January 18, 2008

A further note on deeming

A further note on deem (following up this post about an ill-judged use of the verb): A number of lawyers and readers with law-related interests have been writing to me to note that they see a distinct tinge of counterfactuality to the semantics of this lexeme. When a legal text like a statute says that things of type A will be deemed to belong to class B for the purpose of the legislation, they strongly implicate that things of type A are not members of class B, they will merely be included thus for the purpose of the legislation and not because it is true. Thus they can say that any reference to a man injuring himself will be deemed to cover also the case of a woman injuring herself (which of course is not correct: men are from Mars and women are from Venus and himself can only refer to a male).

Thus lawyers perceive a slight difference in meaning between judge X to be Y or consider X to be Y on the one hand and deem X to be Y on the other: people who judge or consider X to be Y typically think it really is, whereas people who deem X to be Y typically think it isn't. In the context of elections, apparently, the act of deeming someone to be elected is undertaken by those who report the count to the returning officer, and only the returning officer can declare someone elected. The job of the returning officer, in fact, is to stand in front of the microphones and declare elected the person who the officials supervising the count have deemed to be elected. Just thought you'd like to know about this. I neither consider nor deem it all to be true; just reporting what friends in the legal profession have been saying.

[By the way: Thomas Thurman sent me the following quote from the Oxford Union rules, which rather charmingly links this post thematically to the rather anti-dog one that immediately preceded it:

Rule 51: Dogs
Any Member introducing or causing to be introduced a dog into the Society's premises shall be liable to a fine of 5 inflicted by the Treasurer. Any animal leading a blind person shall be deemed to be a cat. Any animal entering on Police business shall be deemed to be a wombat.

(From page 54 of this document.)

Pretty clearly some counterfactual deeming going on there.]

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at January 18, 2008 11:56 AM