What’s Up, Redact?

There is no dumbness like the dumb of a frightened xenophobe: like the guy who argues that legal Latin violates the First Amendment, since it’s “the foreign language of a church.” The best thing about this is that the guy uses a Latin phrase (“per se”) in the course of making his silly argument. (Seen at Language Log, with a pretty crunchy answer.)

English-only types might be interested to see what would happen to the text of the First Amendment if all the Latin were struck out of it.

As is:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Without Latin:

REDACTED shall make no law REDACTEDing an REDACTED of REDACTED, or REDACTEDing the free REDACTED thereof; or REDACTEDing the freedom of speech, or of the REDACTED; or the right of the REDACTED REDACTEDably to REDACTED, and to REDACTED the REDACTED for a REDACTED of grievances.

I might have snuck one or two more REDACTEDs in there, but I didn’t want to go overboard.

About JE

James Enge is the author of the World-Fantasy-Award-nominated novel Blood of Ambrose (Pyr, April 2009). His latest book is The Wide World's End. His short fiction has appeared in Swords and Dark Magic (Harper Collins, 2010), Black Gate, the Stabby-Award-winning anthology Blackguards and elsewhere.
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27 Responses to What’s Up, Redact?

  1. peadarog says:

    Like that old supposed Bushism: “The problem with the French, is that they have no word for entrepreneur.”

  2. brownkitty says:

    I knew there were reasons I liked you 🙂

  3. marycatelli says:

    read the comments in Language Log.

    he comes to respond.

    and quells any doubts you may have about whether this is a parodyy

  4. davidcapeguy says:

    I’m not certain that this guy is on the level. Yes, I think he’s a frightened xenophobe, but I think he’s one who publicly expresses his most dimwitted beliefs merely to incite a flame war. He’s also a very sloppy writer — if I notice all the missing words in just a perfunctory* glance at his blog, he’s obviously not doing serious work in promoting his beliefs.

    And to be fair, yes, I drop words in my online blogs, too, but I’m generally posting something fairly insipid, like a good new place for lunch, rather than A Profound Statement of Things True.

    *Totally off subject: have you noticed that nobody “makes a perfunctory toilet” in fiction anymore? You run across that phrase in old novels all the time, but no longer. Modern fictional characters must be a bunch of sloppy bastards.

    • JE says:

      “I’m not certain that this guy is on the level.”

      I wondered about that, too, but if he isn’t serious he’s going for the nonstop Stephen-Colbert-plays-“Stephen-Colbert” performance.

      “have you noticed that nobody ‘makes a perfunctory toilet’ in fiction anymore? You run across that phrase in old novels all the time, but no longer. Modern fictional characters must be a bunch of sloppy bastards.”

      Or they’re very serious about their toilets–would never settle for a perfunctory one?

    • Anonymous says:

      Yeah, I disbelieve. I’ve seen online entities like this one before.

      –Jeff Stehman

  5. Latin

    You redacted English words. They had Latin etymological origins. They do not promote a religion.

    The Supreme Court called a moment of silence in a public school a violation of the Establishment Clause. It merely resembled a prayer in a government location. It is time for it to end Latin, the language of a specific church in the laws, in the courts and in all legal documents. These are government activities.

    You and I may use all the Latin we want. The government may not without endorsing a specific church. The Establishment Clause applies to the government, not to private people.

    • JE says:

      What You Don’t Know About Latin and English Destroys Your Argument

      “You redacted English words. They had Latin etymological origins. They do not promote a religion.”

      They’re English just the way law-Latin is: they’re Latin words that have been adopted into English (directly or through Romance sources). It’s true that they don’t inherently promote a religion; neither does law-Latin.

      “The Supreme Court called a moment of silence in a public school a violation of the Establishment Clause.”

      But it didn’t forbid silence in all government activities, did it? That’s because silence, unless it carries religious content and occurs in a religious context, does not promote any sort of religion. Neither does law-Latin.

      The idea that Latin is inextricably linked to a particular religious faith is ridiculous: through most of their shared history, while the edifice of Roman law was being constructed, the western Roman Empire was trying to stamp out Christianity.

      But your argument is utterly untenable in any historico-linguistic context. Religious expression or secular expression can occur in any human language. Language simply gives a form to expression; the context and the content of an expression is what makes it religious or not.

      Should we change the names of the days of the week? They all contain explicit religious content, unlike law-Latin.

      • Re: What You Don’t Know About Latin and English Destroys Your Argument

        James: My point is about the italicized words. The italics is an admission by the lawyer they are foreign.

        Your concern is the English Only crowd. That has nothing to do with the argument. English Only has no Establishment Clause implication.

        This is a lawyer problem, not an English Only problem. You should speak to your lawyer friends about the complexity of Establishment Clause SC jurisprudence. They are walking a tight rope of political backlash. So they permitted Obama to swear on a Bible despite a lawsuit. They weaseled out of the question by finding lack of sufficient damage to the plaintiff. Another time, they said the plaintiff had insufficient standing, since his daughter, the named plaintiff, was religious.

        I am a school principal of a public school. Over the loudspeaker, I ask you, as a ten year old kid, and the rest of the Assembly to remain silent for one minute. I say nothing else about the silence. Would you have thought silence offends the Establishment Clause? The SC did. They held it was a form of prayer and an endorsement of religion. I do not object to a minute of silence. I don’t care about it. But the SC held otherwise.

        I have no objection to streets named after saints. The days of the week, do you italicize them? Why not? Because they are English words with latin origins.

        You have Classics classes where people speak Latin, and discuss Latin literary works or history. If held in a public school class, that does not promote religion. Nor do I care that most Latin speakers are priests. Many priests speak English, too.

        But what if the content of the legal Latin was quoted from the Catechism? Would you rethink the endorsement question?

        In another comment, I want to discuss the most important word in the law, reasonable, and it specific, technical meaning in Scholasticism. Are you into that? Scholasticism is a High Middle Ages church philosophy, with St. Thomas Aquinas as its top expression.

        I know you are not a lawyer. This is a lawyer beef, not an English Only beef.

        • Re: What You Don’t Know About Latin and English Destroys Your Argument

          I pass a law. Sharia will be the basis of American Law after a specific date. Arabic terms from the Koran and its explanatory books will be common in legal briefs.

          Arabic is not even a religious language. It is spoken by billions of people, today, and by US ethnic groups.

          However, in the context of the application of Sharia to American law, would Arabic promote religion or be religiously neutral, in your personal opinion? You have 9 votes on the Supreme Court. Decide.

          Our law came from 800 years ago, so you do not have this single, signal event to warn you about the language. You swim in it as a fish has no awareness of water, and certainly not of air and land.

          • JE says:

            Re: What You Don’t Know About Latin and English Destroys Your Argument

            Your argument will always fail because it is based on a false premise. Latin is not inherently religious; it has been and is used to communicate a variety of religious viewpoints or matters which are not religious at all. The fact that you think its use by some people with a particular religious mindset gives it God-cooties just shows how little you know about Latin in particular or human language in general. (You don’t seem to understand jack about the names of the days of the week for instance, or the conventions of loaning words into English. The names of gods are normally capitalized in English, like all proper names. Loan words are not normally capitalized, unless they were in their source languages. With one exception, the names of the gods in the English days of the week are not Latin.)

            I won’t dignify your asininely xenophobic attempt to muddy the waters with Sharia law. I will point out that Arabic words are used quite freely in governmental contexts without any religious import whatsoever. Does it violate the establishment clause for students in public schools to learn algebra? For lawyers and judges to talk about it, if they’re not too damn ignorant? How about Arabic numerals? Must they too be banished by the First Amendment? Obviously not.

            Your speculations about the piscine state of mind, or mine, are not very plausible. Fortunately, they are utterly irrelevant.

          • Re: What You Don’t Know About Latin and English Destroys Your Argument

            You may be right. However the Supreme Court makes the rules in this area.

            “Latin is not inherently religious…”

            What about a minute of silence? I would not have thought that inherently religious. I am silent as I type. I have not meant to endorse any religion by that. Silence is far less religious than Latin.

            The Supreme Court held silence was endorsement.

            *******

            As a side bit of unsolicited advice, personal insults show frustration in the debate. They distract attention to your manners and upbringing, away from the content.

          • JE says:

            Re: What You Don’t Know About Latin and English Destroys Your Argument

            “What about a minute of silence? I would not have thought that inherently religious.”

            That’s because you don’t understand language. Silence can be meaningful, depending on on the context. (Consider the principle, still applied in some contexts, of qui tacet consentit.) I pointed out above that the Supreme Court has not banned silence in every governmental context, only where it is clearly religious.

            Your unwillingness to acknowledge this, even as you return to the point, shows that you are not debating honestly. If you feel my taking notice of this fact is ill-mannered, you must understand that we have different standards on this issue and that I’m not going to accept yours.

          • Re: What You Don’t Know About Latin and English Destroys Your Argument

            Here is a good starting summary of the case. You may want to read the actual opinion, referenced at the bottom.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wallace_v._Jaffree

            I can shush students so that they do their math test. You are correct. Silence to do math does not promote religion. Silence without a school activity is a stealthy form of prayer.

            I assume that you support good communication and understanding when people speak or write to each other. Turn it around a bit.

            Why is Latin used when so few people speak it, even American lawyers and judges? What non-religious justification does legal Latin have? Please, assume, every Latin expression has a clear American translation and equivalent. For example, every element of a crime must be proven to have been intentional. Why is “mens rea” used, instead of “intent,” or even the excellent literal translation, “guilty mind?”

            The “mens rea” was from a monk. He took it from the Catechism. It was a required element of analysis of an accusation of mortal sin. He applied it to a crime. In this context, the use of “mens rea” instead of the English, “intent” endorsed the Catechism and its associated religion. The idea of intent is a Catholic way of reducing criminal liability. Until that time, people did not care what you had in mind when you shot a deer on the King’s Land.

            Here is a nice place to start to understand the scene.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_of_Bratton

            That was fine for 13th Century England. It is not acceptable for 21st Century, secular USA. The idea of intent is Catholic. The Latin mens rea is totally Catholic, and as offensive as Sharia to the Establishment Clause.

            This is lawyer stuff. But it is important to everyone, even you, because you are subject to these religiously derived and still religious, anti-scientific, anti-secular Catholic concepts.

            As Creationism offends the Establishment Clause, so should the word, mens rea, and the idea, mens rea. It comes from religion. It is religious doctrine without secular, scientific validation (find me intent in nature, and prove it can be reliably measured). It is supernatural. It is a foreign word with only a use in a religion. It promoted the ideas of that religion, as if one advocated creationism. It offends the Establishment Clause by its endorsement of Catholicism.

          • JE says:

            Re: What You Don’t Know About Latin and English Destroys Your Argument

            You’re wrong on the facts, here. The OED cites mens rea in the laws of Henry I (a century before Henry of Bratton), and that doesn’t mean there aren’t (or weren’t) earlier secular usages on the term.

            Intent is a feature of law and philosophy from a time preceding the existence of Christianity. Here’s a convenient example:

            quis est cui magis ignosci conveniat, quoniam me ad XII tabulas revocas, quam si quis quem imprudens occiderit? nemo, opinor. haec enim tacita lex est humanitatis ut ab homine consili, non fortunae poena repetatur.

            –Cicero, Pro Tullio 52

            “Who is there who ought more to be pardoned, (since you bring me back to the Twelve Tables,) than a man who without being aware of it kills another? No one, I think. For this is a silent law of humanity, that punishment for intentions, but not for fortune, may be exacted of a man.”

            –Yonge (transl.)

            Whether you are ignorant of this nontrivial element in the history of law or whether you simply choose to ignore it for your own convenience, it makes your terrified fantasy of monks and catechisms conveniently irrelevant.

          • Re: What You Don’t Know About Latin and English Destroys Your Argument

            Let’s say, the idea of the mens rea as an excuse for a crime is an universal human trait in our DNA, found in all systems of laws, and a basic human concept of compassion.

            Why have it in another language, Latin, except to unlawfully endorse the Catechism? Why not have it in English for example?

            That is my proposal, ban all Latin government legal utterances because they endorse Catholicism. You and I could still chat away in Latin, since the Establishment Clause does not apply to individuals.

          • JE says:

            Re: What You Don’t Know About Latin and English Destroys Your Argument

            You end where you began: in error. Lots of professional jargon is derived from Latin and Greek (and other sources). It is not an endorsement of Catholicism, which did not invent Latin, does not use the law-Latin peculiar to the English legal system, and is not and never was the sole user of Latin.

            If you are unaware of existing English equivalents for mens rea, you should probably hit the law-books again. If you know of them and choose to ignore them that’s disingenuous, but your attentive reader has learned to expect that.

          • Anonymous says:

            Re: What You Don’t Know About Latin and English Destroys Your Argument

            You are forgetting the Establishment Clause language. Professions, people, private schools may use the Latin. The government may not endorse a religion, since Latin is associated with it.

            The Supreme Court decided even silence without an activity in a public school was a prayer and endorsement. I would like it to look at its own endorsement of Catholicism by it use of Latin. If they decide Latin is just technical in the law, as it might be in medicine, and does not endorse Catholicism, I would accept the decision.

            Do you oppose a case testing that claim being certed at the Supreme Court? What is wrong with just debating the point, and getting a final decision on it?

          • Re: What You Don’t Know About Latin and English Destroys Your Argument

            James: I enjoyed this debate, and learned a couple of useful things. You had the courage to not cut me off as whatitsname did. My compliments.

          • JE says:

            Re: What You Don’t Know About Latin and English Destroys Your Argument

            “James: I enjoyed this debate, and learned a couple of useful things. You had the courage to not cut me off as whatitsname did. My compliments.”

            I’m glad you enjoyed it. I always like a good argument–and, in certain moods, I think a bad argument is better than none at all.

          • JE says:

            Re: What You Don’t Know About Latin and English Destroys Your Argument

            “The government may not endorse a religion, since Latin is associated with it.”

            You’re assuming your conclusion here. In fact, both your assumption and your conclusion are false, as I have shown above. “Association with a religion” is too vague: English is also associated with a religion (Anglicanism). The use of English does not, ipso facto, violate the Establishment Clause, nor does the use of Latin.

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