The Friday Fillip

I’ve recently finished working on part of a website that makes use of icons to symbolize certain concepts — pretty stock stuff on the web. Except that it isn’t easy to find appropriate symbols, at least those that can work as icons, for abstract notions or large social institutions (which may be the same thing, now that I come to think about it).

lawyer iconHow do we symbolize law in a tiny picture? Court? A lawyer? For the last, the best I could do was draw a mini-person and hope that it was clear the person was a lawyer because of the tabs and the briefcase. But for court I did what I ought not have done: I resorted to a gavel.

gavelCanadian judges don’t use gavels. Candian judges never have used gavels. British judges don’t use gavels. British judges never have used gavels. The gavel is an American symbol.

In the Oxford English Dictionary all but one of the many meanings of “gavel” have to do with “rent” or “payment” or “tithe” (this “gavel” is related to the word “give” — gavelkind, e.g.). The last meaning is stamped “US” and talks about a mallet used by Masons in their rites.

There is, I discover, a Gavel Store:, where you can find for purchase upwards of forty of these things and as well something known as a “gavel bouquet” (“Nothing says it better than a Gavel Bouquet!” — which may be true in Provo, Utah, but ain’t the case in my Canada.).

I used to cavil at gavels, but now I’m part of the problem. You, however, are uncompromised and, so, free to go on a gavel hunt and hammer home the point that these are foreign objects whenever you see a transgression.


  1. I don’t watch much television (except that great legal show the “Simpsons” of course, as well as Futurama and Corner Gas. Unfortumately. Red Green had the last show this year) – do Canadian TV judges use gavels?

  2. And now the wretched wooden hammer is invading Chinese courts –

    And there’s some suggestion that it had reached Newfoundland by 1820 – see

    And there’s a 2002 University of Toronto Graduate Thesis by Barrington Walker entitled “The Gavel and the Veil: ‘Blackness’ in Ontario Criminal Courts, 1858-1958”

    There’s a nice piece which may be interesting to our American visitors by Justice John deP. Wright from the Green Bag, entitled AN AMERICAN VISITOR TO A CANADIAN COURT

  3. A vendor at the trade show associated with the ALA conference in Montreal yesterday was giving away rubber gavels labelled as lawyer bashers.

    Clients who are frustrated with their lawyers can box about.