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Word for the Wise December 21, 2006 Broadcast Topic: Philadelphia lawyer

Unfortunately for us, the American right to free speech—and to a free press—does not guarantee that we will always be right. Case in point: on a recent program on John Peter Zenger’s acquittal on charges of libel in the 18th century, we wrongly identified Zenger’s attorney as Philadelphia lawyer Alexander Hamilton. (来源:英语聊天室 http://chat.EnglishCN.com)

As more than one listener pointed out, American statesman Alexander Hamilton was not born until 1755, decades after Zenger was cleared of charges of publishing seditious libel.

In fact, the attorney in question was not Alexander but Andrew Hamilton. The Scottish-born Andrew Hamilton was indeed practicing law in Philadelphia—he took on the case after a New York judge barred two local lawyers from participating—but the jury is still out on which sort of Philadelphia lawyer he was. Philadelphia lawyer has two senses: "an exceptionally competent lawyer" and "a shrewd lawyer versed in the intricacies of legal phraseology and adept at exploiting legal technicalities."

However, lexicographers agree that Andrew Hamilton was indeed the reason Philadelphia lawyer developed its originally positive sense. We can pin the later, more negative connotation on the mixed feelings associated, at least in this country, with the law profession.

 
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