Document Type



January 2012


rhetoric, metaphor, harmony, tonality


Law | Music Theory


Lawyers have had a long, but ambivalent, relationship with metaphor. Viewed by some as a mere literary device, a trick of language that "adds little of substance to an argument," metaphor is seen by others as an essential component of legal language, a rhetorical device inseparable from thought. On one thing, though, all can agree: lawyers only have words to express their thoughts, so they have an obligation to use words, whether used metaphorically or not, as exactly as possible.

This article offers a critique of the way lawyers meet this obligation when they use metaphors based in musical language. In particular, the article examines the ways in which the musical term "harmony" is used as a metaphor to explain the nature of the relationship between disparate elements of the law and concludes that the metaphor fails to convey its intended meaning. In order to reach this conclusion, the article explores the meaning of "harmony" in music and then shows how the musical and assumed legal usages diverge, making "harmony" an inexact metaphor for lawyers to use. Although recognizing that "harmony" will likely continue to be used, the article proposes "tonality" as a better, more precise, alternative musical term for lawyers to use.