June 18, 2004

Ah me -- ah moo

In response to Geoff Pullum's post about the syntactic and legal status of "under God", Q_pheevr offers an argument with two fascinating scholarly citations:

Hiram Walker, the founder of the Canadian Club distillery, contracted to sell, to a banker named T. C. Sherwood, an Aberdeen Angus cow, Rose 2d of Aberlone, whom both parties believed to be infertile. Accordingly, Rose's purchase price was set, on the assumption that she was of value only qua beef, at five and a half cents per pound (minus fifty pounds for shrinkage). Upon being weighed, Rose turned out, in fact, to be pregnant. Walker reneg(u)ed; Sherwood sued; the case went to the Supreme Court of Michigan.

Sherwood lost, and thereby hangs an argument: is a nation being "under God" like a cow being pregnant, or not?

I'm even more impressed by Q's second citation:

I should probably dispel the illusion I may have just created that I am capable of citing hundred-year-old state supreme court opinions at will. The fact is, Sherwood v. Walker is the only such case at my fingertips, and the only reason I am so well acquainted with it is that my late grandfather, the legal scholar Brainerd Currie, wrote a long poem (mostly in the style of S. T. Coleridge's "Christabel") about Rose 2d of Aberlone. (Members of my immediate and extended family can sometimes be heard quoting the immortal refrain Ah me! -- Ah moo!) A few lines from section 4 will give you a sense of the flavour of the thing:

Now, there's a distinction, as I've been taught,
Twixt a cow that's pregnant and one that's not.
In fact, the fallacy is arrant
That places a potential parent
In even the same taxonomy
With that drain on our economy
That we deprecate by all that's holy—
The wretched beast that's sine prole.

Read the whole thing...

Posted by Mark Liberman at June 18, 2004 06:06 AM