Archive for the ‘Language and the law’ Category


December 15, 2014

A sign on a law office down the street from me in Palo Alto:

The warning seems silly in the neighborhood, where I’ve never seen anyone even stopping in front of the building. So why the warning? And what is its legal standing?


“We do not contracept”

November 30, 2014

In the NYT on the 28th: “In Arizona, a Textbook Fuels a Broader Dispute Over Sex Education” by Rick Rojas, beginning:

Gilbert, Ariz. — The textbook, the one with the wide-eyed lemur peering off the cover, has been handed out for years to students in honors biology classes at the high schools here, offering lessons on bread-and-butter subjects like mitosis and meiosis, photosynthesis and anatomy.

But now, the school board in this suburb of Phoenix has voted to excise or redact two pages deep inside the book — 544 and 545 — because they discuss sexually transmitted diseases and contraception, including mifepristone, a drug that can be used to prevent or halt a pregnancy.

A law passed two years ago in Arizona requires schools to teach “preference, encouragement and support to childbirth and adoption” over abortion, and the school board decided that those pages were in violation of this law — even though the Arizona Education Department, which examined the book for compliance, found that they were not.

… the Gilbert school board is moving forward, trying to figure out how to remove the material in question — by way of black markers or scissors, if need be — despite resistance from parents, residents, the American Civil Liberties Union and even the district’s superintendent.

The big issue has to do with religious rights, and I will have a bit to say on that front. But my main goal here is to work my way up to the quote in the title of this posting and to look at it critically.


Naming, in perpetuity

November 30, 2014

From the NYT on the 28th, a piece by Sam Roberts, “With Naming Rights, ‘Perpetuity’ Doesn’t Always Mean Forever”, with some serious linguistics in it:

After Philippe de Montebello agreed at breakfast two decades ago to name the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Roman Sculpture Court, in perpetuity, for the philanthropists and antiquities collectors Leon Levy and his wife, Shelby White, Mr. Levy predictably, but politely, posed an impertinent question.

“Aware that sometime in the future, Philippe’s successor would probably be making the same promise to some donor not yet born,” Mr. Levy later recalled, “I asked him, How long is ‘in perpetuity’?”

“For you, 50 years,” Mr. de Montebello, the museum director, replied.

They went on to further negotiate the time span.

How to understand “in perpetuity” in this context?


Trademark annals

November 12, 2014

From Victor Steinbok, a link to this story from KHON-TV (in Honolulu HI) on the 10th: “Noh Foods sued over ‘Huli-Huli’ trademark infringement” by Manolo Morales, beginning:

A mainland company that makes Huli-Huli sauce has sued a local company that makes Hula-Huli sauce.

Huli-huli may be a familiar term in Hawaii, but when it comes down to it, mainland-based Pacific Poultry Company owns the rights to it. So other companies would need permission to use it.

Legal details to follow. But first, about those sauces.


lady parts

September 18, 2014

Today’s Zits:


Jeremy and his buddy Pierce, and the slang euphemism lady parts.



May 22, 2014

Yesterday’s Classic Doonesbury from 1974 (#1, here) looked at the foul mouth of Richard Nixon (and his aides) from Watergate days. Today (again from 1974) we get the President defining the limits of what counts, in U.S. law, as a prosecutable defense (in ordinary language, what counts as illegal):

(Bonus from the Watergate tapes: Nixon’s paranoid anti-Semitism, in his bitter ravings about the Jews.)


On the racism watch

April 30, 2014

The current flurries over Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling are rich veins of overt and coded racist language, explored at great length in the news. That provides me with an opening to post today’s Scenes From a Multiverse, entitled “Racism 2.0” (you’ll notice that I’ve been experiencing an avalanche of recent cartoons of linguistic interest; sometimes they come in clumps or waves):

And the Hispanics / Latinos. And the Arabs / Muslims. And…


October 31, 2013

The Dinosaur Comics of  October 7th:

Blackmail, prostitution, pornographic movies, and big banking. Quite a set.

The Slants, still at bat

October 22, 2013

From several sources recently, news of the battle by the band The Slants to register their name for trademark protection in the U.S. Here’s an NPR story, “Asian-American Band Fights To Trademark Name ‘The Slants’ “, and a brief thoughtful piece “The Slants v, the USPTO” by Mark Liberman on Language Log.

The Slants have been up against the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for some four years now (an earlier report appeared on this blog here). At issue is a U.S. statute that bars granting registration to a name that “consists of or comprises immoral, deceptive, or scandalous matter”; USPTO objects to “Slants” on the ground that it is a disparaging term for people of Asian descent. The band has taken various legal tacks over the years; the current case (in a federal circuit court) relies on appealing to the First Amendment, arguing that the USPTO rulings deny the benefits of trademark on the basis of the content of the Slants’ speech.


August 30, 2013

In the New Yorker of 8/26/13, a letter on p. 5 from Richard M. Perloff, Professor of Communication at Cleveland State University, Cleveland OH, beginning:

Dangerous Liaisons
Hendrik Hertzberg, writing about Anthony Weiner, Eliot Spitzer, and their forerunners in the delicate pas de deux between private misdeeds and public behavior, assumes that sex scandals have an objective quality (Comment, August 12th and 19th). Whether a series of transgressions merits the label “scandal” is itself a contentious issue that is a function of social norms and cultural values.

Perloff goes on to discuss some specific cases, and I’ll get to these. But first some lexicographic notes.