each other. 'Cry' means many things but there is less room to doubt about the 'cry' in 'hue and cry'. Sometimes there is seems to be a signal of non-difference, telling us that we should use the terms in the way in which they would be synonymous -- 'cease and desist' is perhaps a case, but 'bind and obligate' is almost certainly one. This is interesting in that such cases are repetition without redundancy -- we're just saying the same thing, but we're doing it to make sure that we're saying the same thing. Sometimes the concern seems more to be to avoid leaving something out -- 'aiding and abetting' is possibly a case, since it seems you can at least sometimes 'aid and abet' by either aiding or abetting, and that we just want a category that includes both so that they can be handled together.

Meaning of sentences is often treated as if it were composed of atomic meanings, but we know in practice that this is generally not so, and entanglement of the meanings of associated words is an obvious example of why it would often not be even plausible as a model. The doublet is used as one, but we still can recognize the components. Word in association with word can change meaning precisely because of the association.

Various Links of Interest

* Bryan C. Reece, Aristotle's Four Causes of Action (PDF)

* Maki Shimizu, The Problem of Habit (PDF)

* Richard Holton, Knowing, Telling, Trusting (PDF)

* Philip Gonzalez, Christ the Fourfold Analogical Event, at "Church Life Journal"

* Pope Francis on Blaise Pascal: Sublimitas et Miseria Hominis

* Peter West & Manuel Fasko, The Irish Context of Berkeley's 'Resemblance Thesis' (PDF)

* Edmund Waldstein, The Primacy of the Common Good, at "The Josias"

* The Colorblind Rainbow Center for Campus Diversity Seeks a New Director to Tell Us that Nothing Is Wrong, at "McSweeney's"

* The Deep Sea is a fun website that lets you scroll down to get a sense of the depth of different kinds of things in the sea.

Currently Reading

Knut Hamsun, Growth of the Soil
Pope Leo I, Sermons
J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fall of Numenor