Ipse Dixit


Call me crazy, or call me Ishmael, but I love reading court filings, particularly briefs, particularly briefs on indecency.

I've noticed that some of the ones filed by broadcasters in the profanity challenge are getting a little freer with their language. It makes sense in filings challenging the FCC's crackdown on cussing that lawyers would not want to bowlderize their own language. Sort of works against the argument, though I suppose too much could also work against it.

I  like all that Latin that gets dropped like the names of vaguely famous former teen start. Lawyers and judges all speak that same secret Latin code that makes me think of a bunch of guys in togas debating the the meaning of "good" (or would that be in Greek?).

Anyway, I was reading NBC's filing, minding my own business, when up popped an ipse dixit in NBC's brief. Now, that sounds vaguely indecent all by itself, but I have fallen in love with that term now, particularly delivered in a Damon Runyon-esque New York-ese (and you have an "esque" and an "ese" in the same sentence?).

I know all about your amicus curiae (which is a "friend of the court" filing by someone supporting a party to a case), and I just found out what scienter means, which is aforethought, though without the malice.

Scienter has been tossed around a lot because it's what Fox says it didn't have when Cher and Nicole Ritchie let fourth with their unexpected comments on the Billboard Awards that became the subject of FCC rulings and now the Second Circuit fedreal appeals court challenge.

But ipse dixit was a new one, with a wonderfully rude sound.

I can just hear a New York cab driver telling me what I can do with my ipse dixit. For those now sufficiently teased, it means something that has been asserted but remains unproved. Why they don't say "allegation," I don't know. But then, I don't know why academic papers all seem to speak in an indecipherable jargon that Mark Twain would cut apart like a corpse on CSI.

OK, I do know whay. It's becuase if they spoke like everybody else, then everybody else would think they could be lawyers and academics, which are actually secret societies with handshakes, decoder rings, and annual meetings where who knows what goes on.

Trying to strip the language of its wonderfully coarse and expressive words, as the FCC would do, is like substituting bland mock-curses for Jackie Gleasons profanities in the TV airings of Smoky and the Bandit movies. Oh, that's right, they already do that.

By John Eggerton