Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘benefit of the doubt’

Benefit of the Doubt

Posted by Admin on February 6, 2021

When someone is given the benefit of the doubt, it means they are allowing for the possibility that what is being purported as factual may actually be true even if it doesn’t sound like it may be. In other words, no matter how outlandish something being claimed might sound, accepting it at face value for the time being is how what is being claimed is interpreted.

In fact, Paul Faulkner of the University of Sheffield published a paper in the International Journal of Philosophical Studies in February 2018 which was titled, “Giving The Benefit of the Doubt.” The abstract began thusly:

Faced with evidence that what a person said is false, we can nevertheless trust them and so believe what they say – choosing to give them the benefit of the doubt. This is particularly notable when the person is a friend, or someone we are close to. Towards such persons, we demonstrate a remarkable epistemic partiality. We can trust, and so believe, our friends even when the balance of the evidence suggests that what they tell us is false. And insofar as belief is possible, it is also possible to acquire testimonial knowledge on those occasions when the friends know what they tell us. This paper seeks to explain these psychological and epistemological possibilities.

In 2000, the Veterans Claims Assistance Act of 2000 was passed (Public Law 106-475, 106th Congress, 2nd Session) in which the following is found:

SEC. 4. DECISION ON CLAIM.

Section 5107 of title 38, United States Code, is amended to read as follows:

“Sec. 5107. Claimant responsibility; benefit of the doubt

“(a) Claimant Responsibility.  Except as otherwise provided by law, a claimant has the responsibility to present and support a claim for benefits under laws administered by the Secretary.
“(b) Benefit of the Doubt.  The Secretary shall consider all information and lay and medical evidence of record in a case before the Secretary with respect to benefits under laws administered by the Secretary. When there is an approximate balance of positive and negative evidence regarding any issue material to the determination of a matter, the Secretary shall give the benefit of the doubt to the claimant.”

Back in 1987, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg (15 March 1933 – 18 September 2020) stated in the Federal Judicial, Pattern Criminal Jury Instruction 17-18 at instruction 21 that the following was true:

There are very few things in this world that we know with absolute certainty, and in criminal cases the law does not require proof that overcomes every possible doubt. If based on your consideration of the evidence, you are firmly convinced that the defendant is guilty of the crime charged, you must find him guilty. If on the other hand, you think there is a real possibility that he is not guilty, you must give him the benefit of the doubt and find him not guilty.

In 1910, American novelist and social activist Jack London (12 January 1876 – 11 November 1915) saw his short story “The Benefit of the Doubt” published.  In this story, the benefit of the doubt is a central theme as seen in this passage.

Both Patsy’s attorney and the Prosecuting Attorney rested their cases, letting everything go before the Court without argument. Watson protested against this, but was silenced when the Prosecuting Attorney told him that Public Prosecutor and knew his business.

“Patrick Horan has testified that he was in danger of his life and that he was compelled to defend himself,” Judge Witberg’s verdict began. “Mr. Watson has testified to the same thing. Each has sworn that the other struck the first blow; each has sworn that the other made an unprovoked assault on him. It is an axiom of the law that the defendant should be given the benefit of the doubt. A very reasonable doubt exists. Therefore, in the case of the People Versus Carter Watson the benefit of the doubt is given to said Carter Watson and he is herewith ordered discharged from custody. The same reasoning applies to the case of the People Versus Patrick Horan. He is given the benefit of the doubt and discharged from custody. My recommendation is that both defendants shake hands and make up.”

In the years leading up to Jack London’s short story and in subsequent years, many authors have thought “The Benefit of the Doubt” to be a wonderful title for their writing. This includes, Mary Clare Wilson Spenser (2 May 1842 – 4 October 1923) whose first book by that name was published in 1882.

General Sir Charles James Napier (10 August 1782 – 29 August 1853), in writing to Keith Young on 21 February 1844, expressed concern for a man accused of murdering a European woman especially in light of the fact that the accused was a local. The man was subject to Sio Kari law under the then-colonial government of the Sindh region in southern Pakistan. Of this particular case, he wrote:

On this occasion both Captain Preedy and yourself have decided that there is no proof against this man — the murderer of Mrs. Barnes. I shall therefore, as you are so satisfied and so impressed, give him the benefit [of the doubt] at your request. But by this weakness, for such it is, I am guilty of having murdered every man I have hanged in this and other countries; for so help God! in the whole course of a long life, and the experience of some thousands of trials, I never saw proofs more perfect of guilt, except where the crime was avowed, than those against Buska Chandia. As to its afterwards appearing that he was innocent, I should not believe it if all Scinde swore to it. I am quite ready to take that chance; but as you seem to consider that Preedy tried him, and you are both, I consider, blind to facts, he shall escape.”

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: General Sir Charles James Napier was a Major General of the Bombay Army where he led the military conquest of Sindh before becoming the Governor of Sindh as well as the Commander-in-Chief of India.

Multiple dictionaries indicate that the expression is from the 1850s and from General Sir Charles James Napier’s correspondence, this supports the claim the expression was in use — or implied in certain circumstances — during his time in Bombay.

However, in France, there is a court record of a seamstress named Marie Maire who was accused of infanticide in 1786. While Marie Maire admitted to having miscarried a child in her fourth or fifth month of pregnancy (she wasn’t certain how long she had been pregnant), she denied being responsible for the child’s death. But no body could be found to substantiate the accusation against her so when her lawyer urged the judges to “give her the benefit of the doubt in light of the fact that public opinion always exaggerates … public clamor rarely leads to truth” the parliament of Dijon acquitted her of the charges against her on 13 February 1786.

This was reported in “Causes célèbres” published in 1787. The case of Marie Maire was listed as Case 511 and is found on pages 188 and 189.

In the case of Rex v Preston in 1770, the closing arguments and the judge’s instructions to the jury have never been found in the case of Captain Preston who, along with eight other soldiers, was arrested and charged with firing into a crowd of protesting Bostonians on 5 March 1770 which resulted in the death of five people.

John Adams (yes, the same John Adams who was the second President of the United States of America) argued in his closing arguments that “the best rule in doubtful cases, is, rather to incline to acquittal than conviction … If you doubt the prisoner’s guilt, never declare him guilty.”

Robert Treat Paine was the lawyer arguing for the Crown, and in his closing statements (per Volume 3 of the Legal Papers of John Adams) and Paine agreed that jurors would have to acquit if they had any doubts, but if they had any doubts, those doubts had to be reasonable.

If therefore in the examination of this Cause the Evidence is not sufficient to Convince you beyond reasonable Doubt of the Guilt of all or any of the Prisoners by the Benignity and Reason of the Law you will acquit them, but if the Evidence be sufficient to convince you of their Guilt beyond reasonable Doubt the Justice of the Law will require you to declare them Guilty.

So while there are no records of the closing arguments or the judge’s instructions to the jury in this case from 1770, it’s doubtful John Adams — the future President of the United States of America — would misrepresent what Robert Treat Paine said in making his closing arguments to the Court.

Interestingly enough, the standard of reasonable doubt was neither new nor innovative, and existed in traditional English law. So the concept dates back to considerably longer than most people realize.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version or variation of the expression and therefore it is pegged at 1786 in France with a serious acknowledgement to traditional English law which has been in place since the Norman Conquest of 1066.

 

Posted in Idioms from the 11th Century, Idioms from the 18th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Customer Is Always Right

Posted by Admin on January 30, 2021

Many of us have grown up hearing adults say the customer is always right (which may or may not be true) and not given that expression a second thought. It means that if someone is unhappy about a product, a service, or a situation, whoever is responsible for providing that product, service or creating that situation is responsible for fixing the problem so the unhappy person is happy once again.  It usually applies to businesses, but occasionally someone will use the idiom about a social situation.

In 1944, an article titled “Are Customers Always Right” appeared in The Rotarian magazine, authored by Hughston M. McBain (9 February 1902 – 19 May 1977), then-President of Marshall Field & Co in Chicago.

War, with all its ersatz goods and shortages of competent help, has vastly multiplied these problems — raising anew the old question: Is the customer always right?

My own answer — based on statistic involving some 500,000 regular patrons of our Chicago store — is that 85 to 90 percent of complaining customers are definitely and demonstrably right, that 90 percent believe they are right, and that less than one percent are bent on “gypping” the merchant.

The article stated that while sellers had an obligation to the buyer, so too did the buyer have an obligation to the seller. While Mr. McBain was quick to point out that WWII had put the relationship under “almost unendurable strains,” sellers were still running with unwavering policy that the customer is always right even in the face of taking “terrible losses on returns” they were also “holding customer confidence” through liberal adjustments and credits.

So the customer may not always be right, but a good business will leave the impression that this is true even when it isn’t.

In January 1911, the Kansas City Star reported on a local country store modeled after Marshall Field’s in Chicago and Selfridge’s in London.

Scott has done in the country what Marshall Field did in Chicago, Wannamaker did in New York and Selfridge in London. In his store he follows the Field rule and assumes that the customer is always right.

The phrase “the customer is always right” is oftentimes claimed to have been originally coined in 1909 by Harry Gordon Selfridge (11 January 1858 – 8 May 1947), the founder of Selfridge’s department store in London (and former Marshall Field’s employee). It’s said though that he never intended for the expression to be taken literally. What he was striving for was to sell people on the idea that customers shopping at his department store were special — more special than if they were shopping at some other department store — and by virtue of being special, the staff treated them better than staff would treat them at some other department store.

But did Selfridge really coin the expression? The December 1909 edition of “Good Housekeeping Magazine” is certainly familiar with the expression.

We have made a deep study of all this and our policy of regarding the customer as always right, no matter how wrong she may be in any transaction in the store, is the principle that builds up the trade. She is wrong, of course, lots of times. She takes advantage of privileges accorded her; she is inconsiderate of the earnest efforts of sales people; she causes delay and loss through carelessness or ignorance, but it all goes down in the budget of expenses for running the store and is covered, like other expenses, in the price of the goods.

It’s doubtful, if Selfridge coined the phrase in London, that it would be so casually discussed in an American magazine in 1909. So perhaps the idiom wasn’t coined by Selfridge after all.

A year earlier in 1908, the Swiss hotelier César Ritz (23 February 1850 – 24 October 1918) was quoted as saying le client n’a jamais tort which translates into the customer is never wrong.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: César Ritz founded the Hôtel Ritz in Paris as well as the Ritz and Carlton Hotels in London. His last name is the origin of the word ritzy and what it means.

However, it was Marshall Fields (18 August 1834 – 16 January 1906) who was famous for saying, “Give the lady what she wants” as well as “The customer is always right” when he partnered with Potter Palmer at his first department store in the US. He was quoted by the Boston Herald on 3 September 1905 using that exact saying. A few weeks later on 24 September 1905, he was quoted using the same idiom in the Boston Daily Globe. In fact, what was reported was this:

Every employe, from cash boy up, is taught absolute respect for and compliance with the business principles which Mr. Field practices. Broadly speaking, Mr. Field adheres to the theory that “the customer is always right.” He must be a very untrustworthy trader to whom this concession is not granted.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: Harry Gordon Selfridge began his career working for the Marshall Field store in Chicago before building his London store. At the time, it was well-known that Marshall Field’s stores prided themselves in putting the customer first.

In fact, in the November 1919 edition of “System: The Magazine of Business” the history of Marshall Field’s use of the idiom was given a clear explanation as to how it came about.

Field, it is well known, was the first to say “the customer is always right.” It was Potter Palmer, Field’s predecessor and for a time his partner, who had originated the practice of accepting returns from any customer who was not satisfied, and refunding the purchase price. This made the customer the sole judge whether he should keep the merchandise. Field’s policy went a long step farther and made the customer the sole judge, or practically the sole judge, of all issues between himself and the house.

Except that the idiom was the first to not only say “the customer is always right” but to put it into practice as the central creed of the Palmer system. Having opened a small store on Lake Street in Chicago in 1852, he set about creating a business unlike any other.

Because he didn’t have much credit or money, and unable to have a large stock for his store, he found a different way to attract customers. He took the time to display his goods in the most attractive way on store shelves and tables, and gook to using the overlooked space in the store’s windows. He catered primarily to women and took the time the educate himself on what items were of special interest to women even if their husbands and fathers disagreed with their wives and daughters.

He hired sales staff and instructed them to memorize the names and preferences of their customers. They were not allowed to use pressure tactics to induce a sale, and were directed to attend to the purchasing needs of their customers. And no matter how difficult or demanding a customer might be, he directed his staff to remember the customer was always right.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: Potter Palmer (20 May 1826 – 4 May 1902) was an American businessman who was responsible for most of the development of most of the downtown district and Lake Shore Drive areas of Chicago after the great fire of 1871.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4: Potter Palmer was responsible for a number of innovations in retail business including “bargain days” (which were the predecessors to “sales days”), money back guarantees, and free home delivery of all purchases made at his store.

INTERESTING SIDE SIDE NOTE 1: Potter Palmer’s store was the one store in Chicago at the time where women could go unescorted without concern whether their person or their reputation might be damaged in shopping at a store unescorted.

INTERESTING SIDE SIDE NOTE 2: Potter Palmer built a ball field in 1868 for the Chicago White Stocking baseball club which later became the Chicago Cubs baseball club (not to be confused with the Chicago White Sox which adopted the abandoned Chicago White Stocking name originally in a completely different baseball league).

The spirit of the expression exists in Germany where businesses insist der Kunde ist König or the customer is king. In Japan, the saying is okyakusama wa kamisama desu (お客様は神様です) which means the customer is god.  That expression was made popular by Haruo Minami (19 July 1923 – 14 April 2001).

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier account of the expression than that dating back to Potter Palmer and his store in Chicago in 1852, and acknowledges that the first print version of the adage is credited to Potter Palmer’s protégé Marshall Field. Idiomation therefore puts this expression to 1852 with a nod to Marshall Field with a secondary nod to Harry Gordon Selfridge who worked for Marshall Field before opening his own store in London.

One last note: Remember that when you live by the adage the customer is always right, you are also defaulting to giving that customer the benefit of the doubt which is another idiom for another entry.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »