Question: Why do some lawyers refer to themselves as “Attorneys at Law?” Can there be an attorney at something besides law? (Asked by a curious court observer.)

Reply: I’ve answered this one before a while back, but it’s worth repeating. It’s true, we have attorneys “at law,” but no doctors “at medicine,” or professors “at physics.” Lawyers practice law, so I guess they are “at” it.

I wasn’t sure of the answer, so I checked with Cindy Coker at the South Carolina Bar Association. She had a good guess, but wasn’t sure. Then Professor Daniel Ernst at the Georgetown University Law Center confirmed her guess, so here’s the answer.

“Attorney at Law” is used to distinguish from an attorney “in fact.” The latter is an agent for the transaction of business not of legal nature, such as someone who has power of attorney. An attorney at law is qualified and authorized to handle legal business.

Question: On some clock faces with Roman numerals, the number four is misrepresented, showing “IIII” instead of the correct “IV.” Why is this? (Asked by a curious timekeeper.)

Reply: No one really knows why “IIII” is sometimes used instead of the “IV,” but there are some theories. The most prominent is the idea that clockmakers wanted a balanced clock face. The four is on the clock face across from the eight—which is “VIII” with four symbols. So, “IIII” gives the clock face some symmetry, while using “IV” looks unbalanced. (I’m unbalanced, so it looks the same to me!”

Another explanation is that the Romans themselves used “IIII” up until the first couple of centuries B.C., as evidenced on many carved artifacts. The “IV” came in later. Back in the early days, the “V” was used for “U” and the “I” was used for “J.” So, the big Roman god Jupiter’s name (when writing in Latin” began with “IV.” Perhaps the “IIII” was used to prevent the wrath of the god.

C.P.S. (Curious Postscript): “Nature has given us two ears, two eyes and but one tongue — to the end that we should hear and see more than we speak.” — Socrates (469 B.C.–399 B.C.)

Curious about something? Send your questions to Dr. Jerry D. Wilson, College of Science and Mathematics, Lander University, Greenwood, SC 29649, or e-mail jerry@curiosity-corner.net. Selected questions will appear in the Curiosity Corner. For Curiosity Corner background, go to curiosity-corner.net.