Forensics? Wait...Do You Mean C.S.I.?

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As Forensicators we use the word almost everyday: Forensics.  We say it, but how many of us actually know what it means?  Or better yet, who can explain why a term most associate with C.S.I. is used as a label for Speech and Debate?  Those are friendly words.  Speech and Debate; terms that with a glance one can define them and begin to determine how one could compete under their user-friendly appearance.  Yet, Forensics is tradition and historical--ergo, not going to disappear in the near future.  Thus, as Forensicators, and bearers of the word, it is our duty to understand some portion of its usage.  At least enough so that when people ask "why is it called Forensics...and why is a gavel part of your logo?" you can now respond with more than "because...Forensic Science deals with analysis of givens and the Forensics of Speech and Debate analyzes words and, same concept just different things to interpret...right?"

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the authority of the English language, defines Forensics as:

 A. adj. Pertaining to, connected with, or used in courts of law; suitable or analogous to pleadings in court. forensic medicine: medicine in its relations to law; medical jurisprudence.

B. 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.

Definition A first sees an appearance in "1659 HAMMOND On Ps. cvi. 31 It signifies much more than justification, as in the forinseck sense that is opposite to condemning," and B in "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."  Basically, the word Forensics, or "forinseck," entered the English speaking realm somewhere around 1659 (that was its first documented use, which means it probably was being used in speech prior to that for it to gain enough popularity to be written about) and was used in relation to the legal system.  Forensics officially entered the University world in 1830 when Forensics was used to describe a theme, or central idea, behind "one side...of a given question." Essentially, the English definition of Forensics began as a word to describe a person's stance.

If you want to go back even further, Aristotle first coined the word back in the early 300's B.C when he wrote Rhetoric.  In his essay he defined the three types of Rhetoric, one of them being Forensics and defined as "Forensic speaking either attacks or defends somebody: one or other of these two things must always be done by the parties in a case."  From this one can clearly see how the English translation is spot on and taken directly from an idea originated by Aristotle back in Ancient Athens; further implicating the standing power and use of Forensics in legal means throughout history.

Now, how can we relate this definition of debatable stances to current Forensics?  That's precisely it!  Debate.  Harvard, the same Harvard listed in OED's etymology of Forensics, was the first University of The New World (founded in 1636) and modeled its first set of courses after those established in England which primarily taught the Classics (I.E. Greek).  Aristotle must have been studied and with him his Rhetoric.  Any law course most likely would have argued in Forensics (hence the combination of definitions A and B).  As time passed, and a desire to have intercollegiate debate grew, it seems natural that the term Forensics would have been used--especially as out East is where there is a richer Forensics history and establishment.  Debate grew into Individual Events and Forensics became a blanket term of ambiguity.  

Now, I will admit much of this article is my speculation and connect-the dots based on a bit of research (OED and Aristotle) done in thirty minutes.  However, definitions and history do not lie--can have different interpretations and focus yes, lie no...unless the "facts" are fabricated.  Anyway, by piecing together some basic information, with interpretation, a brief history and definition of Forensics can be concluded:

Aristotle documented the word Forensics to describe a speech made to defend or attack an individual, this word was adopted into the legal system, found its way into classrooms that taught The Classics, and then was carried over into Debate/IE's from classroom tradition and terminology with the start of Debate which is modeled after law.  


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Amazing how some simple research can lead to fascinating conclusions! Regardless of how brief this is, it's a pretty fun look at the etymology!

Ha, thanks for the feedback. Glad you enjoyed it. Honestly, I was just curious myself!

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