August 12, 2017

I can't type "statue" without first making the typo "statute."

Too many years in the legal field, I guess. It's sad, really, because I studied art before I went to law school, and I even took a course or 2 called Sculpture. So I've made sculptures, but have I made statues?

That's a question I'll answer in a minute. First, I want to tell you about the etymology of "statute" and "statue." This subject came up for me today as I was making typos writing the post about the uproar in Charlottesville, which has something to do with the city's effort to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee.

I researched "statute" and "statue" in the OED and at Etymology Online, and I learned something I'd never figured out before: The words have a common ancestor, the Latin word statuere, which is the neuter past participle of the Latin word stare (the "stare" in "stare decisis," which means "to stand by things decided").

So both "statute" and "statue" are things that have been stood up, which makes me want to say "erected," but we only say a statue has been "erected." We say a statute has been "enacted." (And a statute is often called an "act.") The word "act" (in Latin āctus) is about all sorts of doing and moving, and not specifically setting something in an upright position. "Erect" comes from the Latin ērectus, which is the past participle of the word that means "to set up."

It's interesting that we don't say that statutes are "erected." Perhaps we don't want to concede that they are upright. They are simply moved into place by legislatures. And yet, when a court finds a statute unconstitutional, we say that the court strikes it down, which makes it sound as though it had been standing upright before the court got to it. To be strictly legally correct, an unconstitutional statute is a nullity all along, and the court is only giving us that information. It's finding the statute unconstitutional, not making it unconstitutional, so the use of the phrase "strike down" is a bad way to talk about what the court is doing — unless you mean to say the court is going beyond its proper power.

So then, have I made any statutes statues? Any 3 dimensional art is sculpture. (I'm having flashbacks to art school debates about whether a painting with thickly textured paint is at some point — what point?! — sculpture.) But a statue is a much narrower category of sculpture. It must be "A representation in the round of a person, animal, etc." — etc.! — especially if it's "a god, allegorical figure, or eminent person," and it's "usually life-size or larger" (OED). Well, I've never done anything that fit within the "especially" or the "usually" clause.

Let's just say I've made statuettes of nonentities.

18 comments:

Bob Ellison said...

Like playing an B-flat-major chord without slipping into E-flat.

Big Mike said...

You're sure that's not autocorrect inserting itself into your typing?

Dave Begley said...

I have the same spelling problem and autocorrect doesn't help.

NPR used to have a guy on who did etymology. This was years ago when I was a liberal and NPR was listenable. Althouse would be a nice (paid) feature on NPR but that would attract a different crowd to this blog; it wouldn't be pretty. Cruel neutrality.

Feste said...

~
Edward Tufte comes close in some cases to flatlander 2d statues, but in Flatland itself, despite the misogynist statute requiring women to announce their presence, crying out “peace,” depth of field dimensionality for statues and statutes happens courtesy of fog.

Michael K said...

The Statue of Lee is part of the reconciliation that occurred after the Civil War in spite of Stanton and the Radicals.

The blacks and the left seem determined to break that agreement.

Which is kind of interesting as lots of blacks are leaving Democrats governed cities in the North and going south.

The BLM and the college black professional insulted are not representative.

wild chicken said...

Plenty people with no law background make that typo.

traditionalguy said...

The Second Commandment ( the one prohibiting Graven Images ) has long been interpreted in the strict Eastern Orthodox Churches to allow paintings of Saints, Jesus and Biblical persons, but not allowing statues. Of course the Western Roman Empire's church loved its statues. And then the Protestant Reformation began by removing statues from Churchs, but moderated that when Rich German Princes wanting to keep their art and began calling them acceptible memorials and remembrances.

Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) said...

Status quo. Same root.

Luke Lea said...

Well, there is the Statute of Liberty that was drafted by a refugee.

Jim S. said...

Heh, reminds me of this scene from Seinfeld:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iq8gfaFqFpI

Craig said...

"The Statue of Lee is part of the reconciliation that occurred after the Civil War in spite of Stanton and the Radicals.

The blacks and the left seem determined to break that agreement."

That "agreement" has long, long since been broken, and not by the blacks and the left.

'TreHammer said...

...boring...

EDH said...

Imagine the ourcry if the counter protestors were struck by a car actually named the General Lee.

William said...

Just curious. Althouse references a Latin "neuter past participle". I thought gender was a feature of nouns in Latin (and other languages) but here she is ascribing it to a verb. Is she correct to do so? If so, under what circumstances do verbs take on gender?

Lem said...

that happens to me too.

Lem said...

the way I get around it is by typing law for one and statua (in Spanish) with the last letter changed to e, for the other.

gpm said...

Late to the game, but "statuere" is not in any way, shape, or form a "neuter past participle" of starey or an other Latin word. A number of possibilities, but more likely the infinitive of "statuo," related to and derived from the verb whose infinitive form is the "stare" cited by Althouse.

In response to another point, yes, past participles in Latin have gender: Maria est laudata ("Mary is praised," feminine), but Caesar set laudatus ("Caesar is praised," masculine). If statuo/statuere has a past participle (which I don't know, but don't see why it shouldn't), it would likely be "statutus" (feminine form, "statuta," neuter "statutum") which gets you pretty quickly to "statute." "Statue" a little farther away.

--gpm

gpm said...

And screw the autocorrect that doesn't recognize Latin "est" or "stare".

--gpm