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My maternal grandfather was a lawyer. When he and my grandmother had a little tiff, she would sometimes say, "Go tell your lies in court." They would soon make up, but a statement like that is perhaps an occupational hazard to any married lawyer.

A lawyer's reputation for fine analysis of words is well-deserved. The outcome of a case often depends on the precise meaning of a single word. No wonder lawyers are deeply interested in words. Almost all the staff members of some law offices are AWAD subscribers. Many lawyers are well-known novelists and authors of books on language usage.

This week we look at terms from the world of law.

gravamen (gra-VAY-muhn) noun [plural gravamens or gravamina (-VAM-uh-nuh)]

The essence or the most serious part of an accusation.

[From Latin gravamen (trouble, grievance), from gravare (to burden or to weigh upon).]

-Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)

"The gravamen of James's charge against Flaubert is that he created no characters of sufficiently deep consciousness." Joseph Epstein; Writer's Block: A French Misconnection; The Wall Street Journal (New York); Mar 31, 2007.


O wad some Power the giftie gie us / To see oursels as ithers see us! (Oh would some power the gift give us, to see ourselves as others see us.) -Robert Burns, poet (1759-1796)


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