October 15, 2007

On being manifestly wrong

Since I've written about the legal term of art, "manifest injustice," twice now (here) and (here), my headache has taken a new direction, all of my own doing. It seems that the two law professors I quoted in my second post were actually agreeing with each other rather than, as I had assumed, giving me contradictory advice. It would be easy for me simply to say mea culpa, but part of my error and confusion has a slight linguistic flavor, leading to what I hope will be my final post on this topic (but for a neat piece on apologies, take a look at this New York Times article).

For one thing, I miscopied part of Professor Weinberg's message to me, which is a no-no in anyone's book. For reasons unknown even to me, I added a "probably" where it wasn't present and left out the word, "manifest," before the  word, "justice." That was bad enough, but it was his next sentence that I really messed up. It was difficult for me to understand and I  guess I just didn't parse it properly. What he wrote was:

That is, if requiring the defendant to stick to his plea would probably lead to injustice, but things aren't really clear and there's room for  argument either way, then defendant is stuck with the plea.

My comprehension problem began when I incorrectly assumed that Professor Weinberg intended "then the defendant is stuck with his plea" to be a new sentence and that he had somehow forgotten to start with a capital letter. So, in a misguided effort to help, I changed it (note to self: don't ever do this again). I'm now sure that Professor Weinberg intended his compound clause, "but things aren't really clear and there's room for argument either way," to be a parenthetical statement coming between his initial dependent clause and his final main clause, which would make a lot of sense. But I didn't read it that way so I foolishly tried to be helpful and edit it as a new sentence. Good intentions; bad results. As a result, my post misrepresented Professor Weinberg and made it look as though he was saying the very opposite of what he meant. For this, I apologize to him and my readers. Mea Culpa, indeed.

But the really nifty part of this whole episode is Professor Weinberg's final message to me, correcting my misreading. It began: "Not to prolong any of this or make your headache worse...it [my post] was fun to read...." And, after clarifying what his original message really meant, he concluded this one saying: "Anyway, I know it wasn't intentional, and it's hard to publish a whole lot of blog posts over an extended period of time without coming up with some bloopers."

How many letters of correction ever compliment the writer who misstated his words? And how many such letters ever show any  understanding that the errors weren't intentional? Now that's real class!

Posted by Roger Shuy at October 15, 2007 11:25 AM