Word of the Week! Civility

Jay & Trey Cartoon Swearing
I find it interesting indeed that the OED Online puts our word’s most commonly used definition in 12th place: “Behaviour or speech appropriate to civil interactions; politeness, courtesy, consideration.”  Perhaps that should not surprise us, as the word has more current and obsolete definitions than any I have covered for this series.

We have to peer back further than the 15th Century, when the word began to appear in English, for its origin and former utility. Here the OED gives us “Latin cīvīlitāt-, cīvīlitās art of civil government, politics.” Consider the words that come from those roots: civil, civilization, civilized.  They presume a measure of tolerance and cooperation needed to live together, not engage in constant civil war.

That sense of neighbors in conflict takes us to the first cousin of civility, “civil.” When I taught criminal-justice writing, I often took my students to court in Monroe County, Indiana. We sat in on both criminal and civil cases, the latter often over civil disputes between neighbors or family members, rather than between a citizen and the State or locality.

The purpose of these courts? To maintain civility in the area, in order to avoid civil conflict. That sensibility underlies the work of civil society organizations.

Is civility dead today? That is a good question explored by Dr. Thomas Plante. Read and decide for yourself.

Please nominate a word (or metaphor!) useful in academic writing by e-mailing me (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

See all of our Words of the Week here.

Image by Threeboy from Richmond, Canada (Jay & Trey Cartoon Swearing) [CC BY 2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

Consultant News: Legal Writing

I enjoy hearing about Writing Consultants who have helped to bring a piece of work to publication. So we all should tip our hats to Rosemarie Ferraro, who assisted Gerald Lebovits, as a judicial intern, with four articles in the New York State Bar Association Journal about legal writing:

Legal writing is one of the hardest transitions of all for first-year law students. Professor Lebovits gives a good deal of valuable advice here, my favorite being “use the passive voice only when you have good reason to use it.”

One exception I know personally involves police reporting. I long ago taught Criminal Justice writing to police officers at Indiana University. As I told them “the passive voice incriminates no one. ‘The car was stolen and, according to two witnesses, John Smith was reported nearby’ works far better than ‘John Smith stole that car!’ ”

If you know Rose, congratulate her. She has returned from study abroad and is working in our program now. If she plans to attend law school, I have no doubt that her careful eye for sentence-level details, as well as this publishing experience, would make her first year a success.

Other Writing Consultants, tell me about your work in professional writing and I will share it here with faculty.