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AWADmail Issue 381

October 18, 2009

A Weekly Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Tidbits about Words and Language

From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: Administrivia

It's time for a bit of administrivia...

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From: Rita Spillane (ritaspillane gmail.com)
Subject: curtilage
Def: An area of land encompassing a dwelling and its surrounding yard.

One of the words this week, curtilage, is one of my all-time favorites! I am a prosecuting attorney in California. I recall in law school (circa 1977) listening to my professor in Real Property (Jerome Curtis RIP) teach us this word. According to him, in the European Middle Ages the curtilage was an area defined as that portion of property that was within a bow shot (arrow) from the center of a manor estate. Isn't that a great visual image? Imagine an individual shooting an arrow from the center of the manor courtyard and then circumscribing that area. That area would be considered "within the curtilage". This would be an important fact in determining what crime was or was not committed within that space. For example, a theft within that proscribed area may be charged as a burglary; outside that area a mere theft. The penalties would be different.

From: Ferenc Korompai (korompai msn.com)
Subject: curtilage

A proposal from Wales to the International Football Association Board in 1964 regarding the power of the referee: "[His] ...discretionary powers operate from the time he enters the ground [field of play] and its curtilage..."

From: Anne Lane (makeboxes gmail.com)
Subject: vis major
Def: An unavoidable disruptive event (such as an earthquake) that none of the parties is responsible for.

I could not but help, when I read the definition of vis major, thinking of our cat Hathaway. He is a large and beautiful one-eyed Turkish Angora, named after the old Hathaway shirt ads that ran in the New Yorker, a one-feline vis major. When he wants attention, which is most of the time, he starts knocking anything in reach off the table. He bullies our elderly, arthritic Maine Coon cat when it's dinner time, causing her to shriek in anger. And of course he helps any time you get out the laptop or a book or a stack of bills. He's just acquired a new epithet, courtesy of AWAD.

From: Paul Driesbach (pkdries msn.com)
Subject: vis major (Re: Thought for the day)

Regarding the Thought for the Day:

Death must be so beautiful. To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses waving above one's head, and listen to silence. To have no yesterday, and no tomorrow. To forget time, to forgive life, to be at peace. -Oscar Wilde, writer (1854-1900)

Before my wife died five months ago, she asked me what I thought death would be like. I told her I thought that we simply disappeared into nothingness. I wish I had given it as Oscar Wilde described it, as an answer. Thank you for the comforting quotation.

From: Bruce Schoenberg (bruce schoenberg.net)
Subject: Barratry
Def: The practice of stirring up of groundless lawsuits.

Closely allied to barratry are the offenses of champerty (the purchasing of causes of action by a disinterested third party for the purpose of prosecuting litigation) and "maintenance" (the advancement of legal expenses by an attorney to fund a client's litigation). The prohibitions against champerty and maintenance have weakened in this day of contingent fee litigation and litigation financing companies, but the practices are still illegal or unethical in many states. The third definition of barratry -- sale of ecclesiastical offices -- is also known as "simony".

From: Rudy Rosenberg (rudyrr att.net)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--barratry (Re: Thought for the day)

Regarding the quotation in the Thought of the Day:

Illegal aliens have always been a problem in the United States. Ask any Indian. -Robert Orben, magician and author (b. 1927)

My father Hillel Rosenberg had arrived as a Polish Jew immigrant in Belgium in 1921. Many years later, as he was nearing his eighties he expressed unhappiness about the status of Belgium. I asked him what the problem was.
"Too many foreigners!" He replied.

From: J. Jarvis (jay.jarvis gmail.com)
Subject: Res gestae
Def: Facts incidental to a case, admissible as evidence in a lawsuit.

Thank you for your inclusion of this oft-misused phrase. As a judge still suffering from schoolboy Latin, I misuse it frequently myself. As said by the late California Justice Robert Gardner (known as the "surfing judge" and revered for his pithy and sardonic appellate opinions): "Older practitioners will remember the popularity of the phrase 'res gestae.' ... However, the new Evidence Code, modern writers and modern courts have abandoned the use of this rather ill-defined phrase. Res gestae has now gone the way of the great auk, the passenger pigeon, and high button shoes. It was, in its time, a handy gadget. When an attorney could think of no other reason for the introduction of hearsay, he would simply utter the magic words 'res gestae' and, often as not, get the testimony in." (People v. Orduno (1978) 80 Cal. App. 3d 738, 744, fn.1.)

A word in a dictionary is very much like a car in a mammoth motorshow -- full of potential, but temporarily inactive. -Anthony Burgess, author (1917-1993)

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