Publication details [#1902]

Archer, Maureen and Ronnie Cohen. 1998. Sidelined on the (judicial) bench: Sports metaphors in judicial opinions. Lletres de filosofia i humanitats 35 (2) : 225–239. 15 pp.


Would you rather be a first stringer than a bench warmer? Are you likely to find a Monday morning quarterback out in left field? If you can answer these questions, then you, like millions of sports fans in the U.S., will understand the baseball, football, and boxing metaphors used in American legal proceedings. However, if you would be tempted to take off your gloves for Sunday punch, your ignorance of sports may cause you to become confused by the sports terms bouncing around legal arenas. In this lexical analysis, we examine the use of sports metaphors in judicial opinions. Judges use such metaphors to explain points of law and to describe the conduct of counsel, police, parties, and witnesses. Some of these metaphors are part of the trial testimony, chosen by the judge for inclusion in the opinion, and some are the judges' own words. Frequent use of sports metaphors creates a linguistically unlevel playing field for those who are unfamiliar with sports or with sports metaphors' idiomatic meanings. We will discuss how blindsiding from the bench may be offsides for effective communication (translation: we will discuss how the use of sports metaphors often hinders the understanding of nonsports fans). In the first section of the article, we discuss the purpose of judicial opinions and different imagery that judges have employed in their opinions to communicate legal decisions to a variety of audiences. The next section explains metaphor theory and applies it to sports metaphors. A discussion of the relationship between gender and the use of metaphors follows. We then describe the methodology used in this lexical analysis of judicial opinions and findings. Finally, we interpret the results and draw some conclusions about the use of sports metaphors in judicial writing. (From the Introduction)