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This blog is about the fascinating, fun, and challenging things about the English language. I hope to entertain you and to help you with problems or just questions you might have with spelling and usage. I go beyond just stating what is right and what is wrong, and provide some history or some tips to help you remember. Is something puzzling you? Feel free to email me at wordlady.barber@gmail.com.
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Sunday, September 27, 2015

Only in Canada: Found in a Bawdy House

I recently received from the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General a questionnaire aimed at determining my suitability for jury duty. 

One of the things that disqualifies potential jurors is having been convicted of a criminal offence. 

However, some criminal offences are apparently not as bad as others (and certainly not as bad as being a lawyer, which immediately disqualifies you). If you've been convicted of any of the following odd assortment of vices, you're still good to pass judgement on your fellow Ontarians:
Being nude in a public place [although presumably this is frowned upon if you're actually IN a jury]
Trespassing at night [perhaps daytime trespassers are more wicked???]
Trading in lumbering equipment without consent of owner [???]
Pretending to practice witchcraft
Failing to keep watch while towing person on water skis
You will no doubt be relieved to know that I am innocent as a newborn babe of any of these crimes.

But the "not-so-reprehensible-after-all" crimes that entertained me the most were the ever-so-Canadian
Being found in bawdy house
Transporting a person to a bawdy house
Yes, Canadian law still uses the delightfully antiquated term "bawdy house" for a brothel. How very Shakespearean-sounding. I believe other English-speaking jurisdictions have moved on linguistically (but if "bawdy house" is still in use where you live, please do let me know).

"Bawdy" has a fairly mysterious origin. It is derived from "bawd" ("One employed in pandering to sexual debauchery," the OED tells us primly), which may be a shortening of "bawdstrot", derived from French baudestroyt, literally a bold and shameless strutter.

Another offence on which the jury selection process looks with a lenient eye is "Being found in a gaming/betting house". Canadians must be "found in" gaming and bawdy houses, fairly frequently, because we have even created a noun, "a found-in" (not to be confused with "foundling"), to designate someone charged with one of these offences.

("Honestly, officer, I just stepped in to ask for directions")

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About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.