When considering the context in which the use of an idiom may be appropriate over straightforward language, the legal world is certainly an area where one is more likely to hear an abundance of idioms. Lawyers interact with clients each day who don’t have the faintest idea of how the legal system works and consequently they must have their next suggested legal course of action explained to them as clearly as possible. This limits the potential for misunderstandings. Fortunately most American idioms having to do with the law are easier to understand than you might expect.
Idiom- Hard Cases Make Bad Law
Definition: Particularly hard legal cases aren’t necessarily suitable to general law. They are also susceptible to special pleading.
Example: The appointed judge is fair and authoritative. He is known for making clever decisions when it comes to hard cases make bad law proceedings.
Origin: More than an idiom, the phrase “hard cases make bad law” originated as an adage and then a legal maxim or an established principle. The earliest recorded use of the phrase was in the case of Winterbottom v Wright in 1842 by Judge Robert Rolf. He stated, “Hard cases, it has frequently been observed, are apt to introduce bad law.” Rolf presided over an unusual case that involved a third party suing for injury. During the proceedings, the judge realized that in hard and unusual cases, sometimes they are exceptions to the standard rules and laws.
The phrase gained popularity again in 1904 when then US Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. used the expression when he made a utilitarian argument in the case of Northern Securities Co. v. United States.
Accent Pros idioms series
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