The Friday Fillip: Lists (Agendas, Rolls, Inventories, Enumerations, Indices, Catalogues, Et Cetera)

It is that time of year. Having made your wish list, checked it twice, you’ve found out whether you’d been naughty or nice. And now it remains to make your list of New Year’s resolutions.

I’ve been here with the Fillip before, I know. But that was almost two years ago; and besides, a second Fillip about lists makes the beginnings of a list. This year, the New Yorker, unable to resist this invitation to self-reference that a discussion of lists evokes, offers up a hyperlinked list of the Hundred Best Lists of All Time. It proceeds, late-show Letterman style, from #100 (the generations of Adam, in Genesis: Seth, Enos, Cainan . . .) to #1 (the periodic table), and caps it all with the wry footnote that “1 and 100 may be switched in certain states.” In between there’s a wealth of interesting stuff. I mean, you hardly need to get past #99, which is Satchel Paige’s rules on “How to Keep Young”; all of them could simply be copied and pasted straight into your catalog of resolutions.

But if you press on, you’ll encounter such gems as:

  • #96 The World Rock Paper Scissors player’s responsibility code, §4 of which reads: “Pre-determine the number of rounds required to win the match (remember odd numbers only)” and seems the sort of sound advice lawyers might find a use for;
  • #70 The Domesday Book, which at first blush might seem the kind of list that would interest lawyers but is not. I know; I’ve tried.
  • #22 Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour In Company and Conversation (see above).
  • #7 The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (“4.21 In the case of cognition of one mind by another, we would have to assume cognition of cognition, and there would be confusion of memories.”)

I regret to inform you, however, that the hyperlink to item #92, the top ten rules for dating, as espoused in the a publication called Not Your Mother’s Rules: The New Secrets for Dating (a.k.a. The Rules), leads you to a 404. Seems the publisher redacted some pages on the website so as not to let the cats out of the bag too liberally.

Back in 2011 when I did the other Fillip on lists, I cited The Chatto book of cabbages and kings: lists in literature. Since then I’ve acquired The Infinity of Lists by Umberto Eco, writing as much in the role of semiotician as in that of novelist or sly humourist. Still, his categories of, and distinctions among, lists are more than amply illustrated by long passages from literature (and painting), making it very much a book to dip into in those spare moments. These lists don’t by and large lend themselves to bullet points but are integral to the flow of the works they grace (or mar). They’re too long to quote much of them here, but perhaps a bit from Dickens’ Bleak House (Chapter 1, “In Chancery”) might be appropriate in a law blog:

Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little ‘prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon and hanging in the misty clouds.

Some of you might like to emerge from this suffocating brume into the sunny uplands of prosperity, in which case Forbes’ Lists are for you, featuring lists of the richest people in various countries (none of which is Canada) and a truly odd list cataloguing Top Earning CEOs, Top-Earning Dead Celebrities, World’s Most Powerful Women [dead or alive?], 48 Asian Altruists [?], The Celebrity 100, Forbes Fictional 15, and last and least, the World’s Top-Earning Models.

But perhaps you’d like more room than the board room provides to stretch your mind. In which case may I recommend the compendious Wikipedia category, “Lists.” Here you’ll find a list of subcategories of lists, many of which branch into sub-subcategories, and so on. Thus, just to pick up on something that seems to interest Forbes, there’s a subcategory called Death-related Lists, where you’ll find 61 pages of such things and in addition half a dozen further sub-categories, such as Lists of Cemetaries, which in turn spawns a number of subcategories based on nationality.

I could go on. Which is the point, I suppose.

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  1. The law too loves lists: consider the list of decisions relied upon in a reported judgment. The Crminal Code is merely a list of dos and don’ts. My personal favourite is the seemingly infinite list of sections between s.487 (search warrants) and s.488. There are 33 sections between them, starting from s. 487.01 to 487.3. Anyone for re-numbering the list in the Code?