K Is for Contract―Why Is It, Though? A K’s Study on the Origins, Persistence and Propagation of Legal Konventions
By Hanjo Hamann. Full Text.
Just like Supreme Court Justices, law school students in the United States almost universally abbreviate the word “contract” using the capital letter “K.” Despite this consensus, no one ever sought to explain why a word that starts with “C” should get shortened to “K” instead. This Essay investigates this question. Interconnected narratives lead us into various socio-historical contexts—including Boston high society, nineteenth-century baseball, Professor Karl Llewellyn’s Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), German intellectual property law, the complex etymology of “OK,” the neuroscience of sleep, and Civil War contract management. This Essay argues that the K-for-Contract convention probably originated between 1900 and 1948, and may have come, of all places, from satirical army slang. In pursuing all available leads, this Essay offers an intriguing case study of legal narratology and the propagation of lawyerly conventions. By empirically surveying contract law professors to trace the origins of K-for-Contract, the study also shows that even seasoned instructors use and teach this legal shorthand despite not knowing its origins. This proves to be an instructive illustration of boilerplate effects, or what one contracts professor called the “arcane underpinnings of the rules we all follow.”