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Law Professor’s Article on Ambiguous Pronunciation of ‘Certiorari’ Goes Viral

When The Green Bag, a journal known for featuring humorous legal articles, published “The Proper Pronunciation of Certiorari: The Supreme Court’s Surprising Six-Way Split,” Professor James Duane didn’t expect major legal news outlets to make his article headline news.

The article uncovers inconsistencies in the pronunciation of “certiorari,” an order that allows a higher court to request a lower court’s records. The confusion is a classic case of poh-tay-toh/poh-tah-toh: there seems to be more than one way to say it, and no one has standardized the pronunciation.

When researching, Professor Duane consulted legal dictionaries, but he only found inconsistencies. Then he turned to recordings of 13 modern Supreme Court justices speaking in court. Ideally, to save face, a lawyer should mimic the Supreme Court justices’ pronunciation, but it turns out that their pronunciations are inconsistent too.

The article has gone viral in the legal world. It was the topic of several National Law Journal articles. One, “No Video, But Here’s Audio of How Justices Say ‘Certiorari,’” includes audio files of six Supreme Court justices pronouncing the word. It was a headline story and one of the “most read items” in the ABA Journal, and Ed Wheland wrote about it in a National Review blog post. Adam Liptak, a Supreme Court reporter for The New York Times, even tweeted about it. Ann Althouse, a professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School, picked up the topic in her eponymous blog.

“I was of course hoping that somebody might notice my work on this, but I did not expect the item to attract quite this much attention so quickly,” says Professor Duane.

“Perhaps critics of the Supreme Court on both the right and the left love the idea of anything that makes it appear that the justices on the Court cannot get their story straight. If this mounting wave of interest keeps up, the piece might even come to their attention as well.”

Download a copy of Professor Duane's article here.

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