Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Supreme Court Wordplay

Let’s play a word game. I call it “Thesaurus”. First, I will give you an adjective. Next, I’ll give two lists of potential synonyms for that adjective. Your job is to identify which of those lists contains words that more closely mimic the meaning of my original word. Sort of like the SAT writing section, only easier because, there’s only two options. Got it?

Good. The first word is “deciduous”. Does it mean…
a.      Transitory, momentary, ephemeral, fleeting, temporary and brief? Or…
b.     Pronounced, determined, distinct, resolved, and settled?

If you guessed option A, you’d be correct – words in option B were actually synonyms for the word “decided.” That was a tough one, though, so let’s try something a little easier. The next word is “unscrupulous”. Does it mean…

  1. Preposterous, absurd, insane, ludicrous, outlandish, ridiculous and unbelievable? Or…
  2. Deceitful, shameless, unethical, corrupt, immoral and dishonorable?
This time, the correct answer is option B – words in option A were actually synonyms for the word “fantastic”. To me, that was pretty easy, but I suppose some readers might still have been confused. In fairness to them, let’s finish with a really easy one; the last word is “necessary.” Does it mean…
a.      Convenient, useful, conducive, appropriate, calculated to effect, and plainly adapted? Or…
b.     Required, needed, indispensable, requisite, crucial, imperative, and vital?

If you guessed option B, you’re correct. The words in option B are taken straight from Thesaurus.com’s entry for “necessary.” To most people, the words in option A don’t seem much like the word “necessary” at all.

Apparently, Chief Justice John Marshall was not most people. You see, the words in option A were not taken from a Thesaurus. They were instead taken from the written opinion of that esteemed gentleman in the 1819 Supreme Court case McCulloch vs. Maryland. Specifically, they were the words Marshall argued the framers meant to say when they included the word “necessary” in the necessary and proper clause of the constitution.

Furthermore, the word necessary did not, Marshall continued, mean “indispensable” – a word which was on my list in option B, because it comes straight from the Thesaurus entry for necessary!!! The eight other members of the Supreme Court went along with Marshall, and in doing so they changed the course of US history forever. Peculiar, eh?

Now, let’s try the word “commerce”…


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