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chafee-disorderly

Words are┬ásentientless morsels of meaning – inert, impotent, unassuming and seemingly incapable of bad character; yet they take on a life, at times, quite their own. This little website experiment was inspired by an observation by Zechariah Chafee Jr. – not the first, but certainly one of the best to raise the notion – and it consequently adopts is the title of his 1941 Columbia Law Review article, Disorderly Conduct of Words, 41 Colum. L. Rev. 384, in which he notes:

Words are the principal tools of lawyers and judges, whether we like it or not. They are to us what the scalpel and insulin are to the doctor, or a theodite and sliderule to the civil engineer. So we need to know more about their imperfections.

To blame the words themselves is perhaps a deflection – it’s a poor workman that blames his tools – but it also reflects the tenacity and subtlety with which words sometimes depart from their intended meaning.