Taking People at Their Word

I meant what I said and I said what I meant. An elephant’s faithful, one hundred percent.” Horton the Elephant.


A CNN headline this morning read, and I quote, “A blizzard warning is in effect for Hawaii as the lower 48 contends with a snow drought.” ( I picked this headline randomly) The article was written by Alison Chinchar (a meteorologist) The first paragraph of the article reads as follows: “As of Friday morning, only two states in the US have blizzard warnings — and they are Alaska and Hawaii. Yes, you read that correctly. In fact, more snow has fallen in Hawaii this season than in Denver, Colorado.”

When I read that paragraph, the words go into my head through by eyes and my inside voice speaks them in my mind. It is written in English and contains three complete sentences. Two begin with introductory phrases before the independent clauses. One has two independent clauses separated by a double dash rather than a customary comma or semicolon. None of the words are esoteric = understood by or meant for only the select few who have special knowledge or interest. According to statistica.com, 39% of newpaper articles are written for people who have only a high school education or less (https://www.statista.com/statistics/209554/average-daily-audience-of-us-newspapers-by-education-level/). Assuming this article is representative of that, the CNN author wrote this article so that pretty much anyone with a high school education could read it and understand the content.

When I read it, I assume that Ms. Chinchar Alison had something specific to communicate and wrote in such a way that she assumed that the average person reading it could understand it. Plain reading of a plain meaning document is not only the norm, it is treating Ms. Chinchar with respect by assuming that she is thinking clearly and is communicating those thoughts in a manner that should be readily understandable.

That is the heart of what Originalism holds. We should read sentences and give the writer the benefit of the doubt that they, like Horton the Elephant, meant what they said and said what they meant – when they wrote it.

Secondarily, Originalism the passage of time does not change what someone said or what they meant – when they said it. So even if 10, 50, 100, or 250 years have passed, they said what they meant and meant what they said. Sure, if much time has passed, we may use some words differently, and if that is the case, we might have to do a little investigation on contemporary word usage. Once that is done, we simply read the passage for what was originally said and what was originally meant. Period.

This is the heart and soul of Originalism. It is much more fully, and clearly, and artfully described by the late Justice Antonin Scalia here: https://www.law.virginia.edu/news/2010_spr/scalia.htm

So, the people in Hawaii should get out their snowshoes… and Supreme Court Justices should get out their Constitutions and be guided and directed by it as read with its original meaning.


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For His glory,


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