‘Words, words, words.’ This was Hamlet’s reply to Polonius’ question, ‘What do you read, my lord?’
Perhaps it’s the Covid moments when you have time to reflect on words, perhaps it’s age – daren’t say ‘old’ age – perhaps it’s that my father was something of a stickler for getting grammar and words right, or maybe it’s simply a near lifetime around lawyers, but lately I’ve found myself puzzling over words. Not quite as interesting as black holes in deep space, but pretty interesting nonetheless.
Take ‘judgement’ by way of example. Or is it ‘judgment’?
My first take is that a ‘judgment’ is what a judge hands down when she decides your case in court.
And that ‘judgement’ is what a footballer, for example, exercises badly when his short pass goes straight to an opposition player.
We exercise judgement constantly about all sorts of things. But not so often judgment.
Or am I simply wrong, as I see the two words used interchangeably so often.
The website thesaurus.com says –
‘Many think that the difference between judgement and judgment is that the longer version is the British spelling, whereas the shorter one is the US convention. While some claim that Noah Webster first recorded the spelling of judgment in his 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language, both sides of the pond have actually used the spelling judgment since the late 1600s.
Though judgement (with an e) has risen and fallen in popularity in British English, judgment remains the preferred spelling in British legal proceedings and appears more frequently in written work. Today, judgement is an accepted spelling in British English. But, if you stick to judgment, you won’t be judged in the UK or the US.’
But what about in Australia?
Well, here’s what our home-grown Macquarie Dictionary says on the topic –
/ˈdʒʌdʒmənt/ (say ‘jujmuhnt)
1. the act of judging.
2. Law a. a court’s decision as to the rights of parties in an action brought before it, as embodied in its final pronouncement. b. (more broadly) the court’s reasoning and conclusion, as well as its pronouncement of the legal consequences.
3. ability to judge justly or wisely, especially in matters affecting action; good sense; discretion.
4. the forming of an opinion, estimate, notion, or conclusion, as from circumstances presented to the mind.
5. the opinion formed.
6. a misfortune regarded as inflicted by divine sentence, as for sin.
Usage: Although the general community is roughly divided on the preferred spelling, with a slight tendency towards judgement rather than judgment, there is a convention in the legal community to use the judgment spelling.
So, the Macquarie Dictionary editors sort of reflect my experience.
We are ‘allowed’ to use the word in both versions and plainly you don’t deserve a censorious glance should you go with the shorter one!
However, if you want to show you know your onions when discussing court decisions then using judgment without the middle ‘e’ is the way to go.
Outside legal settings though, I must say I still prefer to exercise judgement!
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* This article was written by Michael Barker