Tased By SciFi in Court

Judges are not shy when it comes to referencing science fiction in their opinions.

District Judge WM. Terrell Hodges should get an award for mentioning the 1911 story Tom Swift and his Electric Rifle AND Star Trek in discussing whether someone is “tased” or “tasered” in a footnote. Here is the full quote from Chambers v. United States:

In a number of its decisions the Eleventh Circuit has confronted the need to describe succinctly the act of using a taser (an acronym for “Thomas A. Swift’s electric rifle” [a fictitious weapon] and an echo of “maser,” “laser,” and perhaps the science fiction “phaser” [from Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek]). Although uniformly deploying “tasing” as the participle and gerund, the court has created some precedential inconsistency by using “tased” as the simple past tense on some occasions, and by using “tasered” at other times. It appears that “tased” is the most frequent choice, and in the absence of an en banc resolution to the contrary, I will lemmingly follow the present majority and used “tased” as the simple past tense. This results finds support in the authoritative American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language which offers “tased, tasing, tases also tazed or tazing or tazes,” but no verb with the root “taser-.” Although stating no decision on the proper past tense or participle, the latest iteration of the Oxford English Dictionary declares for the adjectival and past participial form “tasered,” as in “the tasered inmate.”

Chambers v. United States, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 114288, 4-5 fn3  (M.D. Fla. Aug. 13, 2013).

The concept of a taser is not new. Jules Vern described such weapons in the eternal classic 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea with the Leyden Ball in 1870. I am sure there are similar non-lethal weapons recurring across science fiction from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Hats off to Judge Hodges for a footnote breaking down whether it is “tased” or “tasered” and including classic science fiction.