Scalia Mocks "Glitteratae," Reminds Us That Lawyers Love Latin

By Brian Kumnick on April 29, 2009 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

You can read all about the legal aspects of Tuesday's big SCOTUS decision on "fleeting expletives" at FindLaw's CourtSide (lawyer-y take) and Law and Daily Life (consumer-friendly version, complete with quotes from Cher and Bono).  But Greedy Associates is more interested in Justice Antonin Scalia's out-of-left-field (and probably just plain wrong) take on whether rural or urban Americans do more cussin':

We doubt, to begin with, that small-town broadcasters run a heightened risk of liability for indecent utterances. In programming that they originate, their down-home local guests probably employ vulgarity less than big-city folks; and small-town stations generally cannot afford or cannot attract foul-mouthed glitteratae from Hollywood.
Leaving aside for a moment Scalia's quaint notion that small-town America somehow remains blissfully free of s-words and f-bombs: glitteratae?  Really?

Lawyers love their Latin.  From arguendo to nolo contendere, from pro se to in re to per curiam, you just can't get between the legal system and a good turn of Latin phrase.  It's perhaps the most visible way in which lawyers work to distinguish themselves from the non-lawyering public (classics majors not included; we distinguish ourselves from them by comparing paychecks).  Impress your friends, confound your pro se opponents: throw in an ab initio here, a res ipsa loquitor there, and remind everyone that you're an initiate, armed with the secret linguistic knowledge that will dominate the argument and win the case.

But glitteratae?
As best we can tell, the etymology of this term begins with the latin literatus, or learned person.  From its plural form literati, some clever mashup artist gave the world glitterati, presumably to describe less-than-learned celebrity types.  And now, courtesy of Justice Scalia, we have an apparent attempt to create a feminine form of the word, in the alumni/alumnae mold (the epithet being directed in this case at two female speakers, Cher and Nicole Richie).

Having only our law-school Latin, we'll refrain from a grammatical analysis of genders, cases, and declensions, and confine ourselves to this humble proposition: somewhere along the line from literatus to glitteratae, this word ceased being a Latin word.  "Glitterati" is a genderless English noun, and a perfectly good and understandable one, already pluralized for easy, SCOTUS-approved smearing of the entire class of the famous and wanna-be famous.  There's no need to complicate things by pretending it needs a Latin ending.  As lawyers, we love our Latin too, but thanks to the glitteratae, expect to see us exercising a little more restraint de futuro.
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