It must have been one of the many days I was studying the girl in the first row rather than listening to the high school history teacher.
In response to a legal question I posed a few days ago, 77 people have written or called with the right answer. And glory be, the great majority aren't lawyers. They are average Joes and average Joans, and many of them said they'd been taught the right answer -- in high school.
In case you missed it, the question was:
Why are there so many "dual phrases" in the law that are apparently redundant (like "assault and battery" and "cease and desist," among others)?
The answer was neatly expressed by JoAnn W. Scott of Annandale:
"The custom stems from the post-Norman Conquest in England (1066 was the year William the Conqueror made a name for himself, in case you were studying the opposite sex in high school, too).
"For about 200 years, the upper classes spoke Norman French, while the lower classes spoke Old English (or Anglo-Saxon). But laws had to be understood by both groups. Thus, both Norman French and Old English words were used for the same concept."
The wags had other explanations.
William Jensen, a Rockville lawyer, says practitioners of his profession use "pairs" of words "because if we used just one, maybe we couldn't charge as much."
David A. Splitt of Northwest, also an attorney, says dualities underscore the truth of Splitt's Unwritten Canon of Law No. 1: "If the lawyers understand, there is no need for anyone else to understand."
And Henry Barton of Annapolis points out that the reason for "pairs" is obvious: "It's because they're used by each and every lawyer."
Lawyerly to his socks, Richmond attorney Steven D. Benjamin wrote to point out that many of the "apparent redundancies" I cited weren't redundancies at all.
"An assault is not a battery," Steve points out, noting that the assault is the threat to batter, and the battery is the actual attack.
Furthermore, he says that " . . . to abet is to encourage or incite another to commit a crime. 'Aid' does not impute the guilty knowledge or felonious intent which is denoted by 'abet.' "
Along the same lines, Garylee Cox, director of the Washington regional office of the American Arbitration Association, subdivided "will and testament" and "rule and regulations," among other "pairs":
"I can will you my automobile, but it will have little effect when I die if there is not also a written testament or witness of my intention," she writes.
Similarly, "If you miss your deadline at the paper, you will break a rule of your workplace, but you will not be arrested for breaking a regulation which has the force of law."
Daniel J. Glanz, an Alexandria lawyer, adds this important point:
"In some cases, there were once distinctions between terms that no longer exist, but that require the prudent draftsman to include both terms . . . .
"The distinctions are probably extinct. But darned if I want to be the one to find out that they aren't."
For a modern-day metaphoric explanation, however, I prefer the one submitted by Jim Lawlor, a Silver Springer who teaches legal reasoning and legal research.
Jim's musings actually refer to the horrifying "regulationese" used by many of today's government agencies. But his words could easily apply to "null and void," "law and order" and all their 11th Century cousins.
"The writer of one particularly offensive regulation apparently decided that if he threw enough words at the idea to be conveyed, it would fall out of the sky like a wounded duck and allow itself to be grasped," Jim writes.
"The style reminds me of the piling-on one sees in football games. Like the elusive idea, there is a ball under that mass of flesh, but getting at it requires peeling bodies . . . . "
Forrest L. Miller of Rockville wants to know why those federal government loans to Chrysler aren't called "lemon-aid?"