You Say Amicus, I Say Certiorari
What is the proper pronunciation of “amicus?”
Is it AM-uh-kuss or uh-MEE-kuss? Or perhaps a-MY-kuss?
If you’re unsure, don’t feel bad. Even U.S. Supreme Court Justices can’t agree on the correct pronunciation. Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson says AM-uh-kuss, while former Justice Breyer, who she replaced and for whom she once clerked, prefers “a-MY-kuss.”
The phrase “amicus brief “ is short for “amicus curiae brief,” which means friend-of-the-court.
“The phrase amicus curiae and its shortened form amicus raise several tricky linguistic questions,” writes Bryan A. Garner, editor-in-chief of Black’s Law Dictionary, on his LawProse blog. “How are they pluralized? How are the singular and plural forms pronounced? What’s the preferred singular possessive form? Should the phrase be italicized? How often is the translation friend of the court used by comparison?”
Up until the mid-1970s, it was customary to use the complete phrase amicus curiae brief, Garner writes. This gave way to the less cumbersome amicus brief. Today, the phrase amicus brief is used by lawyers twice as much as amicus curiae brief, and 29 times more often than the more casual friend-of-the-court brief.
“The traditional and predominant pronunciation is /uh-MEE-kuhs KYOOR-ee-I/,” writes Garner. “But in certain parts of the country, the shortened amicus often takes on the pronunciation /AM-i-kuhs/. This is thought by some to be an error, but many cultured judges say it that way. Branding the variant pronunciation an error would be silly and pretentious. Many lawyers vacillate between the two in daily speech. But if the full phrase is used, then /uh-MEE-kuhs/ is certainly preferred, perhaps even de rigueur.”
Read more on this weighty debate here and here.
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What About “Certiorari”?
Here’s how U.S. Supreme Court Justices pronounce “certiorari,” according to this article in the ABA Journal:
• Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia and Stephen G. Breyer: “ser-shee-or-RARE-eye,” rhyming with “fair guy.”
• Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr. and John Paul Stevens: “ser-shee-or-RAHR-ee,” rhyming with “Ferrari” or “car key.”
• Justice Clarence Thomas: He agrees with Alito on the last three syllables, but he pronounces the first two syllables “sertzee.”
• Justice Anthony M. Kennedy: “ser-shee-or-ARR-eye,” rhyming with “far cry” or “czar guy.”
• Justice Sonia Sotomayor: “ser-shee-ARR-ee,” with a dropped syllable.
• The late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and David H. Souter: “ser-shee-or-RARE-ee,” rhyming with “dairy.”
Justices Elena Kagan and Ruth Bader Ginsburg avoid the controversy; they opt for the shorter “cert” or even “review.”
LawProse Lesson #259: Friendly banter about “amicus.” — LawProse
How is 'amicus' pronounced? Justice Breyer and Judge Jackson disagree with each other and the majority view (abajournal.com)
How is ‘certiorari’ pronounced? Even Supreme Court justices disagree (abajournal.com)
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