the noun "forensic"

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Wed Dec 14 00:46:29 UTC 2005

my friend christopher walker writes to ask:

Have you run into this usage before?

Here at Penn State, "forensic" can be a substantive. It means a
gathering with a formal program,
such as a speech or a film. There will be a forensic after the
business meeting.'  There isn't necessarily any element of analysis
or even discussion implied.

Is this a Keystone State feature? or a Penn State bug?

i don't recall having seen this before, and i don't find it in the
ADS archives.  but OED2 has what is presumably the historical source,
from the 19th century:

n. U.S. A college exercise, consisting of a speech or (at Harvard)
written thesis maintaining one side or the other of a given question.

1830 Collegian 241 in B. H. Hall College Words, Themes, forensics
[etc.]. 1837 Ord. & Regul. Harvard Univ. 12 Every omission of a theme
or forensic.

a 1993 OED addition has an elliptical use 'forensic science
department, laboratory, etc.', which isn't directly related to the
noun use above.  instead, it's parallel to another usage that walker
complains about:

It reminds me of running into "epistolary" as a noun, occasionally,
among lit crit types. 'Clarissa is the longest epistolary in the
English language.'  (I always wanted to shriek "Novel! epistolary
*novel* !" )

arnold (zwicky at

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