Monday, January 25, 2021

County Commission: Do the Ayes Still Have It?

Posted By on Mon, Jan 25, 2021 at 12:41 PM

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The formal vocabulary of Shelby County Commission meetings is slowly gravitating from the antique and ornamental to current and ordinary forms of speech.

Until recently, as an example, meetings used to be opened by invocations by the sergeant-at-arms of the venerable Anglo-Norman phrase “oyez, oyez,” (except that the uniformed county officer serving in that role would pronounce the phrase “Oh yes, oh yes.”) These days, the officer says instead, “Hear ye, hear ye,” which happens to be what the archaic phrase “oyez, oyez,” still used in the U.S. Supreme Court and by numerous other tribunals, actually means.

A parallel phenomenon has been the attrition undergone by the archaic term “aye” as the traditional signifier of an affirmative vote. At some point in the early days of the Commission that was elected and installed in 2018, new Commissioner David Bradford, who represents Collierville and other suburban areas in east Shelby County, began saying simply “yes” when, in a roll call of Commissioners’ vote, he gave his okay to this or that measure.

The other members voting on his side of the issue would continue saying “aye,” an Anglo-Scottich term dating from the 16th century which has got itself lodged in parliamentary idiom ever since. Slowly, though, Bradford’s usage began catching on with other commissioners — fellow Republicans Mark Billingsley and Mick Wright, especially — who are now apt to say “yes” as often as “aye” when they vote in favor.

Though the dominion of the traditional term is slipping on the Commission, the ayes still have it, for the most part, as the word continues its general prevalence in roll calls. Oddly, the symmetrical equivalent to it, “nay,” goes totally unspoken in normal circumstances, except in the occasional summing up of a negative vote outcome, as in “the nays have it.”

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