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The tendency of lawyers to obfuscate their meaning by using complex and unfamiliar verbiage was discussed in an earlier blog post, Plain language and the law.  Usually, lawyers have been accused of using difficult language as a way of separating themselves from, so as to appear more elevated than, the common person.  However, lawyers have also been known to use extraordinary language on occasion in order to make an opposing lawyer’s work more difficult.

For example, a lawyer came into our library one day in a state of rising consternation over a document sent to him by an opposing lawyer.  Every sentence seemed to be written with the intent to inflict maximum confusion, while still remaining somehow within the bounds of correct English.  Our lawyer finally threw up his hands in fury when the opposing lawyer’s document suggested, in a particularly convoluted sentence, that some vital element of their case was a batrachomyomachia.  “What is a batrachomyomachia!?”

Batrachomyomachia, literally meaning the ‘battle of the frogs and mice’, is a short Greek mock-epic poem in Homeric style, describing a one-day war between mice and frogs precipitated by the accidental drowning of a mouse by the Frog King.

1911 Encyclopaedia Brittanica defines it thus:

BATRACHOMYOMACHIA (Gr. βάτραχος, “frog,” μῦς, “mouse,” and μάχη, “battle”), the “Battle of Frogs and Mice,” a comic epic or parody on the Iliad, definitely attributed to Homer by the Romans, but according to Plutarch (De Herodoti Malignitate, 43) the work of Pigres of Halicarnassus, the brother (or son) of Artemisia, queen of Caria and ally of Xerxes. Some modern scholars, however, assign it to an anonymous poet of the time of Alexander the Great.

In modern parlance, the term refers to “a silly altercation“.

As librarians, we aim to guide people to a clear understanding of the law, legal procedure, and legal language.  While this term is not to be found in  Black’s Law Dictionary, a standard reference source, we find that its use by a lawyer in a legal document warrants a guide to its meaning and use.




Illustration by Fedor Flinser from the German Der Froschmausekrieg, (1878),  by Victor Bluthgen, based on the Batrachomyomachia.

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