Wednesday, July 11, 2007

On Baby Splitting

Things have a weird way of taking flight in the blogosphere. Take the discussion across many law prof blogs about the saying "the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." The misuse of the phrase led William McGeveran over at Concurring Opinions to take aim at a pet peeve of his:

In general 'split the baby' gets used as a substitute for 'split the difference,' 'half a loaf' or, more simply, 'compromise.' (Thus explaining its frequent occurrence in legal discussions...) It shows up in that sense in places I otherwise love, like the Wall Street Journal Law Blog and NPR reports by Nina Totenberg.

The phrase originates in the Bible, specifically 1 Kings 3:16-28. Two women come before wise King Solomon, both claiming fervently to be the mother of an infant. Solomon calls for his sword and declares that he will cut the baby in two and give one half to each woman. When the true mother cries out in anguish, Solomon knows which woman should keep the child. If he had actually cut the child in half, of course, he would be remembered as a mad tyrant like Caligula and not the epitome of wise judicial temperament. Yet you might think from some lawyers' metaphorical uses of the phrase that cutting a baby in half was laudable. One of the oldest literary or historical models of good judging deserves better from us.
Makes perfect sense.

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