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'Pettifogging' for Pettifoggers: a history: NPR

In the Senate on Tuesday, Chief Judge John Roberts quoted the trial of 1905 accusation against Judge Charles Swayne; this photo of Swayne appeared in a March 1905 issue of The Literary Digest.

 

The Literary Digest

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The Literary Digest

In the Senate on Tuesday, Chief Judge John Roberts quoted the trial of 1905 accusation against Judge Charles Swayne; this photo of Swayne appeared in a March 1905 issue of The Literary Digest.

The Literary Digest

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, “people pay too much attention to small, unimportant details in a way that shows a limited mind.”

Let us comment on that.

Petty + fogger = pettifogger

Small means small or insignificant. A smoke machine is old jargon for a “huckster, a rushing whining.”

In his exhortation of officials during President Trump’s removal proceedings, Supreme Judge John Roberts quoted the use of “pettifogging” in the 1905 Senate Deposition Process from the Florida District Judge, Charles Swayne, who was deposed “… before it filing fake travelers checks, improper use of private railcars, illegally detaining two lawyers for contempt and living outside of his district. “(After nearly three months, the senate agreed to acquit.)

According to a transcript, the relevant offensive word was spoken by the lawyer of Swayne, the Hon. John M. Thurston. He then apologized.

“I don’t think we should aim for that high standard, but I do think those who address the Senate should remember where they are,” said Justice Roberts, insisting on a civil discourse between House cancellation managers and lawyers from President Trump.

According to etymologist Anatoly Liberman, a professor at the University of Minnesota, there is a reason why pettifogging is so much like “petty”.

“Pettifoggers, shy and all kinds of hagglers have modest antecedents and usually live up to their names,” Liberman wrote in the Oxford University Press blog OUPblog.com in 2010.

Liberman has traced the Dutch / German roots of Fogger:

The early modern Dutch form focker was latinized as foggerus, with -gg in the middle. German has Focker, Fogger and Fucker, none have a currency other than dialects. The OED gets them from the Grimms’ multi-volume dictionary. (As is known, the OED had to bow to the morality of its time and exclude ‘unprintable’ words, but in the mentions no one would look for, offensive forms appeared: that is a mention of the German bastard, with lower case f, under fogger, and from windfucker “kestrel.”)

Although Dutch breeding nowadays means “cattle breeding”, its predecessor had a much broader semantic spectrum: “cheating; fleeing; adapting; adapting; arguing; pushing; collecting things in secret” – an odd set of seemingly incompatible senses. “

Today, pettifogging is not one of those words that, when flashed by a 10-year-old, would make grandma shudder; but it was once a lawyer dagger.

According to Michael Quinion of World Wide Words: “In the later Middle Ages there was a class of lawyers who made a living by making a fuss about small lawsuits. Around 1560 they were called pettifoggers. They often had limited care for scruples or conscience and the term was deeply contemptuous. “

Another notable custom occurred during a gossip exchange between English actor Sir Henry Irving and Judge F. Carroll Brewster, as documented in the Lancaster Law Review of 1904 under the heading: “Legal Miscellaneous: The Real Lawyer and Real Actor.”

“But the man is just a pettifogging lawyer – a scourge for society,” Sir Henry said when he heard Judge Brewster scold a co-public figure.

Like Thurston in 1905, Irving was later forced to take back his use of the word.

“You have to understand that I was just saying a” pettifogging lawyer “- not a member of the counter who, just like you, is a jewel of society.”

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