[Ads-l] Postliminary

Wed Dec 10 20:12:00 UTC 2014

We all know the word "preliminary," but how many of us are acquainted with its counterpart, "postliminary"?  However, the word played a central role yesterday in a Supreme Court opinion, Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk, No. 13-433 (U.S. Dec. 9, 2014), http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/14pdf/13-433_5h26.pdf.  The opinion construed a provision of federal law which states that overtime compensation is not required for activities which are "preliminary to or postliminary to" principal activities.  The statute goes on to explain that it means activities "which occur either prior to the time on any particular workday at which such employee commences, or subsequent to the time on any particular workday at which he ceases, such principal activity or activities."  The court, in a unanimous opinion, ruled that security screenings of warehouse employees are noncompensable postliminary activities.  In other words, although a contractor for Amazon.com requires its employees to undergo a security screening before leaving the warehouse, and this security screening can add 25 minutes to the employees' work day, there is no legal obligation for the contractor to pay its employees for this time.

The language in question was added to federal law by the Portal-to-Portal Act of 1947.  Of the four examples of "postliminary" in the OED, one relates to this statute and two are from Scott in the 1820s.  The only dictionaries on onelook.com that list postliminary with this meaning are Collins English Dictionary and The Phrontistery - A Dictionary of Obscure Words.  (Some dictionaries, including the OED, also mention that postliminary can be used as the adjectival form of "postliminy," which is the restoration to their former status of persons and things taken in war.)  The Supreme Court made no comment on the rareness of the word.  A 2009 blog post, http://volokh.com/2009/08/21/postliminary/, mentions an 1811 antedating.

John Baker

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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