I love that NPR show A Way With Words.  I have been listening to it since the original hosts Richard Lederer and Charles Harrington Elster were zinging callers and each other about slang, grammar, old sayings, word origins, regional dialects, family expressions, and speaking and writing well. Listening to all that intelligence gives me goose bumps.

I often come up with challenging phrases in the car while listening to the show, but then I forget about them and never get a chance to follow up.  Most recently I wondered and worried about my grandmother and her army boots. I know it is a bad thing for her to wear them, but I don’t really know why. It must be a librarian = loves books = loves learning = loves words kind of thing.

As a law librarian, a lawyer, and instructor on the law and its rules, I get the same sort of goose bumps hearing Steven Croley, Deputy Counsel to the President, talk about a new meaning for “access to justice.” It is more than creating more lawyers, or having access to more lawyers.  He talks about developing practical assistance mechanisms and new kinds of capacities in nonlawyers [gasp! still a very tricky concept in the formal legal education world], and how uniformity in rules and  forms can help facilitate access to the courts for those trying to do it on their own.  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, he encouraged the idea of new court procedures sort of like, but beyond, small claims and summary jury trials, that cut through a lot of the massive procedural hurdles preventing pro pers from getting their fair shake in court.

This was more than a radio show — it was the White House Forum on Increasing Access to Justice.  As The Brilliant Mr. Zorza says, “there is some important signaling going on here — ways to improve access to justice through innovation is on the march, and it has the support of national and judicial leadership.”  It is a defining moment in an era of redefinition. [Check out Mr. Z’s blog to read more about it.]

And the meaning of “your grandmother wears army boots”?  The poor women of war-ravaged countries are said to rob corpses on the battle field and trade sexual favors for items of clothing. This was a taunt alluding to your family’s poverty and a sketchy lack of moral fortitude (the matriarch being the font of morality, of course). If my grandmother was wearing army boots, it would have to be for a very good reason.  Like many good and strong women tested by the amorality of war, she would want her family to survive against all odds and at all costs. My grandmother came from sturdy Polish stock — people who did what had to be done to survive.

We have a similar fight for survival in civil rights and fair access to justice going on these days. In my mind, my grandmother would be out there on the front line, bless her soul, tromping along in some very muddy and ill-fitting boots.