Officialdom, Law & Gobbledegook

A recent judgment of the Supreme Court upholding the offence of defamation has justifiably attracted much comment for its magniloquent style.

Interestingly The New York Times had carried an article on May 21, 1944 called The Case Against GobbledegookThe author Maury Maverick protested “vague, pompous, repetitious English and the two gun bandits who use it.” What provoked Maury was the the language of officialdom and was mild compared to the Supreme Court judgment. Maury’s reaction would surely have been more indignant had he read the judgment but what he wrote is yet very relevant.

“No one”, said Maury, “regarded tyranny of words funny.” Anyone, he said, “who is thinking clearly and honestly can express his thoughts in words which are understandable and in very few of them. Lets write for the reader and not ourselves.”

The word “Gobbledegook” was coined by him. Explaining the invention he said, “First the word: It is long, sounds foreign, has four stories. You walk up without the benefit of the elevator. Second its definition: talk or writing which is long, pompous, vague and involved… Perhaps I was thinking of the old bearded turkey gobbler who was always gobbledegooking and strutting with ridiculous pomposity. At the end of the gobble there was a sort of a gook.” Gobbledegook “means not only big foolish words but wasted words.”

Those who do not “talk English” were called Gobbledegookers – “like the oracles or Panchhan Lamas sitting on top of the Tibet mountains in their monasteries talking nonsense to common people 7000 feet below.”

Scorning “long-winding heart-breaking wordiness”, Maury described speech as “a very important part of a person’s conduct. He must be held morally responsible for his words just as he is accountable for his other acts.”

Unless one utters words easy to understand, said Maury, how shall it be known what is said?

Maury’s article will apply both to officialese and legalese. Obscuring official language will deter popular participation in and the understanding of governance. But the need for clarity will be even more in judgments which communicate the law. In the absence of clarity about law both adherence to it and enforcement of accountability to it will be a casualty and paradoxically in the purported enforcement of law will be its erosion. And while law can be an ass it should never be allowed to become a clown.

“Transgender”? But Judges have no gender!

Writing for Mail Online, Sanches Manning described in a rather unseemly manner Dr Victoria McCloud – the youngest ever Master in the High Court – as “a transgender woman who has made history after becoming a leading judge in the High Court.”

Significantly (and appropriately) Dr McCloud declined to speak about her transgender status.

A spokesperson from the British Courts, however, is reported to have said (I would say pompously and indeed tastelessly) that “judges come from all walks of life reflecting society in general.”

The point which Sanches Manning and the spokesperson missed is that all judges transcend gender binaries – the classification of sex and gender into masculine and feminine forms.

A judge is neither masculine nor feminine and cannot therefore be transgender too!

A judge is a social construct and is not biologically determined. The role and attributes which a judge embodies are not masculine or feminine. I will not call judges genderqueer but judges definitely are gender-neutral.

An analogy can explain the issue better. According to the Upanishads Purusha (translated literally as “man”) is actually the unchanged uncaused Universal principle.  Similarly a judge is not a man (or woman) but only an embodiment of “justice”

Plato said the same thing in his Theory of Forms that the non-material form – in this case justice- and not the material reality (which according to Hinduism is called “Prakriti”) and in this case is the gender defined judge is the most fundamental kind of reality. The fusion makes a every judge androgynous like the Hindu concept of Ardhnarishwar the synthesis of Purusha and Prakriti.

One, thus, misses the substance of the judicial process when one confines oneself to the form – man,woman or transgender – administering  it and ignoring the non-material principle, the concept and idea of justice, which is actually the fundamental reality of the process.

A judge, as a judge, has no assigned sex. When talking of Judge Victoria McCloud it is indefensible to talk of her as “a transgender woman” or suggest deviance from a norm by a pretentious reference to “all walks of life”.