"Judgement of error"

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Sent in by M.C. — Fiona Simpson, "Breast-feeding mother asked to 'cover up' with dirty dishcloth at Bexleyheath pub", News Shopper 9/24/2014:

An outraged mother has organised a 'boob and bottle' protest at a Bexleyheath pub after being 'ordered' to cover her breast-feeding baby with a dirty dishcloth.  

Mother-of-four Olivia Pozniak was breast-feeding her 11-week-old son, Louie, at the Furze Wren pub, owned by Wetherspoon, in Market Place on September 21 when she was asked to cover up.

An admirably straightforward apology ensued:

Wetherspoon spokesman Eddie Gershon said: "We apologise wholeheartedly to the lady. This should never have happened.

"Our pubs are welcoming to mothers who wish to breastfeed their children.

"The Wetherspoon staff member made a judgement of error in this case.

"There are no excuses and we do not offer one.

"We completely understand that this incident upset the lady in question and hope she accepts our apology."

The point of linguistic interest is the phrase "judgement of error", which M.C. suggests is a sort of phrasal malapropism for "error of judgement".

M.C. points out that this is not an isolated event —

The error is  found around the English-speaking world – here it is in Australia:

Someone made a judgement of error (according to some opinions, not mine), a compassionate error, and there has been an immense hue and cry …

  and in Canada:

I admit I made a judgement of error. Washington is turning out to be a suprising team …

and in South Africa:

This morning, in hind sight, we probably made a judgement of error by flying in weather conditions that were not very favourable.

and in New Zealand:

"On the face of it, it looks like he's made a judgment of error in changing direction in a section where the bottom of the jetboat has connected with the bottom of the river," Mr Johnston said.

 and in the US:

The National Guard's refusal to give medical aid clearly points to a conspiracy to have students killed. Anyone who had made a judgment of error and accidentally shot a group of students would have immediately tried to minimize the damage by sending over all the medical help that was available.

and it has even crept into at least one book:

although I notice that also has someone on the same page who "caught the flue", so I think professional copy-editing was rather lacking during that book's production.

I can see how people might think "judgment of error" is the correct version – it's a judgment, but it's an error – so this has the "re-analysis" elements of an eggcorn, and yet it's not truly a eggcorn, I think, because it still uses the correct words, just in the wrong order …

Another possibility, it seems to me, is that some people take judgement to be a sort of measure, so that "judgment of error" is like "block of ice" or "bowl of soup". Thus just as the answer to "how much soup?" can be "a bowl(ful) of soup", so the answer to "how much error?" could be "a judgment(ful) of error".


  1. Martin said,

    September 24, 2014 @ 9:56 am

    To me this is a strange replacement as there are several well used variants of "error of judgement" such as: " lack of _", "failure of _", "to err in _"; whereas I can't think of any common phrases with a similar meaning and the "judgement of _" or "_ of error" construction.

  2. J. W. Brewer said,

    September 24, 2014 @ 10:08 am

    Not too long ago (per the google books n-gram viewer) "error of judgment" was much more common than the variant "error in judgment" but in the last two decades or so they have been neck-and-neck and trading the lead. But in the parts of the English-speaking world where they spell things differently, "error of judgement" is still predominant over than "error in judgement" by a much more substantial margin. Obviously there are a limited number of hits for this wacky innovation/error, but it would be interesting to know if it's more common among (predominantly non-US, I should think) users of the "judgement" spelling, simply because a higher level of awareness of the "in" variant might make it harder to interpret the "of" variant in a way that permitted the order of its constituents to be flip-flopped.

  3. Keith said,

    September 24, 2014 @ 10:24 am

    The book from which you quoted is, to my mind, quite badly written.

    Right at the very beginning of the book we find the following mess of "you" followed with either plural or singular verbs for no apparent reason.

    ( hope that the above link works )

  4. J. W. Brewer said,

    September 24, 2014 @ 10:42 am

    Note also that "judgment of error" can be a technical phrase (meaning something rather different from "error of judgment") in some dialects of Anglo-American legalese, although it sounds decidedly archaic to my ear. Here's an example from a block quote from a substantially earlier decision included in a 1972 decision of the Alabama Court of Appeals: "If a judgment of error at this point depended upon a finding that the trial court intended or supposed that this part of its charge would have any effect on the course or result of the trial, there would be no hesitation in our denial of reversible error; but it is matter of common knowledge that jurors are very susceptible to the influence of the presiding judge." (If it's not clear from context to a non-lawyer readership, "judgment of error" here means something like "conclusion by an appellate court that some relevant aspect of a lower court's decision or judgment was erroneous and ought to be vacated or reversed.")

  5. Robert Coren said,

    September 24, 2014 @ 10:55 am

    I wonder if the confusion is influenced by the (much rarer, but not inconceivable) construction "Judgement in error".

  6. Eric P Smith said,

    September 24, 2014 @ 8:24 pm

    The book quoted from is an error of comedies.

  7. richardelguru said,

    September 25, 2014 @ 5:53 am

    Perhaps Wetherspoon made a judgement of "error on the part of our staff member's error of judgement"?

  8. Christopher said,

    September 25, 2014 @ 5:59 am

    Could a judgement of error not simply be the polar opposite of say a judgement of great clarity and wisdom?

  9. Martha said,

    September 26, 2014 @ 11:31 pm

    "Judgement of error" sounds like "band of gold" or "coat of many colors" to me. (Well, I mean, it sounds like nonsense to me, but it seems like that kind of phrasing.)

  10. BZ said,

    September 30, 2014 @ 4:28 pm

    There is also "Judgement Error" which could combine with "error of judgement" to cause this error

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