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The (real) nonsense at the Supreme Court

Ever since Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia described the majority's analysis in King v. Burwell as “interpretive jiggery-pokery,” the Internet has been all atwitter, tracking the phrase to its Scottish source. But aside from that traditional usage as a way of calling something absurd, jiggery-pokery is also a double-dactyl word, and therefore useful for those who enjoy nonsense rhymes. In fact, there is a special form of nonsense rhyme, also called a double dactyl, that seems particularly well suited to describe the last frantic week or so of the Supreme Court's term. Here are several double dactyls of my own, and an explanation of the very precise rules of rhyme and meter.

On King v. Burwell, the case that gave rise to Scalia's usage:

Jiggery-pokery! Anti-Obamacare challengers say that “a state” means a state.

Justices ruled by a six-three majority, counterintuitive reading is great.

That's a double-dactyl poem. The first line is a six- syllable nonsense word (such as jiggery-pokery or higgledy- piggledy) and the six syllables are divided into a pair of dactyls. A dactyl is DAH-da-da, so a double dactyl is DAH-da-da, DAH-da-da. The poem's meter is required to be just the way it sounds in the example above. The fourth and eighth lines rhyme. The sixth or seventh line must be a single double-dactyl word, and a real word, not nonsense (here, “counterintuitive”).

With the rules in mind, here is a double dactyl on the gay- marriage case, Obergefell v. Hodges:

Jiggery-pokery, Limiting marriage to heterosexuals challenged in court.

Justices say rules are unconstitutional: Life-long love can come in more than one sort.

I have been a fan of double dactyls since I first learned of them in my teens. Each fall, I hold a competition for my first-year law students, in which they write double dactyls about contracts cases. Double dactyls feature prominently in one of my novels. They are fun to write, and they teach discipline in writing. And, of course, they can be composed to make a point.

Here is another, on Michigan v. Environmental Protection Agency:

Higgledy-piggledy, Federal agency issued new regs without counting the cost.

Claim that to do so was quasi-impossible got just four votes, so the EPA lost.

And one about Justice Scalia himself:

Jiggery-pokery, Justice Scalia is famous for writing in phrases obscure.

Liberals call his views antediluvian, but that he's right he is always quite sure.

Finally, let me close with a double dactyl on the current sad state of the court itself:

Jiggery-pokery! Nine berobed justices carping and snarling, dissenting and such.

Gone are the great days when, jurisprudentially, being unanimous mattered so much!

To contact the author on this story: Stephen L Carter at

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