In an article quoted by a recent Skeptics.SE answer, there is the following sentence:

We had preferred but couldn't file a lawsuit because no boy presented himself as a plaintiff for admission to the Young Women's Leadership School.

Commenters were wondering about the meaning of "preferred". It could be a typo for "prepared", or a grammatical error in saying that they preferred to file a lawsuit. But "prefer" also seems to have a technical legal meaning, e.g. Wiktionary has "To present or submit (something) to an authority (now usually in 'to prefer charges')". However, that would seem at first glance to correspond to filing the lawsuit, which is just what the author said they could not do. So maybe there are separate steps involved?

Can someone explain what is probably meant by this passage? What specific steps toward a lawsuit is the author saying that the plaintiffs took, and which steps were they unable to take?

The article's author is a lawyer, so I would assume by default that they are familiar with the terms, and that the usage is deliberate instead of a mistake. The lawsuit in question would have been in US federal court.

1 Answer 1


The word is not being used in the technical sense here, and is not a mistake.

The legal term you are thinking that they might have been intending to use is "proffered". But that wasn't the word that they were trying to use.

The author is saying that their first choice of legal tactics would have been to file a civil lawsuit with a test plaintiff, who is a boy seeking to be admitted to the Young Women's Leadership School. But, because they could not manage to make this ideal legal tactic work, because they could find a boy willing to do so, they chose to take their Plan B legal tactic instead.

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    Absent some legal meaning, I still think it's more likely a typo for "prepared". Your interpretation is also what I initially thought when I read the article, but it doesn't fit the sentence structure properly, whereas "prepared" does. Note that the article contains other typos. Mind, unless someone contacts the author (and he actually remembers) we'll never know for sure, and it's really not that important imo. Jun 16, 2023 at 20:32
  • Just as an amateur observer of legal and other things, from newspapers of decades ago, I do recall use of "prefer(ed)" in such a context... Jun 17, 2023 at 0:09
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    @paulgarrett prefer in this context is a misspelling of proffer, which some people have used thinking it is correct because they are phonetically similar.
    – ohwilleke
    Jun 17, 2023 at 3:55
  • @ohwilleke, Aha! Thanks for the info! :) Jun 17, 2023 at 15:37

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