Byte of Prevention Blog

by Jay Reeves |

Are You Pronouncing “Certiorari” Correctly?

judgeIf a judge mispronounces a word in open court, should you say it the right way – or should you go along with the error to avoid embarrassing the judge?

Either way, you’re on the hot seat. And though it might sound like a small matter, it happens in big situations.

Consider the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court case of Lockhart v. United States, where during oral arguments Justice Elena Kagan pronounced the word “antecedent” as “an-TESS-a-dent.” Some observers were baffled as to what she was talking about.

“The pronunciation was so unconventional that I could not have been the only one in the courtroom who needed to hear the word two or three times before having any idea what the justice was trying to say,” says Regent University School of Law Professor James Duane in this article.

When it came time for one of the attorneys to use the word, the standard pronunciation (ant-a-SEED-ent) was used.

Years earlier, Chief Justice William Rehnquist referred to the plaintiff in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals as “Dow-bair” instead of the correct “Daw-bert.” The lawyer for the Daubert family made a strategic decision to mispronounce his own client’s name rather than point out the chief justice’s error.

Then there is the word “certiorari,” which according to Professor Duane (who is something of a pronunciation pundit) has been subject to at least six different pronunciations by Supreme Court justices.

Take the Pronunciation Quiz

Legal wordsmith Bryan Garner is editor-in-chief of Black’s Law Dictionary and an ABA Journal contributor. He came up with the following pronunciation test (answers appear below):

1. Acumen: (a) uh-KYOO-muhn (b) AK-yuh-muhn

2. Alleged: (a) uh-LEJD (b) uh-LEJ-id

3. Applicable: (a) AP-li-kuh-buhl (b) uh-PLIK-uh-buhl

4. Brooch: (a) BROHCH (b) BROOCH

5. Cache: (a) KASH (b) KASH-ay

6. Chicanery: (a) shi-KAY-nuhr-ee (b) chi-KAY-nuhr-ee

7. Clandestine: (a) klan-DES-tin (b) KLAN-di-styn

8. Coherent: (a) koh-HEER-int (b) koh-HAIR-int

9. Comity: (a) just like comma tea (b) just like comedy

10. Commensurate: (a) kuh-MEN-shuur-it (b) kuh-MEN-syuur-it

11. Comptroller: (a) kuhn-TROH-luhr (b) KOMP-troh-luhr

12. Concierge: (a) kon-see-AIRZH (b) kon-see-AIR

13. Controversial: (a) kon-truh-VUHR-shuhl (b) kon-truh-VUHR-see-uhl

14. Coup de grace: (a) koo-duh-GRAHS (b) koo-duh-GRAH

15. Coupon: (a) KOO-pon (b) KYOO-pon

16. Debacle: (a) di-BAH-kuhl (b) DEB-uh-kuhl

17. Disparate: (a) DIS-puh-rit (b) di-SPAIR-it

18. Divisive: (a) di-VY-siv (b) di-VIS-iv

19. Dour: (a) rhymes with lure (b) rhymes with sour

20. Educate: (a) EJ-i-kayt (b) ED-yoo-kayt

21. Electoral: (a) i-LEK-tuh-ruhl (b) ee-lek-TOR-uhl

22. Entirety: (a) en-TY-uhr-tee (b) en-TY-ruh-tee

23. Environment: (a) en-VY-urn-muhnt (b) en-VYR-muhnt

24. Err: (a) UHR (b) AIR

25. Fiancé or fiancée: (a) fee-ahn-SAY (b) fee-AHN-say

26. Government: (a) GUHV-urn-mint (b) GUH-vuhr-mint

27. Hegemony: (a) hi-JEM-uh-nee (b) HEJ-uh-moh-nee

28. Juror: (a) JOOR-uhr (b) JOOR-or

29. Kudos: (a) KOO-dahs (b) KOO-dohz

30. Lien: (a) LEEN (b) LEE-uhn

31. Litigious: (a) li-TIJ-uhs (b) li-TIJ-ee-uhs

32. Mayoral: (a) MAY-uhr-uhl (b) may-OR-uhl

33. Niche: (a) rhymes with ditch (b) rhymes with quiche

34. Succinct: (a) suhk-SINGKT (b) suh-SINGKT

35. Usury: (a) YOO-zhuh-ree (b) yoo-SUHR-ee

The correct answer to every question is (a). So how did you do?


About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

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