‘Pettifogging’: Why Chief Justice John Roberts used term during Trump impeachment trial

‘Pettifogging’: Why Chief Justice John Roberts used term during Trump impeachment trial

January 22, 2020

A little-used word dating back to the late 16th century — pettifogging — made a modern-day comeback at the first day of the impeachment trial of President Trump.

Twitter and Google were abuzz Wednesday over the archaic adjective, which means “dishonest or unethical in insignificant matters; meanly petty,” according to Dictionary.com.

It was dropped by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts early Wednesday as he warned Democratic House impeachment managers and Trump’s defense team to keep things civil during the marathon Senate session.

“In the 1905 Swain trial, a senator objected when one of the managers used the word ‘pettifogging’ and the presiding officer said the word ought not to have been used,” Roberts told both sides. “I don’t think we need to aspire to that high of a standard, but I do think those addressing the Senate should remember where they are.”

Roberts, who is presiding over the historic trial, went on to scold both parties for their behavior.

“I think it is appropriate for me to admonish both the House managers and the president’s counsel in equal terms to remember that they are addressing the world’s greatest deliberative body,” Roberts said. “One reason it has earned that title is because its members avoid speaking in a manner and using language that is not conducive to civil discourse.”

Merriam-Webster, meanwhile, tweeted a similar definition of pettifogger — “one given to quibbling over trifles … a lawyer whose methods are petty, underhanded, or disreputable.”

Twitter users lit up over the word.

“‘Pettifogging’ is my new favorite word,” one person wrote.

Another quipped, “Can we engage in pettifogging instead of shenanigans now?”

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