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Liberman Discusses "On All Fours":
Over at Language Log, Mark Liberman weighs in on the "on all fours" question. (I realize that only about 2% of VC readers still care about this, but hey, I happen to be part of that 2%.)
Guest2 (mail):
As he says, it's always a mistake not to check the OED first.
12.20.2006 6:41pm
TFKW:
Wow! My two favorite blogs are talking to each other.


(I was a linguistics major in college. Law is not a popular destination for linguistics majors for some reason.)
12.20.2006 7:25pm
Richard Samuelson (mail):
According to the link below, Voltaire commente that reading Rousseau made him feel like going "on all fours." If that's correct, that is. I had thought it was Henry Adams who said that. It may very well be that he was quoting Voltaire.
http://www.historyguide.org/intellect/lecture9a.html
12.20.2006 9:32pm
godfodder (mail):
I haven't read the previous entry on this topic, but I can't imagine that someone missed the opportunity to say:

Where the law is concerned, "on all fours" just seems a natural thing to do... bohica!
12.20.2006 9:44pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
I was a linguistics major in college. Law is not a popular destination for linguistics majors for some reason

Perhaps because linguistics assumes that words have meaning? (Grin).
12.20.2006 10:45pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
State v. Astore, 258 So.2d 33, 34 (Fla.App.

1972):
[T]here are no controlling Florida cases "on all fours" with the question as posed. We nonetheless think that there are sufficient judicial guidelines concerning the first two aspects therefore, in somewhat similar and analogous cases, so that our opinion is, at this stage, unnecessary. As to the contention that that law violates the constitutional right to bear arms, see United States v. Miller... See also, Davis v. State.
My reading was that this referred to how well the facts and legal issues match up to existing precedents. Does only one of the four fit? The table falls over.
12.21.2006 12:30am
Lev:

In this context, "going upon all four" is kind of like the mid-20th-century expression "running on all eight (cylinders)".


I never heard of that one, although I have heard of "hitting on all cylinders" as in, running very smoothly.

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Where the law is concerned, "on all fours" just seems a natural thing to do... bohica!

So. The brunette, the redhead, and the blonde were at the OBgyn's office. The brunette said she conceived when she was on the bottom - the Dr. said it would be a girl. The redhead said she conceived when she was on top...Onatop?... - the Dr. said it would be a boy. The blonde started crying. The others asked why? "I'm going to have puppies."
12.21.2006 3:13am
DJR:
I will reiterate my comment to Lieberman's post here, since it might get missed in the previous posting's comments:

Despite the OED definition, "fairly, evenly, not to limp like a lame dog," all of the references Lieberman cites refer to a comparision between two things where one is said to be running on all fours with the other.

In particular, Lieberman says: "Outside the legal context, an example of 'going upon all four' as an expression for 'running well' can be found in Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy, Vol. 3, Chap. XXIV (1760)." But this is completely wrong. The cited quotation describes how the author's Uncle Toby was in an affair with the Widow Wadman. Meanwhile, Toby's servant Corporal Trim, who imitated Toby in everthing he did, was conducting an affair with Bridget. The author then waxes eloquent about how delightful it is to see two ilicit relationships occurring in concert: "an amour [illicit affair] thus nobly doubled [two affairs] and going upon all four [proceeding together step-by step], prancing throughout a grand drama [which is vastly entertaining]."

While I don't doubt that "running on all four" can and has been used to describe something running well, ie. "firing on all eight," but it appears even from the earliest usage running on all four was used to compare one thing to another.
12.21.2006 8:20am
jncc (mail):

While I don't doubt that "running on all four" can and has been used to describe something running well, ie. "firing on all eight," but it appears even from the earliest usage running on all four was used to compare one thing to another.

That doesnt' seem to make any sense. There has to be a genesis for this expression outside the context of comparing legal cases to precedent. If you search google books for the phrase "on all fours" you will come across scores (maybe hundreds) of references back into the 1700s that use the expression simply to describe an animal running on all four legs. It seems illogical to believe that the expression was initially used for comparison purposes (where it is stilted and doesn't have an obvious meaning) and then somehow migrated to general usage where it makes perfect sense. Don't you think the reverse must be true?

The earliest usage I could find in the quasi-legal context is a 1790 reference in The Gentleman's magazine stating "But this is no evidence that Nelson either sought death or intended a moral suicide. Certainly not. The cases, however,do not run on all fours." And the excerpt continues to go on to compare two different incidents. This is not a legal case, but is a comparison of two different factual patterns - just like one would do in legal analysis.

It seems especially interesting that this expression "run on all fours" is used, not merely "on all fours" and I would submit that this points to the origin of the phrase.
12.21.2006 12:52pm
jncc (mail):
Oh- forgot to mention, that the text I quote is available on google books, just search for exact phrase "on all fours" with word "case" prior to 1800
12.21.2006 12:53pm
DJR:
Who would have thought Google books would be such a good source for this kind of question? Having perused that site, I agree that the most predominant use ouside the legal context of "on all fours" seems to be referring to a human or animal crawling rather than walking. Men or babies are only "on all fours" when they cannot stand erect, and some comparisons are made to apes, which have no choice but to walk on all fours.

But it occurs to me that the use of "on all fours" in the comparative sense could refer not to two things running together, but rather two things that rely on the same support, or to put it another way, stand on the same legs.
12.21.2006 2:01pm
Silicon Valley Jim:
I realize that only about 2% of VC readers still care about this, but hey, I happen to be part of that 2%.

I'm part of the other 98% on this particular issue, but I urge you to keep this sort of thing up. The fact that you and several of the other contributors here have this sort of wide-ranging curiosity is one of the best things about the site.
12.21.2006 2:02pm
Alfalfa Male:
In one of my first year law classes, one of my professors explained the origin of the phrase to the class. I've always assumed all 1L's heard the same story. The phrase came from a particular judicial decision involving a dispute over a cow. I don't recall the details, but one of the attorneys in the case, in making his argument, cited a previous decision involving a cow. However, that case involved a dead cow, whereas the instant controversy involved a living cow. Opposing counsel cited a different decision that involved a living cow. The judge ruled in his favor, stating that the attorney had better authority because it was "on all fours".
12.21.2006 2:09pm