Hobson’s Choice: Get it right, people!

05/08/2014 5:16 PM

05/08/2014 5:30 PM

Hey lawyers: Stop misusing the phrase “Hobson’s choice.” Please, Suits & Sentences begs this of you.

On Thursday, during health-care law arguments before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, attorney Robert Joseph Muise several times employed the phrase. Each time, he used it to mean an impossibly tough choice; specifically, that facing religious employers who must either provide contraceptive coverage to workers or pay a fee.

“That is a Hobson’s choice,” Muise told the three-judge panel.

No, it’s not.

A Hobson’s choice, unless its meaning has been totally remade by constant misuse, refers to something that’s not a choice at all. As explained here:

Thomas Hobson (1545–1631) ran a thriving carrier and horse rental business in Cambridge, England, around the turn of the 17th century. Hobson rented out horses, mainly to Cambridge University students, but refused to hire them out other than in the order he chose. The choice his customers were given was 'this or none;' quite literally, not their choice but Hobson's choice.”

Or, in the alternative, it’s a movie, a San Francisco bar or a Williamstown, Mass. steak restaurant. But it is not, not, not simply a choice between unpleasant alternatives.

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