U.S. Supreme Court

How is ‘certiorari’ pronounced? Even Supreme Court justices disagree


Regent University law professor James Duane thought he would find an easy answer to his question: What is the correct pronunciation of “certiorari”?

He listened to the U.S. Supreme Court’s oral arguments to learn the uniform pronunciation and instead found a six-way split of opinion, the National Law Journal reports. Black’s Law Dictionary also fails to settle the dispute, Duane writes in an article for Green Bag (PDF). It lists three pronunciations as acceptable.

Duane listened to pronunciations by the nine current justices and four recent justices. All the justices pronounce the first syllable “ser,” and most pronounce the second syllable “shee.” Pronunciations include:

• Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia and Stephen G. Breyer: “ser-shee-or-RARE-eye,” rhyming with “fair guy.”

• Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr. and John Paul Stevens: “ser-shee-or-RAHR-ee,” rhyming with “Ferrari” or “car key.”

• Justice Clarence Thomas: He agrees with Alito on the last three syllables, but he pronounces the first two syllables “sertzee.”

• Justice Anthony M. Kennedy: “ser-shee-or-ARR-eye,” rhyming with “far cry” or “czar guy.”

• Justice Sonia Sotomayor: “ser-shee-ARR-ee,” with a dropped syllable.

• The late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and David H. Souter: “ser-shee-or-RARE-ee,” rhyming with “dairy.”

Justices Elena Kagan and Ruth Bader Ginsburg avoid the controversy; they opt for the shorter “cert” or even “review.”

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