Thursday, March 11, 2021

Apples and Oranges (MY Eng #7)

This is part of a running series about English idioms - less about language, more about life itself. Previously, we covered 'missing the woods for the trees', 'the elephant in the room', 'practising what you preach', blowing hot and cold', 'no smoke without fire' and 'one swallow does not make a summer'.

A key skill in 'lawyering' is research. Law is backward-looking. Lawyers need to cite authorities justify an position or argument. Law draws heavily from past precedents. In common law jurisdictions, courts are even bound by its own previous decisions or those of superior courts - the doctrine of 'stare decisis' (fancy Latin legal lingo).

But of course, reality isn't that simple. It's hard to find an earlier case similar on 'all fours' to the case at hand (another cool legal lingo). Different facts may produce different outcomes. Analogical reasoning isn't full-proof. That's why an equally important counter-skill to identifying similarities is drawing distinctions.

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That's where some lawyers get cheeky and play the 'apples and oranges' card.

They'll go to great lengths explaining how the example you have just cited is 'worlds apart' from the case at hand (cool term!). They'll make a list of distinguishing features. They'll accuse you of 'cherry-picking' (another cool term!). Or if their vocabulary is truly formidable, they'll throw in another synonymous idiom: 'chalk and cheese'.

Both are quite common everyday idioms. Your colleague or friend is just as capable of spinning the words. You say: "I'm just as senior as Dave, but why did he get promoted to Senior Engineer but not me as well?" Your boss waves a hand dismissively: "Apples and oranges. Dave works twice as hard as you, and besides, the management loves his charm." Cruel, but perhaps true.

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Of course, the 'apples and oranges' card tends to be overplayed. Minor differences are exaggerated. Even if substantial, distinguishing factors may not necessarily affect the outcome of the matter at hand.

Sure, one is crunchy while the other is mushy. But ultimately, both fruits can taste just as sweet.

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