On Establishing Meaning

Words can vary substantially in their meaning and reception, with trademark law being a principal area of law concerned with the meaning and reception of language in the marketplace. Other areas of law, however, historically recognize distinctions that may arise between the ways the same word or phrase can be interpreted by different communities of speakers in different contexts. As Alan Durant notes, “in some [defamation] cases, in addition to statements which are capable of being defamatory ‘on their face’ (i.e. in respect to their natural and ordinary meaning), the law recognizes there may be a potentially defamatory meaning below the surface meaning, namely ‘innuendo meaning’. This arises in cases where the words themselves are not defamatory, but they invite an obvious and publicly available inference that yields a defamatory meaning (known as ‘false innuendo’). Alternatively, there may be knowledge known only to a subsection of the community that renders an otherwise harmless statement defamatory (‘true innuendo’). In such cases, the legal fiction of the ‘ordinary reader’ or addressee is modified” (Durant 1996 as cited by Hutton 2009, p. 170). The need by courts to establish the ‘ordinary reader’ in cases of libel can be equivocated with the need by courts in trademark law to establish an ‘ordinary consumer’ who will be dealt with in the context of a particular case. Similarly, within the realm of trademark law, it is possible for courts and linguists to find certain marks to be confusing or misleading ‘on their face’, accepting the most sweeping and universal interpretations of a particular word or phrase, if they can be proved as such. Other words, despite their original, intended, or ‘natural’ meanings may have secondary or intuitive meaning. Beyond these two situations, it is not difficult to also conceive of: (a) a speech community; (b) a geo-political space; or (c) a market or communicational context whose membership, affiliation with, residence, or experience within invites further inference, nuance, and impressions of a word or phrase that affects meaning.

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Thesis Outline and Future Direction

Below you’ll find my articulated direction for my thesis for the remainder of the year!

  1. I.     Introduction (DUE DATE DECEMBER 17) [Read more…]

The Liberal Plea for Courts Regarding Trademarks

It may be difficult for governments and businesses, in an increasingly globalized society, to completely control the life, perception, and reception of trademarks in the marketplace. Regardless of whether or not the public sphere is becoming increasingly commodified, these commodities can nevertheless be bought and sold, controlled or manipulated through marketing, and hold value for the business they belong to. The stronger the particular commodity or mark in the marketplace, the more power its handler likely has to execute branding strategies that strictly control a trademarks reception. The worst thing that can probably happen (in the financial sense) for a company is to have a trademark that becomes so diluted in the market that it undergoes death through genericide and can no longer be protected as it has entered the public sphere (as in the Aspirin case).

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Dictionaries v Expert Testimony

Chris Hutton, Professor of English at the University of Hong Kong, submits a number of benefits to the use of a dictionary that would be invariant (presumably) across almost all cases in his book Language, Meaning, and the Law:

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The Linguistification of Value

An outline and brief contextual grounding of Part 1 of University of Hong Kong Professor Chris Hutton’s Language, Meaning and the Law which embeds current schools of thought regarding the overlay of language and the law in historical relief.

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