GOBSMACKED, BY A MENSCH, VEL NON!

Published on: November 17, 2017

Condominium Attorney extraordinaire, Marv Nodiff from St. Louis, Missouri, who is a Member of the College of Community Association lawyers and a tireless advocate for CAI in its ongoing battle in Nevada with the Federal Housing Finance Agency over the priority lien has recently written and published his fifth novel.  This novel, like his four previous novels, is based on life in the community association world.  The title to his fifth novel struck me.  It’s called HOA Gobsmack.    I never heard the word gobsmack before.  I am reminded of the word every day I walk by Stephen Marcus’s office because he has a copy sitting on the shelf near his office.  Incidentally there is a character in the book named Stephen “Scooter” Marcus, based loosely on our Stephen Marcus.  I was gobsmacked to learn that his character is a high octane litigation associate who wears $3000 dollar suits.   But what the hell does gobsmack mean.  I asked around and people were gobsmacked to learn that I did not know what gobsmack meant.  I was gobsmacked that others had actually heard the word before.   So I googled it.  Apparently, it is a British slang, it combines the British or Scottish slang “gob”, which means mouth, together with the verb “smack”.  It means that the speaker is astonished or utterly astounded.  Urban dictionary says it means dumbfounded or shocked!  I guess Marv, like the rest of us, has been gobsmacked by HOA life before.   This is not the first time I have been gobsmacked by a word or phrase before.  A few years ago, a lawyer wrote a letter to me using the meaningless Latin phrase vel non, which means “or not”.  He kept asking me if I was going to produce documents that he wanted, vel non.  So I responded to him “vel non” 5 times, went on my merry way, wrote an article making fun of the use of vel non and tortured everyone I knew with the phrase vel non.  I even went so far to refer to a particular condominium as the Hills at Vel Non.   That was not the first time I was gobsmacked by the use of a word in the legal context.  As a young lawyer working at a small law firm in Boston, I represented a colorful Jewish developer.  He was involved in a legal battle with another Jewish real estate developer.  I was tasked with filing a lawsuit on his behalf.  In doing so I reviewed what I believed to be some nasty correspondence between the two.  My client’s adversary wrote a letter to my client in which he called him a mensch.  I was flabbergasted.  I had found my smoking gun.  How dare he call my client a mensch.  Business is business but you can’t call my client a name!  So I drafted a masterful complaint of course highlighting this offensive letter and this offensive word and left it on the chair of the partner I worked for, who of course happened to be Jewish.  I figured he would be proud of my work.   Now, before I go any further, I should explain that I am a Catholic boy from Pawtucket, Rhode Island and not terribly worldly.  I have travelled out of the country 4 times all in my youth (yes Montreal had culture and a drinking age of 18).   I should also mention that this was prior to Google and our office Internet was spotty and I think had a dial up connection.  We also did not have a Yiddish dictionary in the office.  Ok, so I was young and unsophisticated.  Since then I have gotten older.   The letter was otherwise nasty (and knowing my client), I assumed mensch was a Yiddish swear word.  Looking back I am gobsmacked that I did not do my due diligence and figure out what the word meant before I drafted the complaint, vel non!   The next morning I was met by the smiling face of the lawyer in my office who read it.  I was gobsmacked to learn that mensch was a Yiddish term that meant a good person or a person of integrity.  I was so gobsmacked that I didn’t believe him.  He laughed and laughed but I was not amused, my smoking gun was lost.  My adversary was calling my client a person of integrity and suggesting that he should do the right thing.  I was so gobsmacked that I went down to the nearby bookstore (remember those?) and found a Yiddish dictionary to check for myself.  I was gobsmacked to learn that he was right.  This changed everything, now I had to re-draft my complaint, which was now boring without that Yiddish swear word.  The second draft came out fine, vel non.  The case turned out fine, vel non.   What is amazing is that I continue to be gobsmacked by my discovery of new words in the practice of condominium law.  In a profession where every word or omitted word can be of critical importance, where a single word uttered or written can be defamatory, libelous, discriminatory and cause pain, it is nice to be gobsmacked every once in a while by the discovery of a new or different usage, vel non.  I am even more gobsmacked by the many people that I have met in the practice of condominium law, whom I would would refer to as mensch.  Now I guess I have to finish Marv’s book to find out what HOA Gobsmack is really all about, vel non.  Either way I know that the author is a mensch.

Written by Ed Allcock (eallcock@meeb.com).