Friday, October 8, 2021

"Enjoin" or "Injunct"?

Not the most pressing question, perhaps, but I have noted over the past few years that judges and commentators from the U.K. often use the verb "injunct", rather than "enjoin", to refer to what a court does when it orders a party to cease infringing a patent--that is, when it enters an injunction.  In my experience, one rarely encounters the word "injunct" in the United States, which is perhaps one reason why, to my ear, "injunct" sounds wrong.  (The other is simply a dislike of verbs unnecessarily formed from nouns--e.g., "incentivize" from "incentive"--when there are other, less bureaucratic-sounding, words such as "induce" or "encourage" that in most situations work just as well.)  Curious, I looked the words up in the Oxford English Dictionary--and guess what?  According to the OED, while "enjoin" can be traced all the way back to Middle English (e.g., Wycliffe, Langland) as derived from medieval French and, ultimately, Latin, the use of the word "injunct" as a verb dates back to nineteenth-century American English, though it made its first documented entry in British English not long after, in 1890.  (In case you're wondering, the OED traces the word "injunction" to the early sixteenth century.  It also has an entry for "enjoinment"--basically, a synonym for "injunction"--the first documented use of which was by Sir Thomas Browne in 1636, and the last by Robert Browning in 1868.  Let's not revive that one, please.)  One source the OED cites, an 1872 book titled Americanisms:  The English of the New World, refers to the past tense form of the verb ("injuncted") as one of a class of "violent contractions derived from well-known and well-formed words."  Though I share the author's distaste for the word itself, his reaction itself seems a bit off the charts, since the word is neither a contraction--at least not in the sense we typically use that term today, though maybe it had a broader meaning in 1872--nor, in any meaningful sense, a "violent" one.  

Moving along, a Google N-Gram search reveals that in both countries "enjoin" is used a lot more frequently than "injunct."  As of 2019, if I am understanding this correctly, the word "enjoin" showed up in both American and British English about once every 25,000 words, and "enjoined" a bit more than twice every 25,000 words.   In American English, "injunct" showed up roughly once every 300,000 words and "injuncted" about once every 10,000,000, whereas in British English "injunct" shows up about once every 10,000,000 words and "injuncted," surprisingly, is more common, showing a bit more than once every 2,500,000 words.  Nevertheless, it's fair to say that both British and American speakers of English prefer "enjoin" and "enjoined" to "injunct" and "injuncted"--the one exception, based on my own anecdotal experience, being British patent lawyers and judges.  Perhaps if someone were to inform them that the words are American in origin, they would be encouraged--or should I say, incentivized?--to revert back to "enjoin" and "enjoined."

Below:  A poster from a recent, not particularly good, film about the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary.  Would Mel Gibson say "enjoin" or "injunct"?

The Professor and the Madman (film).png

No comments:

Post a Comment