Lexicon Valley

Is Language Now Meaningless? A Ruling in the Matter of Scalia v. SCOTUScare.

Plaintiff Antonin Scalia addresses the Philadelphia Bar Association during a luncheon on April 29, 2004
Plaintiff Antonin Scalia addresses the Philadelphia Bar Association during a luncheon on April 29, 2004.

Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images



Argued June 25, 2015 – Decided June 25, 2015

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia alleges in his dissent to the ruling on King v. Burwell that “words no longer have meaning.” Scalia claims that language is futile if “an Exchange that is established by the State is not ‘established by the State,’ ” but rather “by the State and Federal Government. That of course is absurd.”

After prolonged deliberation, the Supreme Court of the American Lexicon sees fit to hand down its own ruling as to whether all words have lost their meanings. This court has heard from scientists who have assessed individual phonemes and morphemes for sudden declines in import as well as from nihilists, deconstructionists, and existential philosophers who have urged the court to manufacture meaning out of nothingness. Justices have attempted to communicate with each other across an impressive mahogany table. The extent to which our own various mutterings and bloviatings and grandstandings made any sense at all was fastidiously charted. Finally, the court consulted Justice Scalia’s own glossary of transparently made-up words in an effort to more wisely adumbrate the line between significance and pure fairyland castle argle-bargle.


The Court finds on this twenty-fifth day of June in the year 2015:

-       THAT in light of the precedent established by Ducking v. Autocorrect, 2008, a departure from the realm of specificity determined by the principle of intended meaning does not preclude the more general term meaning from being applicable

-       THAT the feeble argument that definitions of which one disapproves are in fact nonsense is a curious bit of casuistry unworthy of a court of our stature (see Santorum v. Savage, 2003)

-       THAT Justice Scalia’s many vivid and delightful coinages—e.g. “interpretative jiggery-pokery,” “Platonic golf”—presuppose a language capable of generating new and essentially comprehensible elements, relative to the descriptivist provision in Malaprop v. Jones, 1896

-       THAT the preposterous and outlandish interpretation of the Seuss Statute (1957) advanced by the dissenting Justices does not in fact impinge on words’ ability to signify on a boat, in a moat, on a train, or in the rain

-       THAT, indeed, the plaintiff’s claim of linguistic meaningless is, in his own argot, applesauce


-       THAT language itself is alive, well, and aboil with significance notwithstanding the challenge to its powers impertinently posed by the plaintiff. As you were.