Lost for words

By | 4th October 2011

On the flyleaf of a book given to me by a friend appear the words “…I hope this book brings on an afflatus rather than a Winchester Goose….”

If you are anything like me, you will not immediately understand where the donor is coming from. Indeed, I had to look up the words in the very same book (The Superior Person’s Book of Words by Peter Bowler, first published in Great Britain by Bloomsbury in 2002) before I got the joke.

If you want to know the meaning of zzxjoanw, nepheligenous or thaumaturge you will need to refer to Mr Bowler’s entertaining book, available on Amazon and in good bookshops everywhere. I know what you will be thinking! He has lost his marbles, spent too much time overindulging or is suffering from sunstroke (on the Sussex coast, in October?) The weather was blistering but…

No, I may have succumbed to all these things but the point I want to make is that lawyers are not always at fault when they appear not to want to become familiar with the technology available in the e-disclosure space. I know I spend some time blogging the suggestion that some lawyers could do better in relation, for example, to e-disclosure but really and truly how is it their fault if they cannot understand what the technologists say?

And it is not only the technologists who are at fault. Reading recently about the very sad events at Kiwayu on the Kenyan coast where Mr Tebbutt was shot and killed and his wife taken hostage, I was irritated to find that my newspaper of choice had decided to mangle the language and refer to piracy having “metastasised into an enterprise with one aim…extortion.”

Now I have heard of metastasis in the sense of a cancer spreading from one organ to another and I suppose you might say that the use of the noun in the form of a verb is a clever way of describing the way in which piracy has changed over the years. Frankly I found it ridiculous. What on earth is wrong with saying that piracy has become an enterprise with one aim, namely extortion? We would all have understood immediately what was being said.

This is my point! Too often people in the technology industry use words and phrases which are to all intents and purposes alien to the rest of humanity and I find it hard to blame a lawyer who refuses to engage with someone who does not explain in clear and unambiguous language how the services offered may be of assistance to the lawyer in solving the problem he/she currently faces.

Unintelligible? Well, before you go, there was one other noteworthy piece of news while I was away. Did you see that Twitter now “predicts the stock market”?

Apparently a hedge fund called Derwent Capital Markets finished its first month of trading in July with a return of 1.85% despite recent market falls and turbulence. The report claimed it used Twitter to track global emotions and then “uses complex algorithms to predict the stock market.”

I told you it was all aeaeae (magic, to those in the know)! But we in the business of e-discovery/disclosure could all help to spread a little magic if we thought carefully how to explain to our actual and potential clients how we can help them with the problems of collection, analysis, review and hosting, in a language they readily understand.

And in the spirit of explaining to my audience exactly what I am talking about here is a short list of vocabulary:

  • Afflatus: a sudden rush of poetic or divine inspiration.
  • Zzxjoanw: a Maori drum.
  • Nepheligenous: Producing clouds of smoke.
  • Thaumaturge: A miracle-man
  • Aeaeae; Magic (and claimed to be the only all vowel six letter word known to Mr Bowler).
  • Winchester Goose: This is a family blog. Suffice to say the phrase is an Elizabethan euphemism used by Shakespeare to mean a swelling in the groin caused by venereal disease. As Mr Bowler says, the interest is in the derivation as the brothels in Southwark were then under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Winchester.

I have no idea whether any of this is correct but I hope I have explained it clearly!

Illustration: ‘Man with Goose’ by Lowell Herrero