Judge Selya's Logolepsy, or Love of Obscure Words (Duh) - U.S. First Circuit
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Judge Selya's Logolepsy, or Love of Obscure Words (Duh)

The Ninth Circuit may be the most reversed, and the Seventh Circuit "benchslappy," but if I had to come up with a catchphrase for the First Circuit it would be "logolepsy".

If you've been able to read an opinion by Judge Selya of the First Circuit without reaching/clicking for a dictionary, good for you. If you're like the rest of us, then you probably have a Merriam-Webster.com window open whenever you're reading a Judge Selya opinion -- so, you could say he's a logolept.

Oldies but Goodies

Judge Selya is very aware of what he's doing. In an interview he stated: "There are no such things as obscure words; there are just words that are temporarily abandoned. It's part of my responsibility to resuscitate them." He added, "I may be incurably lexiphanic -- but lexiphanicism for its own sake is not my style," says The Boston Globe.

Here are some of our favorite, as Mr. Peacock likes to call them, "Selya-isms": salmagundi, somnolence, inconcinnate, gallimaufry, asservation, sockdolager and algid. Want to know what they mean? As my mother always told me, "Look it up."

Thoughts on Judicial Writing

Some view complicated judicial writing as a "disservice" and others note that "The job of the appellate judge is to communicate the decision as clearly and efficiently as possible. ... Just as lawyers shouldn't waste a judge's time, judges shouldn't waste a lawyer's time," reports The Boston Globe. Meanwhile, an historian notes that Judge Selya "has his own voice, and he uses it to draw attention to what he believes. He should be applauded for that," says the Globe.

Tips for Arguing Before the First Circuit

Don't approach preparing for oral arguments before the First Circuit the way you did for the SAT -- no vocabulary flash cards needed. Use language you are comfortable with and don't try to impress by using vocabulary that you are unfamiliar with. If Judge Selya asks you a question and you don't know the meaning of the word, just fess up and ask what it means -- you're probably not alone. And as a plan B, have a junior associate at the ready with a dictionary.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a fan of complicated writing and using archaic words just for the sake of it. But if Judge Selya, and others like him didn't remind us of long-forgotten words, well, they would be long-forgotten. And, there's a sentimental side that wants to keep language alive -- and for that reason, I'll keep my dictionary close to me when I read First Circuit opinions.

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