Gullible linguistics experts/Amerikaner glaubt A.P.Herbert

Mark Liberman at Language Log has just discovered A.P.Herbert’s Uncommon Law – a book I have difficulty reading more than a page of because it is so ridiculous – and finds it a believable description of English law. This illustrates the repeated discovery that there is nothing more ridiculous than another country’s law:

bq. …So far, so good. But the essay (or the judge’s opinion — it’s not clear to me whether Herbert is channeling the judge or merely quoting him) concludes that the stereotypes exempting women from reasonableness are to be endorsed.

bq. “To return, however, as every judge must ultimately return, to the case which is before us — it has been urged for the appellant, and my own researches incline me to agree, that in all that mass of authorities which bears upon this branch of the law there is no single mention of a reasonable woman.”

There’s nothing new here, according to Wikipedia:

bq. Although the Misleading Cases were entirely fictional, they on several occasions were picked up by newspapers both in Britain and elsewhere as factual. One judicial decision (supposedly establishing a novel crime of “doing what you like”) was sharply criticized by an American law review article, whose author failed to note its entire absurdity. Other cases have been quoted admiringly and with full knowledge in actual judicial decisions.

A.P.Herbert has in fact been translated into German, but I seem to have mislaid my copy: Rechtsfälle, Linksfälle.

3 thoughts on “Gullible linguistics experts/Amerikaner glaubt A.P.Herbert

  1. Ah – very recent.
    Yes indeed – the Collins case I link to elsewhere seems like pure satire in parts.
    I think there are occasional give-aways in the Herbert cases. For instance, it would be possible for a judge to say that counsel argued ‘tediously’, but he would probably phrase it more subtly. I also find ‘as every judge must ultimately return’ unconvincing, and the very mention of a ‘reasonable woman’ can’t be taken seriously, at least at that date. I also find the reference to estover(s) a bit obscure and clearly chosen for literary effect.
    But of course you see all this yourself the second time around!

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