Friday, July 22, 2005

WOTD: Esquire. Also: Fn. 4

In honor of all my friends who are pre-Bar (but about to take it), post-Bar (yay, we made it), and pre-Law (man, are you in for it), we present the Word of the Day:


Not the magazine. Although that's an interesting point you make, indeed it is.

Here's my favorite discussion of the word I've yet seen, over at JD Jive.

Short summary of the above: Everyone's down on the Esquire thing, even though it's shorter than Attorney At Law and is thus useful in identifying recipients of correspondence as Lawyers (unbelievably useful, when it comes to discovery disputes or privilege questions years and years down the line), and besides "Counselor" is trendy but oddly meaningless, and "Doctor" isn't really available, since there's already multiple kinds of Doctor out there and we're not really any of them. And you should avoid using Esquire anyway lest people think you are an ass.

Not that there's a governing body that regulates Esquire-usage. But if you make someone think you're a lawyer when you're not, Bad Things Could Happen (google search for Unauthorized Practice of Law).

My favorite part of that favorite discussion: when the Brit points out that Over There, everyone is an Esquire, by common courtesy, say on the Cheques they get from the Banque. Banke. Bank. Whatever they say over there, in their Auld English. Or should that be Olde? Or Eldritch? The Queen's Tongue, in any case, and isn't that an ugly expression.

Speaking of Royal Tonguing, which we weren't, who here has confirmation or disprove...itation... of the famous story of why Spaniards from, say, Madrid use the infamous "thetheo," the lisp by which a perfectly good word like Zorro or Zapato (or Zapatista?) becomes Thorro, Thapato, and Thapatista, respectively. And no, it's not Thatpatithta. [see the update, below]

My informants tell me it's due to a historical king, one with a Lithp, whose courtiers and noblemen and other hangers-on imitated, and thus you had a top-down linguistic change, much as the upperclass in England imitated the King or Queen in order to seem or sound socially Higher. [again, see the update] Then as the change percolates down, the lower classes (whatever that may mean) pick it up, and then everyone does... unless the educated and elite changes again, in which case it may take time for that change to percolate down. If it ever does; some social groups - well, don't say stagnate, but let's say have extremely strong and well-grounded phonological features, such that you see stable survivors of long-gone vowel shifts or word changes in discrete and insular populations. [this part is all true, it's the Spanish history that's suspect - or wrong]

Ha! I said Discrete And Insular! So there we are, back in lawyerland, for that's a direct quote from Carolene Products' Famous Footnote Four, see e.g. Answers Dot Com and Balkin article, for general background, not to mention Jack Balkin's followup.

...and also Supreme Court History, halfway down (text search for footnote)

... heck, just see for yourself (google results). Or you could just read the case and see (it's footnote four).

[update: see the comments for some corrections of my Spanish knowledge, and some generally useful information]


At 3:14 PM, July 22, 2005, Anonymous shell said...

Shellvester, Esq. That's "squire" with an "E" in the front. I'm not just a squire. I'm an "E-Squire."

Oh God that was cheesey. Someone save me from social blunders like this, please!

At 4:31 PM, July 22, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

¡Oye! (or Oyez!, for you francophiliacs -- anyway: Listen up!) The word is "ceceo", with the Cs pronounced as THs, and it's the noun form of the Castillian verb infinitive "cecear". For an unsatisfying history and a good definition, see
For a more abstruse discussion, see
And if you consult the Spanish Royal Academy's diccionario and its amended entry, it would appear that Zapatista actually is pronounced Thapatithta in some regions. And just BTW, "sesear" is another Castillian verb that means "to sound the S-sibilant".

El hermano de Sherlock

At 5:44 PM, July 22, 2005, Blogger Eh Nonymous said...

wow, that's more than I knew before, anon. By the way, as I indicate in a post, below, there's enough anonymouses out there (anonymice?), so, like me, maybe you should pick a cutesy and disgustingly punning anonymous name with which to comment. Who knows? You could become rich and famous, and start your own blog, and ...


something or other.

Anyway, a very informative comment, thanks again. I've been emailed a link to Spanish.about as well. Looks like I was wrong. :)

Oh- about the Oyez! thing.

"Oyez, oyez, oyez, all persons having business before the Honorable, the Supreme Court of the United States, are admonished to draw near and give their attention, for the Court is now sitting. God save the United States and this Honorable Court."

Such is the traditional call of the official crier of the Supreme Court of the United States, drawing its tradition from legal history, all the way back to- well, to English courts, presumably, since who else would have a traditional ritual like that with a _French_ word used as the call to attention? Nobody but the English, who were conquered by the French so long ago that so-called Law French words like Oyez (among others) are now part of an English (and sometimes American) lawyer's expanded lexicon.

Also see: Law Latin, such as "nil dicit," (he says nothing, failure to respond to a lawsuit- never heard that one myself); "res ipsa loquitur" (the thing speaks for itself: a situation in which the instrumentality of harm was entirely within the control of defendant, and it was the kind of harm that logically means it was defendant's fault that the harm occurred); "obiter dictum," shortened to dictum and dicta in the plural (something said in passing: when the court reaches out beyond the case in front of it to decide something, particularly something controversial, _not actually necessary to decide the case at hand_, it's dictum, and not binding at all. It may be persuasive, especially from a higher court to a lower court, but it's not a holding or an order or anything at all: it's just dictum).

Also in loco parentis, habeas corpus and thousands of other common legal words and phrases.

At 2:14 AM, July 23, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The nice thing about "esquire" is that in etymology it reminds lawyers of their duty to the public. To be a lawyer is not merely a job, it is a status.

In the US, of course, there are no hereditary titles of nobility. But studying in the approved manner, and passing the bar, publicly and for life alter the newly minted lawyer's position in the community.

Part and parcel of our legally enforced monopoly on the provision of legal services is a demand that we exercise not just our technical skill, but also our wisdom.

We do not "need" the title, but we do need to be reminded of what it best represents. A similar concept applies to religion. We might laugh at a Priest who bristled at being called anything but "Father." And yet, if being called "Father" reminds a pastor of his duties, then it seems no small benefit both to him and to his flock.

And, for the historically minded, that the term "esquire" came to english from law french (and into french from latin)while also describing a position in the English feudal chain of tenure, manages to marry both the civil and common law traditions in a single term.

At 7:11 PM, April 20, 2006, Blogger micah said...

If you graduate a recognized law school and pass two bar exams but choose not to join a State Bar Association may I use the title Esquire after my name without fear of some dreaded consequences??????


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