When 33 Writers Have No Quo In Their Quid

Since I write occasionally, a plea by 33 writers to the New York Times to stop using the phrase “quid pro quo” in reference to the conduct underlying the Trump impeachment proceedings was curious. Sure, it was Latin, so maybe they were just a bunch of American English jingoists, or perhaps concerned about cultural appropriation. As it turned out, that wasn’t at all their concern.

A plea from 33 writers: Please use language that will clarify the issues at hand.

Please stop using the Latin phrase “quid pro quo” regarding the impeachment inquiry. Most people don’t understand what it means, and in any case it doesn’t refer only to a crime. Asking for a favor is not a criminal act; we frequently demand things from foreign countries before giving them aid, like asking them to improve their human rights record.

Is it true that “most people” are so unfamiliar with this phrase as to make it obfuscating? It’s possible, not that they offer any evidence to support the assertion that most people read “quid pro quo” and think to themselves, “what they heck are they talking about?”

And it’s similarly true that a “quid pro quo” isn’t, in itself, a crime. But being a lawyer, it appears that these 33 writers fail to grasp that it isn’t meant to be, in itself, a crime, but an element of a crime.

Please use words that refer only to criminal behavior here. Use “bribery” or “extortion” to describe Mr. Trump’s demand to President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, making it very clear that this is a crime. The more we hear words that carry moral imputations, the more we understand the criminal nature of the act.

Bribery and extortion are, obviously, crimes, but they are conclusory words. Whether the conduct constitutes bribery or extortion is the “issue at hand,” and the only way to determine that is to consider whether the elements of the crime are met. One such element is, dare I write it, whether there was a quid pro quo, with the quid or the quo being something prohibited.

So these writers aren’t really asking for the substitution of equivalents, but to substitute an element of a crime for the conclusion of a crime, an entirely different matter. They then, however, make their purpose clear, that they plead for words that not only address something entirely different, but words that carry “moral imputations.”

To the extent these writers are conveying anything comprehensible, it’s that they don’t want writers to address whether the elements of a crime have been met, but rather to use words to impute moral condemnation regardless of whether the elements of the crime have been met.

And there’s more.

Please also stop using the phrase “dig up dirt.” This slang has unsavory connotations. Instead, please use the more formal, direct and powerful phrase “create false evidence,” or “find incriminating evidence” or the simpler “tell lies about.”

Words make a difference.

Words do, indeed, make a difference. The difference between “create false evidence” or “tell lies about” and “dig up dirt” or “find incriminating evidence” isn’t that one is “more formal, direct and powerful,” but that they mean very different things. If there is incriminating evidence to be found, then there is nothing false about it. It’s not a lie to dig up dirt, if dirt it is.

These are parlous times, and we look to public voices for dignity, intelligence and gravitas. Please use precise and forceful language that reveals the struggle in which we now find ourselves. It’s a matter of survival.

Parlous” is quite a surprising word choice, given their gripe about people not knowing what “quid pro quo” means. But more to the point, is their plea one for “dignity, intelligence and gravitas,” or are these 33 of the most incompetent wordsmiths ever? They conflate the language used to describe an element of wrongful conduct with the conclusory name of a crime. They confuse incriminating evidence with false evidence. They really suck at using words, and beg the New York Times to suck as much as they do?

Their real plea, however, isn’t about the word choice, but the overarching message. Trump is guilty. From their perspective, it’s not entirely clear what he’s guilty of, as non-lawyers don’t belabor the troubling details of elements of crimes, like “quid pro quo.” Rather, this is more about “it feels like a crime,” and since it’s impeachment, that’s close enough.

As it happens, I take no issue with the conclusion. I do, however, choose to reach it honestly, by being informed of the details and reaching a conclusion based on facts. These 33 writers apparently find that intolerable, as people might misunderstand the words that reflect the accurate details and, god forbid, not reach the “right” conclusion.

Their plea is for the New York Times to not let that happen, not provide the words that could be used to confuse people, manipulate their understanding of the conduct or the process, and open the door to someone deciding that Trump didn’t commit an impeachment-worthy offense. Words make a difference, and they plead for the words that will lead inexorably to the outcome they, these 33 writers, want rather than words that merely accurately describe what happened and allow readers to decide for themselves.

These 33 people may be writers, but there is another word that characterizes them as well: liars. And they call their lies “dignity.”

In fairness, these are not 33 writers who are also lawyers, so perhaps they just don’t grasp that their plea is fatally flawed, their word gripes are legally ignorant. It could well be that most people don’t know the meaning of the Latin phrase, “quid pro quo,” just as they don’t know the meaning of “res ipsa loquitur,” and thus can’t fathom how an honest recitation of facts might lead people of integrity to reach the correct conclusion not because the writers have lied to guarantee it, but because an accurate recitation of the facts makes it so.

16 thoughts on “When 33 Writers Have No Quo In Their Quid

  1. Dan

    I could almost accept their not recognizing the difference between “quid pro quo” and bribery–as you say, they aren’t lawyers, and maybe they are ignorant enough to honestly believe the two are synonymous. That, of course, leads to the equally-ignorant conservative meme accusing Pelosi and Sanders of the same thing for threatening to cut Israel’s aid payments if they don’t play ball, but consistency isn’t really anyone’s strong suit any more, it seems. (and any such change would likely be done via an Appropriations Act, making it legal by definition)

    But this one makes no sense at all:
    ‘Instead, please use the more formal, direct and powerful phrase “create false evidence,” or “find incriminating evidence” or the simpler “tell lies about.”’
    Are they truly so blind as to think that all three of these are the same thing? “Dig up dirt” could, of course, suggest that it isn’t too important that the “dirt” be true, but that’s by no means the only possible meaning of the phrase–and in fact “dig up dirt” covers both meanings (“find legitimate incriminating evidence”, or “create false evidence”).

  2. stevie g

    Why not do the heavy lifting and go over the bribery elements? If you do, you will see that the quid and the quo are 2 elements, each one not necessarily prohibited. Doncha just hate when writers make people stupider?

    Waiting for snark reply……

    1. SHG Post author

      Are they, Stevie? Is there a bribery statute that applies to the president dealing with officials of foreign nations? I didn’t do the “heavy lifting” because it’s irrelevant, but since you’re of the view that you’ve “got me,” and putting aside your pre-emptive passive-aggressiveness, you should give some serious thought to proving your point before you do your happy dance.

    2. Sgt. Schultz

      Some day, when you grow up to be a big boy, you may be able to do heavy lifting. But today is not the day, stevie.

      1. SHG Post author

        Don’t make him cry with your mean reply. He said he was awaiting snark, but no child can take a manly punch like that.

      2. David

        Even worse, Scott actually made the point despite there being no statute, per se, that applies directly.

        One such element is, dare I write it, whether there was a quid pro quo, with the quid or the quo being something prohibited.

        It would appear that Little Stevie is clean out of sight.

  3. John J

    I admit that I’d forgotten what quid pro quo means, but, as a tip to the 33 writers, there is this little known online service called ‘Google’, where, if one enters the term, a definition appears almost instantly, (as well as 124,000,000 other references.) Obviously, this ‘Google’ service should remain obscure or neo-Nazis, incels, white males, and other vermin will use it for evil. Mum’s the word.

  4. Elpey P.

    Reportedly, when told that Orwell’s 1984 was a warning and not an instruction manual, 33 writers responded, “The hell you say.”

  5. Howl

    “Since I write occasionally, . . .”
    If you want to be taken seriously as a writer, you gotta up your output. Try writing a little something each day, and pretty soon you’ll get the hang of it.

      1. Howl

        “Writing is hard work,” says everybody who has tried to do it well.
        “Writing is easy,” says nobody who has written anything worth reading.
        “You can’t be a Pro, if your Quid got no Quo,” said the guy in the peanut gallery.

  6. losingtrader

    I appreciate your regularly bringing me stories from the Times so I can avoid a subscription. I did see the headline of this article in their teaser morning email but then they only gave me the first few lines .

    Keep saving me money. Can you perhaps quote stories from Bond Buyer, which wants $2750/ year?

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