Recently, I was reading "A Tribute to Nino", an article beginning on page 24 of the April 2016 issue of the American Bar Journal written by Bryan A. Garner. The article was written as a tribute to Justice Antonin Scalia using Justice Scalia's preferred nickname "Nino". Bryan A. Garner is a distinguished research professor of law at Southern Methodist University, a close personal friend of and co-author with Justice Scalia on two books one of which is Reading Law.
According to Bryon Garner if you ask persons fifty years of age or younger "What is the meaning of 'nimrod'", you are likely to get an answer like "nincompoop, simpleton, doofus, idiot, moron, etc." Personally, I was able to somewhat confirm this understanding of the word by asking three persons, two under 50 years of age and one older than 50, all of whom responded with synonyms such as "simpleton". In further confirmation of this definition, I discovered numerous internet sources providing the same (but not exclusive) definition, such as "Accidental Shifts in Meaning" written by Mark Nichol and Merriam-Webster Internet Dictionary.
Justice Scalia however, when advised of this meaning of "nimrod", was shocked insisting "nimrod" is a hunter. To bolster his position on the current or contemporary meaning, Professor Garner questioned the law clerks of Justice Scalia, each of whom confirmed the meaning as "nincompoop, simpleton, doofus, idiot, moron, etc."
How did a hunter come to be called "nimrod"? This is a question for Biblical scholars or at least those persons who know the genealogy of Noah (remember him? He built the ark so his family and animals could survive the Great Flood God caused to come upon the earth and destroy all other living things). "Nimrod" was one of grandsons of Ham who was one of the sons of Noah. Genesis 10:6-8. As written in Genesis 10:8-9, Nimrod ". . . was the first on earth to become a mighty warrior. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord; therefore it is said, ' Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the Lord.'" (New Revised Standard translation).
How did "nimrood" come to be considered a synonym for "nincompoop, simpleton, doofus, idiot, moron, etc."? It appears it is because of Bugs Bunny! Those of you of sufficient age and maturity will recall the reoccurring nemesis of Bugs Bunny was Elmer Fudd, a fumbling, somewhat single-minded person intent on capturing or killing Bugs Bunny using his rifle. In at least one cartoon, Bugs Bunny referred to him as a "nimrod" which people, over time, concluded meant "nincompoop, simpleton, doofus, idiot, moron, etc." because of Elmer Fudd's persona.
What does all of this have to do with "law"? Attorneys and judges are constantly searching for the meaning and intent of statutes and previous decisions. A word or phrase the meaning of which changes over time can have a significant impact on how the statute or decision is interpreted years after the writing. Does the word, phrase, statute continue "fixed" over time thus causing the statute or decision to be interpreted as originally written or does the changing meaning also cause the interpretation of the statute or decision to change, as well?
At West, Longenbaugh & Zickerman, P.L.L.C. we earn our living interpreting statutes and case decisions to properly advise our clients on the law. If you have a question about the meaning of a statute or case decision, you should contact us for assistance.