By Jenneth Hogan
If you’ve been following the blog, then chances are you might have come across Kelly Laycock’s article on Legalese Gobbledygook earlier in the year. The history of our legal language was only briefly mentioned, but, as you can imagine, Legalese as we know it is a proverbial mishmash of history and its languages. From Anglo-Saxon (Old English) to Norse and French to Latin we’ve thrown in a pinch-of-this and a dash-of-that over the years until our legal language was just confusing enough. And if that isn’t enough to make your head ache, even the Latin terms we’ve come to know and love are an equally baffling composition of French and/or English with its Latin derivative.
If the bygone days of our ancestors have taught us anything, it’s surely that variety is the spice of life. There’s always something better out there, take what you like and leave the rest. True to form, we’ve carefully selected words from languages past to hang on to over the years and the rest have since vanished from our language. Here are a few that have survived:
Adopted from the Anglo-Saxons: bequeath, goods, quilt, manslaughter, murder, oath, right, sheriff, steal, swear, theft, thief, ward, witness, writ and the ever-popular “to have and to hold”.
Legal terms that are French in origin: appeal, attorney, bailiff, bar, claim, complaint, counsel, court, defendant, demurrer, evidence, indictment, judge, judgment, jury, justice, party, plaintiff, plea, plead, sentence, sue, suit, summon, verdict and voir dire.
Oh, and the most important word in the legal world, the term law itself? Yeah, that’s Norse. What about the rest of our legal terms? They’re that Latin mishmash I was talking about. It’s all clear as mud, isn’t it? Fear not, in an effort to broaden our own Legalese vocabulary and to hopefully refresh some of yours, Legal Sourcery will present to you one Latin legal word or phrase per week. At the very least you can use them on your friends and blow them away with your worldliness. So, without further delay:
OMNIS EXCEPTIO EST IPSA QUOQOE REGULA
Every exception is a rule unto itself.
Emanuel, Lazar. Latin for Lawyers: The Language of the Law (New York: Aspen Publishers, 1999).
Tiersma, Peter. The Nature of Legal Language, online: Language and Law <http://www.languageandlaw.org/NATURE.HTM> (16 September 2014).