Vanderbilt Law Review


John W. Wade

First Page



"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me."This old proverb did not originate with the courts, but it has commonly been regarded as expressing their attitude. Name calling is ordinarily not regarded as actionable under the Anglo-American legal system, no matter how opprobrious or violent the epithet.

A recent Ohio case will illustrate. In Bartow v. Smith,' plaintiff's attorney in his opening statement to the jury declared that a dispute had, arisen between defendant and plaintiff concerning the sale of a farm. Defendant, seeing plaintiff on the city street, came up to her and began to'abuse her in the presence of bystanders in a loud and angry voice, calling her a "Goddamned son of a bitch," a "dirty crook" and other similar epithets, many times. Plaintiff was seven-months pregnant at the time and her condition was obvious from her figure; she claimed that the remarks were made with the intention of causing her physical injury. There were physical effects of the episode, lasting for some time and requiring a doctor's attention but not interfering with the normal birth of the child. On the basis of the opening statement the trial court sustained a motion to dismiss the petition. Though this action was reversed by the court of appeals, the supreme court, in a four-to-three decision, reversed this judgment and affirmed that of the trial court.

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