5 Funny Terms Only Federal Judges Use

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By Brett Snider, Esq. on July 18, 2013 12:01 PM

Judges might not be too hip with street slang, but they hang with a different posse, one they like to call the federal judiciary, and it too has its own language. Despite our statements that neither we, nor judges care for legalese, there are some specialties of the English language they cannot seem to resist.

Here are five of the densest and most arcane terms that only federal judges will use.

1) Salmagundi

Sounds like: "Solomon Grundy" when spoken with a mouthful of creamy peanut butter or marshmallows.

Made cool by: The great Judge Bruce Selya, First Circuit wordsmith.

Actually means: A type of English salad showcasing meat or fish, veggies, fruits, and nuts arranged in a geometrical fashion. Metaphorically means "a mix."

Reasonable synonym: Hodgepodge.

2) Surplusage

Sounds like: Surplus + "uhj" (an ending very fitting of the word)

Made cool by: The one and only Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod, Fifth Circuit duchess of diction.

Actually means: Something that is extra to the point of being meaningless, like allegedly making unhinged racist comments at a law school speaking engagement.

Reasonable synonym: Superfluous.

3) Abecedarian

Sounds like: Big Bird trying to pronounce the entire alphabet as one word.

Made cool by: Once again, Judge Bruce Selya, First Circuit conjurer of conjugation.

Actually means: Something fundamental or basic. Judge Selya uses a fairly condescending tone, especially when applied to arguments which he finds lacking.

Reasonable synonym: Rudimentary.

4) Kulturkampf

Sounds like: Mein Kampf. Americans don't have much talent in distinguishing German words.

Made cool by: Justice Antonin Scalia, Supreme Court importer of fine Teutonic phrases.

Actually means: "Culture struggle," and it refers to a period of German history were laws were passed to diminish the power of, or even to discriminate against Catholics. Used by Scalia, ironically as a Catholic, to mean a natural political struggle over legislating morality, especially when it comes to gays.

Reasonable synonym: legislating cultural mores.

5) Shibboleth

Sounds like: The 3rd monster summoned by the Call of Cthlulu, a creature of non-Euclidean geometry and tentacles for eyes.

Made cool by: Notorious RGB: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Supreme Court curator of verbal antiquity.

Actually means: A sign or marker indicating one's position, allegiance, or origin. It comes from Bible-era tribes being distinguished by how they pronounced the word "shibboleth," and Ginsberg uses it in Carhart to describe a belief that identifies only anti-abortionists.

Reasonable synonym: Credo or standard.

Whatever the hip new Article III crowd is saying nowadays, Greedy Associates is no square.

Word to your Justice.

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