Thursday, April 15, 2004

O.W. Holmes, Jr., Made Modern on Matters of Gender

The same article I mentioned on the 14th (of this month) rendered one of the most famous passages in American law thus:

The life of the law has not been logic: it has been experience. The felt necessities of the time, the prevalent moral and political theories, intuitions of public policy, avowed or unconscious, even the prejudices which judges share with [others], have had a good deal more to do than the syllogism in determining the rules by which [all] should be governed.

I wonder: Did it occur to the author or the editors that Holmes, by modern standards, was a "sexist" and that the reformulation of his (poetic) passage distorts an important item in the historical record?

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Straightening Out King James

What is person that thou are art mindful of it?

Language Purification

Yesterday morning I saw the following footnote in a law journal:

n78. Cardozo, supra note 40, at 141 (edited for gender neutrality …).
Is this sort of linguistic cleansing (“reconstruction”?, “language purification”?) of source material common?

To give the student editors their due: they did not quote Cardozo’s “sexist” language; they paraphrased the portion of the statement by J. Cardozo that they found offensive. I am still troubled. Are you?

What would the editors of this law journal do with statements made by judges, treatise writers., etc., before, say, the 18th 0r 19th century, statements in which long-dead authors or judges use male pronouns to refer to human beings or to male judges? Would such statements also be edited to achieve “gender neutrality”?

Would Shakespeare’s language also be restated to conform to 21st century norms at the law journal in question?