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Blupete's Weekly Commentary


June 7th, 1998.

"Jargon."

"The berries" is an expression used by students at the law school, at least they used to. A berry, as I understand it, is a short statement, often prepared by the student as a personal learning exercise, which, in a very concise manner, encapsulates a legal doctrine or idea. A larger piece of legal writing such as a judge's decision might have many bits and pieces, a large number of which exist to enlarge or to illustrate points and not critically essential to the finding in the case (we lawyers call these bits and pieces, obiter dicta). What the busy judge or lawyer is after, when reading a legal case, however, is the rationale of the judgment or the principle underlying and which determined the judicial decision (ratio decidendi). So, a berry is an essential bit to be found in the writings of judges, or of those learned in the law.

A typical law school library will contain millions of pages of judicial statements on just about every topic you can imagine; if the law student is to come to grips with his subject, it will be necessary for the student to reduce this mass of material into simple statements, often just triggering words which stand for entire legal concepts, concepts which had their beginning years and years ago, and which are preserved and passed on from judge to lawyer, from lawyer to judge. Sometimes these statements are just an obscure word or two, but a lawyer should be able to translate it into regular English, though it may take pages and pages (rarely will a lawyer be called upon by another, equally trained, to do so).

A person could not get far in law school, or, for that matter, in a court room without being able to understand and apply legal doctrines to situations presented, often on the spot. So it is, that complex legal doctrines can be stated to another person by simply stating certain words, such as: Rylands and Fletcher, or Donoghue and Stevenson. Words, such as these (in these examples, names of old cases) spoken or written to another legally trained person, will immediately paint in a whole legal landscape on which, then, one can proceed to paint in his or her particular case.

Thus, there is a need, -- dare I say it -- for jargon; it is needed to assist the experienced so to avoid the expenditure of labour and time, which might be better used to resolve the action: though, never should jargon be used if it obscures events or befuddles people.

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Peter Landry

June, 1998 (2011)