The Reasonable Meaning of an Extended Middle Finger

–From Ray Baxter, University of Arkansas School of Law at Fayetteville, Date of event: circa 1974

When I was a freshman at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, in Contracts we were studying the case of Lucy v. Zamer. We all remember that case in that it stands for the proposition that a person is bound by the reasonable meaning of their offer or response thereto. Professor Al Witte found the case to be of extreme significance and basically talked about it for the better part of two weeks.

One day after having thoroughly indoctrinated us concerning that case, he asked a question. He said, “Mr. Baxter, if I were to have made you an offer and you responded with an uplifted finger, preferably the middle one, what would be the reasonable meaning of your response?” I responded, “Professor Witte, that would depend on what was offered and that it was you who made the offer in the first place.”

Professor Witte was completely embarrassed by this and the entire class erupted in laughter because it was the one and only time that Professor Witte had been had throughout the entire semester. Quite a bit of humor was had during the semester, but never at his expense. He was determined not to be gotten the best of. He then told me, “Mr. Baxter, that is the most lawyer-like thing that you have uttered all semester.” He added that the key words to the answer are “it depends.”

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Andrew Jay McClurg is a law professor whose teaching and research interests include tort law, products liability, legal education, privacy law and firearms policy. He holds the Herbert Herff Chair of Excellence in Law at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
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