Tuesday, October 7, 2008

"Egregiously" Aggrieved

The devil visited a lawyer's office and made him an offer. "I can arrange some things for you, " the devil said. "I'll increase your income five-fold. Your partners will love you; your clients will respect you; you'll have four months of vacation each year and live to be a hundred. All I require in return is that your wife's soul, your children's souls, and their children's souls rot in hell for eternity."The lawyer thought for a moment. "What's the catch?" he asked.

Lawyers. Why is it everybody hates them until they need one? Well, for a lot of reasons, but we won't go into them right now. My father was a lawyer; my uncle was a lawyer; I have a brother who is a lawyer; I even had an aunt who was a nun and had a law degree! They all had a few things in common. They were bright, articulate, of even temperament, and - they loved the word "egregious."

Once while playing golf with my lawyer brother, he missed a short birdie putt and proceeded to put the blame on me saying, "You know, I would have made that putt if you hadn't so egregiously stepped in my line." Somehow, the normally forgivable offense of stepping in your opponent's line was, by virtue of its being so egregious, elevated to the status of "crime against nature."

What is it about the word "egregious" that appeals to the literary arsenal of lawyers? For one thing, lawyers are in the business of advocacy, which is just a fancy way of saying that they have to argue for the positions of their clients whether they believe in them or not. And the word "egregious" comes in handy for just that purpose.

The dictionary ascribes definitions for the word "egregious" that include "conspicuously offensive," "flagrant" and "extraordinary in a bad way." Thus, this word is nearly perfect for the purpose of attacking the credibility of one's opponent, because it proposes that one's client is so severely aggrieved, believing the other side's point of view would defy reason. And what better way to colour an argument than to suggest an opponent's unreasonableness.

This devious trick also comes in very handy in ideological arguments. Looking back, I've noticed it is not beyond my own methods to employ this tactic - and this word. Its main function is simply to disgracefully beg my own point of view regardless of where the substance of my arguments lie. It reminds me of the following variation on a famous legal axiom: "If the law is on your side, argue the law; if the facts are on your side, argue the facts; if neither the law nor the facts are on your side, stand up on the table and shout!" Sprinkling one's argument with the word "egregious" and its variations is usually nothing more than one's way of standing on the table and shouting. It is very useful for deflecting attention away from the weakness of one's point of view.

But don't ask me to give up using this word. It works like no other. And even though there are a million reasons not to aspire to being one, it makes me sound a little like a lawyer.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go wash the dishes. They would have been done had my daughter not so egregiously dismissed my request to do them an hour ago!

1 comment:

  1. I can relate. My brother is an attorney too. I have only heard him say the word "egregious" once however. I'll show him your post. He will have a chuckle.