Where the Rubber Hits the [Anglo-American] Road

Ronan has often noted that I’m a great “offender for a word” (too lazy to provide links–take my word for it) or that it doesn’t take much to outrage me.

I chuckle at Ronan’s hyperbole but realize he’s also right. Some of this probably stems from my work as a lawyer.

Philosophy, literature, linguistics, and the arts are all really nice and I greatly enjoy them all. But law is “where the rubber hits the road” in a manner of speaking. This is what I think, anyway, when, as today, I spend my day researching the meaning of the word “and.” This excerpt from a “smoking gun” case that I have (luckily) turned up in my research today is instructive both as to my capacity for taking “offense at a word” and for the idea that law in our amazing shared Anglo-American common-law system is where the philosophical rubber hits the practical road of real life. In Schubert v. Trailmobile Trailer, L.L.C., 111 S.W.3d 897, 903 (Mo. App. 2003), the court considers the “elasticity” of the word “and”:

First, any reservation or limitation as to the scope of a settlement agreement must be clearly expressed. Angoff v. Mersman, 917 S.W.2d 207, 211 (Mo.App. W.D. 1996). A joint promise cannot be made several by any doubtful implication or limitations, but rather express words of severance must appear. Illinois Fuel Co. v. Mobile & O.R.Co., 319 Mo. 899, 8 S.W.2d 834, 841 (Mo. 1928). “And” is defined variously as “along with or together with,” “as well as,” and “to express the general relation of connection or addition, [especially] accompaniment, participation, combination, contiguity.” WEBSTER’S THIRD NEW INTERNATIONAL DICTIONARY (1976). To suggest that “and” amounts to a clear and express agreement that the parties shall be responsible severally, but not jointly, stretches the meaning of that word beyond its elasticity.

You have to love it! And this might, perhaps, provide insight into the value of and the appropriate place for “taking offense at a word.” The question is, how do we sequester our professional penchants, whether from the law or from academia or any other profession, from our daily conversations and ruminations–or should we even try such a separation?
Or alternatively, does taking offense at a word become obtuse in a conversation about religion, law, or politics, or does this approach belong precisely in such contexts? (It seems very natural in Anglo-American ways of doing things.)

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