The Dead Mouse Argument
    By Patrick Lockerby | April 25th 2014 09:16 PM | 7 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    Retired engineer, 60+ years young. Computer builder and programmer. Linguist specialising in language acquisition and computational linguistics....

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    The Dead Mouse Argument

    By whatever choice of words it is often argued that because one thing leads to another, adverse consequences must inevitably follow if the opponent's proposed course of action is taken.

    By whatever choice of words, the above purely rhetorical "proof" is a complete load of codswallop.

    There are many names for an argument of the form that if we do P, then r,s,t ... z must inevitably follow.  "The slippery slope" is well known, as is "the thin end of the wedge".  Less well known, at least outside of law, are the "floodgates argument" from US and UK law and "the parade of the horribles" from US law.  Yes, 'horribles' is a plural noun, even if my spell/grammar checker wants to send me to the gulag for using it as such.

    The floodgates argument

    This is a favourite of politicians.  I use the term loosely - judges aren't supposed to do politics but being human they sometimes forget where they are.  The argument is in the form that if a particular claim is allowed then this will open the floodgates to everyone who has similar grounds for a claim.  The reality is that most people avoid going to court over trivial matters.  Of course, if the matter is far from trivial then it is outrageous that one person should be denied justice on the grounds that if it is granted to one, then others will demand their fair share of it.

    Having somewhat impugned our judges I feel obliged to willingly disimpugn where disimpugnment is deserved: the court ignored the "floodgate" argument in Bairstow.
    "We were warned by learned Counsel for the Respondents that to allow this appeal
    would open the  floodgates  to appeals against the decisions of the General
    Commissioners up and down the country. That would cause me no alarm, if
    decisions such as that we have spent some time in reviewing were common
    up and down the country."
    Edwards (Inspector of Taxes) v Bairstow [1955] UKHL 3 (25 July 1955)
    ( Note to self: must get a life!  Reading legal cases by way of a hobby is bad enough, but really!  Tax law cases? )

    The parade of the horribles

    Ben Zimmer has written an excellent article about the origins of this phrase, and who am I to take the bread from his mouth?  Where did the Supreme Court get its ‘parade of horribles’?
    How an obscure Fourth of July custom from New England spawned a legal-world insult

    "... outside of legal and governmental circles, it’s an obscure expression, not yet registered in any major dictionary."  For shame!  That Mr. Webster has got a lot of explaining to do, to say nothing of that bunch of fascicles from Oxford.

    And now - the dead mouse

    There are really only two kinds of "one thing leads to another" argument: the parade of horribles and the dead mouse.  The parade of horribles is, presumably, to be avoided.  On the other hand the floodgates argument assumes that showing something in public leads to everyone wanting it.  A well known limerick, by the prolific author Anon, illustrates the fallacy rather nicely.

    There once was a person from Crewe.
      Who found a dead mouse in his stew.
    Said the waiter, "Don't shout,
      And wave it about,
    Or the rest will be wanting one too!"



    “Please miss, there’s a caterpillar in my salad!”

    “Now that will add to the protein value of the meal, won’t it?”

    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat

    Amazingly, antelope stew
    Is supposedly better for you
    Than a goulash of rat
    Or Hungarian cat;
    But I guess that you probably gnu.

    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at
    Michael Martinez
    There once was a girl from Nantucker, whose favorite peanut butter was Smuckers.  She grew up a maid and moved far away to tell the world that there once was a girl from Nantucker....
    We’ve all had a lot of fun with the dead mouse.  Reminds me of a book whereby a place was rid of rats by getting them to sail downriver on a Floating Rataurant, with items on the menu such as Smoked Salmonella and Rat-a-Gluey.
    However, there is something much deeper to this article than that.  It keeps popping up in my brain, but I can’t put my finger on it (don’t take that too literally!)

    I envisage a case where a prosecution or defence is strongly driven by political intent, and there must be cases where the other side has to hold the bridge like Horatius:
    Out spake the Consul roundly: "The bridge must straight go down;
    For since Janiculum is lost, naught else can save the town..."
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    there is something much deeper to this article than that.
    Indeed.  But there are rules about sub judice etc.  ;-)

    I sometimes think that procedures in our courts are like a game of backgammon.  If you leave a blot then your opponent may put you on the bar.  You may also be shut out or shut in.

    But enough of law, back to the limericks, for which I thank all contributors.

    Many years ago I noticed that some people think that all you need to make up a limerick is 5 lines which more or less rhyme.  In fact, the rules for writing a limerick can themselves be written as a limerick.

    The Limerick

    A limerick's a poem or lay,
      Arranged in the following way:
    Two long feet and two short,
      And a long afterthought
    And the rhyme-scheme A A B B A.
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Patrick, I think you might find this  OEDIILF website interesting :-
    OEDILF The Omnificent English Dictionary In Limerick Form 
    We are proud to present what we consider to be, on the whole, the absolute finest 5-line AABBA poetry being written in the English-speaking world today. We are currently accepting submissions based on words beginning with the letters Aa- through Fe- inclusive ONLY. Current estimated date of completion of The OEDILF is 12 Dec 2043.
    They even have a quite relevant ABBA limerick :-

    "Mamma mia," a Swede said one day,
    "You OEDILFers prefer just one way."
    "That's the name of the game."
    "For diversity's aim,
    Take a chance on this: A-B-B-A."

    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at
    Thanks for the link, Helen.

    Here's what I would call an anti-limerick, remembered from many years back -

    There once was a woman called June,
      Who always ate soup with a fork,
    "For," she said, "As I eat
      Neither fish, fowl nor flesh,
    I should finish my dinner too quick."