Judging Words

It seems everyone wants to be a lexicographer. Even the 7th Circuit of the US Court of Appeals wants to get into the act. Judge Terence Evans writes in his opinion in the case United States v. Murphy on 4 May 2005:

On the evening of May 29, 2003, Hayden was smoking crack with three other folks at a trailer park home on Chain of Rocks Road in Granite City, Illinois. Murphy, Sr., who had sold drugs to Hayden several years earlier, showed up later that night. He was friendly at first, but he soon called Hayden a “snitch bitch hoe”* and hit her in the head with the back of his hand.

*The trial transcript quotes Ms. Hayden as saying Murphy called her a snitch bitch “hoe.” A “hoe,” of course, is a tool used for weeding and gardening. We think the court reporter, unfamiliar with rap music (perhaps thankfully so), misunderstood Hayden’s response. We have taken the liberty of changing “hoe” to “ho,” a staple of rap music vernacular as, for example, when Ludacris raps “You doin’ ho activities with ho tendencies.”

British Electoral Speech

On this past Thursday the United Kingdom held a general election to choose a new parliament and government. As expected, the Labour Party under the leadership of Tony Blair, despite losing a few seats, won a majority of seats, giving Blair an unprecedented (for a Labour politician) third term. Despite both being democracies and sharing similar political traditions, the United Kingdom and the United States have different political mechanisms and different vocabularies to describe them.

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Nuclear Option

A term in the news quite a lot lately is nuclear option. The current usage isn’t the literal meaning of the words, some political or military strategy involving weapons of mass destruction. Rather, the nuclear option in the news is metaphorical. It refers to the US Senate changing the rules regarding filibuster to allow more of President Bush’s judicial nominees to be confirmed and take the bench.

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Taxing Terms

In the United States, today is the day when tax returns and payments are due to the Internal Revenue Service. It is "tax day." The verb to tax appears in English usage as early as ca.1290. The word comes from the Old French taxe, which is after the Latin taxare. The noun tax appears in English sometime before 1327.

Internal revenue is the term used in the United States for taxes collected domestically, as opposed to custom duties levied on imports. The term dates to 1862, when the first Commissioner of Internal Revenue was appointed to collect income taxes to fund the U.S. Civil War. This first U.S. income tax was a wartime measure and was repealed in 1872. The income tax was re-imposed in 1894, but was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court the following year. It wasn’t until the passage of the 16th amendment in 1913 that explicitly permitted an income tax was the tax permanently instituted. In the United Kingdom, the corresponding term is inland revenue, a term that dates to 1849.

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A Demonstration of the Futility of Using Microsoft Word’s Spelling and Grammar Check

Frustrated with your spell checker? That it can’t tell you when to use "there" or "their" (and forget about "they’re")? Does the grammar checker on your word processor miss bad grammar while flagging perfectly good sentences as improper?

If so, you’re not alone. Check out http://faculty.washington.edu/sandeep/check/ and find at least one other who commiserates with you.

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