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One of life’s great indulgences is the cognoscente’s feeling of smug superiority when others get some inside-baseball bit of information wrong. It’s a heady amalgam of emotions—lamenting how the world is going to hell while simultaneously assuring yourself that it is, at any rate, not YOUR fault. And I have noted in my own case that the impulse is exacerbated when I learned the key bit of information relatively late in life. I suppose the increased degree of smugness is borne of overcompensation. There are things that I can actually remember learning as an adult, and yet they still elicit a quick, happy disdain in my heart when someone else gets them wrong.
I’m not alone in this, I’m sure. Once, while out of town for a law school conference, I had dinner with a faculty member—let’s call him Professor Black—who might reasonably be described as combative; he also invited someone from another law school. At dinner, Professor Black told a little story using the term “schadenfreude”; when our dinner companion chuckled, Professor Black challenged him, gleefully: “Do you even know what schadenfreude means?” No, the dinner companion was compelled to confess; he did not. It is hard to describe the level of exultation this confession elicited in Professor Black—the word “cackling” comes to mind. Meanwhile, I contemplated stabbing myself in the eyes with my dinner fork. My bystander-mortification didn’t stop me from retailing this story as soon as I returned to Michigan, mind you. And that’s how I learned, from the first person I told (we’ll call him, let’s see, Professor Schmiller), that he had introduced Professor Black to the word schadenfreude a mere week or so before. I’m happy to report that Professor Schmiller’s resulting glee and exultation in learning of his colleague’s behavior surpassed even Professor Black’s at the time of the incident.
Hilarious though it may be, this behavior is not attractive. Clearly, we should all struggle to better ourselves and overcome such impulses. But I haven’t reached that plane of development. I’m a flawed individual, and this flaw happens to be right up my alley. While I aspire to self-improvement, it just hasn’t happened yet. (Let’s be honest; it may never come. I don’t try as hard as I ought.)
So let me throw up my hands and share with you a mistake that elicits an unbecoming smirk in me. The degree people get when they graduate from law school is a JD. What does it stand for? Juris doctor. It does NOT stand for juris doctorate. “Juris doctorate” is not an actual thing.
The fact that many people get this wrong has been striking me forcibly of late, as I am involved in three separate searches for administrative positions to be filled at the Law School. The number of job applicants who erroneously identify themselves as possessing “juris doctorates” has been astonishing—although somewhat less astonishing than the fact that if you Google the term “juris doctorate,” you will find webpages of multiple law schools touting that degree.
But now I have performed a small public service, perhaps decreasing the number of people who might have made that mistake, which in turn might lead to fewer instances of bad behavior on my part. And who knows? Maybe someday I will actually improve my fundamentals.