Thursday, March 22, 2007

Putative v. Alleged v. Ostensible

Today's "wotd" offering from DD is "perforce," but I find this word stupid (from the French "par force" meaning, literally, by force, it goes nowhere), so I will ignore it. Instead, since I'm in a coy legal mood (I've been answering Plaintiff's counsel's idiotic discovery requests for the last two days), I've got my own word comparison that I've been meaning to do.

Putative v. Alleged v. Ostensible

Putative comes from the Latin, through the French (of course), putare for, of all things, "to prune, think" or "to clean, prune". Well, I get the "think" part, but "to prune"??? Surely, they don't mean the gardening technique, but rather the whittling away of a discussion or idea to its core in line with cleaning up an argument so it makes sense, but that doesn't really relate to a definition, which is "commonly regarded as such". In fact, it is possibly just the opposite. Something which may be commonly regarded as a person or thing may not be in fact the true person or thing, and therefore, would need to be cleaned up as to an understanding of the true person or thing. His putative title as heir to the presidency of the corporation upon his father's death, while it could be true at some point in the future when a specific announcement is made, such a title has not be officially conferred and therefore, is only speculative.

Now, alleged comes from Latin allegare for "to adduce in support of a plea", like that's going to make this word any easier to understand among the lay folk. Basically, it means to reason or argue a fact which is not readily apparent in your case. In law, we talk about "alleged" facts, those being the ones which have not been proven, admitted, or agreed upon as true. Plaintiffs raise innumerable "alleged" acts of negligence on the part of the Defendant in order to maintain their suit. Her alleged failure to maintain control of her vehicle caused her to hit the Plaintiff's dog. The company's alleged lack of supervision over the supervision of employees enabled the workers to leave the hole uncovered which the Plaintiff then fell into. The alleged unnatural accumulation of snow and ice on the public sidewalk caused the Plaintiff to slip and fall, breaking her leg. All of these "alleged" facts must be proven in order for the Plaintiff to prevail on the claim, and these facts must all be alleged in the Complaint in order for the Complaint to survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. So, what we have is a very legal word, which may be used in non-legal contexts to up the ante. In making his appeal for his mother's leniency, the boy argued that it was the alleged taunts of his older sister which made him hit her. Of course, no one would really talk like this outside a law office, would they? Notwithstanding...

And finally, ostensible. Well, first there is the odd etymology, which always makes things interesting. From the Latin a hybrid of "ob" "tendere" meaning "reverse or inverse" "stretch" perhaps poetically meaning not stretched, as in the truth or reality, we then get the past participle of "ostendere" (where we lost the "b") meaning just "to show". But the definitions still have an element of only fiction with "outwardly appearing" or "represented or appearing as such", and not actually being the thing represented or appearing.

So, what is the difference? In the examples, ostensible is used with intangibles (ostensible cheerfulness, ostensible truth). Ostensible mob boss? No. Although the ostensible "aunt", she was not invited to the wedding. No, but funny nontheless. Her ostensible dog walking business was merely an excuse to get out of the house? Probably not. Her ostensible knowledge of physics. Also probably not, although it does tend to diminish the knowledge to practically an intangible in a humorous sort of way. His business plan was really an ostensible recipe for disaster. Yes. I agree. I think ostensible really should only be used with intangibles. Compare, putative's single example as used with a person (putative mob boss). Although the putative "aunt", she was not invited to the wedding. Yes. Her putative dog walking business was merely an excuse to get out of the house. Probably. His business plan was really a putative recipe for disaster. No. His putative cheerfulness did not fool anyone of his underlying misery. No. The putative truth was easily contradicted in cross-examination. No, and for the converse, putative does not tend to raise an intangible to a level of anthropomorphism. So, putative should only be used with people, and perhaps with the activities of people. Her putative daydreaming about her upcoming vacation. Eh. If we must. His putative computer skills. Better. Largely because the activity is becoming more focused. Her ostensible happiness was merely a pretext for a putative plan to be released from the mental institution. Alleged is just the odd word out this time because while putative and ostensible don't really exist in truth at the time of the statement and have no motivation to be proven or disproven, alleged may be already be true and has the inference of needing to be shown as true. All alleged definitions of words in this discussion are based on my putative knowledge and ostensible intuition.


Anonymous said...

A typo in the first sentence doesn't really impress, reagrdless of the rest of the post.

Lauren said...

Thank you for your comment; however, this is not a typo. "wotd" stands for "word of the day" as described in my introductory remarks, just as DD stands for "Doctor Dictionary", the online dictionary that provides "wotd".

Kishore Rathnavel said...

I have been reading your articles for a few days and I've got to ask, what is meant by "Plaintiff's Counsel's..." and how should that phrase be used?

Lauren said...

Kishore, thank you for your question. A Plaintiff in the legal system is one who initiates a case against a person or corporation. The attorney who represents a plaintiff in such a case is know as "counsel for the Plaintiff" or "Plaintiff's counsel", or perhaps a few other popular or unpopular descriptions, but I'll stick with these two. As it is expressly a legal phrase, you wouldn't have occasion to use it outside a legal context.

Anonymous said...

such a case is know as "counsel for the Plaintiff"