Questions about the strange language of legalese.

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71
votes
8answers
23k views

What's the difference between “null” and “void” in legal language?

In the legal term "null and void," what is the difference between null and void? Why not just use one of the two terms? And can either term be used without the other?
55
votes
7answers
4k views

Why does legal English continue to remain archaic?

Perhaps this is a question for Law.SE if one exists, but I am asking here as there are other nice questions on English history. There is some historical development account presented in Wikipedia, ...
30
votes
12answers
10k views

Do the words “jail” and “prison” refer to different things?

In everyday speech, the terms jail and prison are used interchangeably in many situations. However, my understanding is that, at least in the US, they actually refer to slightly different things. For ...
27
votes
19answers
11k views

A verb that means “to prove someone is guilty of a crime”

Preface: I don't think there is a single-word (verb) that expresses the concept I am asking for, in which case I'd settle for the least ambiguous and most common phrase or idiom that describes the ...
18
votes
7answers
23k views

Is there a difference between “innocent” and “not guilty”?

I have always thought the antonym of "guilty" is "innocent", but apparently it's just "not guilty". Even juries seem to agree. But why? Aren't they antonyms? Or is there a subtlety I'm missing here?
17
votes
4answers
510 views

Can this convoluted bit of “tax speak” be deciphered into plain English?

I am trying to understand a paragraph from a tax manual, and for the life of me I can't seem to understand what they are saying. The paragraph in question is from page 4 of publication 4681 The ...
16
votes
4answers
8k views

Why are numbers usually written twice in contracts?

In contracts numbers are usually written twice: in numerical and literal form. I understand the vast majority of text in a typical contract can be safely deleted without impacting the core message ...
12
votes
9answers
8k views

What is the word for something that is punishable by law, but is not a crime?

What is the legal term in English for something that is punishable by law, but is not a crime (i.e. does not affect your criminal record)? I mean all the lesser (than crime) violations of the law, ...
11
votes
4answers
938 views

Is there a specific word describing black boxes covering confidential data on papers being prepared for public access?

Is there a specific word in English describing black boxes covering confidential data on papers being prepared for public access? Here is an example of such a paper
11
votes
6answers
1k views

Why does legal English sometimes repeat the antecedent noun after “which”?

Here's a standard English sentence: The folder which is missing from the principal's office contained the answers to today's exam. (Separate question, discussed elsewhere I'm sure, whether it ...
11
votes
5answers
17k views

What's the equivalent phrase in the UK for “I plead the fifth”?

In the United States, a person under examination on the witness stand may "plead the fifth" to avoid self-incrimination. In other words, a person asserts his or her Fifth Amendment right. Citizens of ...
11
votes
4answers
389 views

Does the word “and” always mean a logical (boolean) operation?

For a simple phrase like "macaroni and cheese" it's clear you want both macaroni and cheese, not one or the other. But as more and more words are added, I've noticed a tendency to begin to read "and" ...
11
votes
6answers
2k views

Does “oath” have an implied religious connotation?

In Singapore you don't have to swear an oath in court if you are of certain religions. Instead you affirm that you're speaking the truth: Circumstances under which affirmation may be made 16.   ...
11
votes
2answers
344 views

What's the most pedantically correct way to reference sectioned and numbered rules aloud?

I am a roller derby announcer. An important part of my job is to explain the rules of roller derby to the fans. The rules of modern roller derby are promulgated by the Women's Flat Track Derby ...
10
votes
7answers
142k views

What is the proper usage of the phrase “due diligence”?

I have encountered the phrase "due diligence" in the business world. The usage examples I have seen (mostly emails) cannot exactly be considered grammatical canon. An internet search produces ...
9
votes
4answers
15k views

Why do courts use “What say you?”

... instead of "What do you say?" I am not sure if "What say you?" is even grammatically correct.
9
votes
3answers
1k views

Using “Acts of God” in legal term

I wonder why on a lot of legal term in English country using "Acts of God" as an events outside human control? As an Indonesian, I think everything that happens in this world is an act of God. And it ...
8
votes
4answers
19k views

Is the § character recognizable as an icon for legal matters in English speaking countries?

I need a symbol in my navigation to represent the legal portions of a web application (disclaimer, imprint, and so on). I thought that it would be appropriate to use the § character; my customer ...
8
votes
3answers
203 views

Term for law that is not practiced in reality

I am looking for a (legal) term that describes the following concept: A law that should describe the reality of a situation, but in practice, since the law is not enforced, reality is not so. One ...
8
votes
2answers
215 views

Non-union-affiliated shop steward

I'm looking for an English word or short phrase to convey a meaning which is similar to “union representative” or “shop steward”, except that the person in question is not (necessarily) associated ...
7
votes
4answers
19k views

Does 'should' imply an unquestionable command?

My question is prompted by a question on the programmers.stackexchange: This may be a duplicate of another question here on english.stackechange, but the answers given to that question did not ...
6
votes
4answers
516 views

A Specific Word for a Replacement of a Lost Document?

I'm looking for a specific (legal) term to refer to a replica document that's issued by the relevant officials as a replacement for a legal document that one has lost. I assume that replica is not ...
6
votes
3answers
25k views

What's the word Copyright and `(C)' mean?

In the lines: Copyright (C) 1994 Tom Copyright (C) 1995, 1996 Cruise Copyright (C) 1997, 1998 Louis Here, what's the original meaning of "Copyright"? And why the mark "(C)"? And, what is ...
6
votes
2answers
899 views

Indian legal documents

I am a resident of India. I have never been able to understand the language used in the legal documents here. Below is an example from an agreement to sell an apartment. Herein after referred to ...
6
votes
2answers
358 views

Official term for “at large” or “on the loose”

When a convict is illegally out of prison – either escaped, or didn't get to the prison after his conviction – what is the right expression to describe this? I want the term that is used in ...
6
votes
5answers
13k views

“Shall” and “will” in legal requirements

What is the implication of using shall versus will in writing a specification document? For instance, lets say I have the paragraph, "upon by all parties involved." All information between ...
6
votes
2answers
99 views

What is the word for the kind of thing that legal laws can apply to?

I know this question title is awkward, so let me explain by example: The word "law" means different things in different contexts. You have the "laws of natural science" (e.g. the law of energy ...
6
votes
5answers
285 views

Word for biased interpretation of the law?

When a law is misinterpreted and enforced by a "power class" in a social hierarchy, and the stated justification has no basis even in the laws to which to the justification makes reference, is there a ...
6
votes
1answer
110 views

What is the act of breaking a pen nib after signing a death sentence called?

I have noticed that every time a judge sentences someone to death sentence, he breaks his pen’s nib after signing his order. So what is this act called? I mean any specific term or single word for ...
5
votes
6answers
734 views

A suitable word for seizing a property

When a court orders for taking control of a property or real estate by the government in exchange of money, what is the best word for the court action? For example: The court maintains that his ...
5
votes
5answers
34k views

What word describes a person who signs an official document?

For example, I have a document that has the signatures of three people, all public servants: a tax collector,an inspector, and a school principal. How could I collectively describe these three people? ...
5
votes
3answers
133 views

“The office of the President” or “the office of President”?

I know this one by heart: it is Section 1 of the 22nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It sounds perfectly natural to me. I don't know why, though. Here: Section 1. No person shall be elected ...
4
votes
4answers
236 views

Is the usage of the idiom “Move Over” in this passage clear on what side to move over to?

Consider this passage in the Georgia DDS 2010 Driver’s Manual: on page 40: The Georgia Move-Over Law requires drivers to move over one lane when possible if an emergency vehicle with ...
4
votes
2answers
183 views

Referring to “the assertion made in the US Supreme Court's majority opinion”

I want to refer to an assertion that is part of the written majority opinion in a particular case, put forth by the US Supreme Court's majority for that case. Question spurred by my attempts to do ...
4
votes
4answers
463 views

What is the adjective for “supersedure” or “primacy”?

Is there an adjective that can express the concept of a law that supersedes other laws? I would prefer a single adjective that has legal connotations, although a present participle will suffice. The ...
4
votes
3answers
109 views

What does 'measuring cast' mean? (1660, UK)

Source: 'Things Necessary to be Continually had in Remembrance', by Sir Matthew Hale (1609-1676) If in criminals it be a measuring cast, to incline to mercy and acquittal. How do you ...
4
votes
3answers
1k views

“Oldest son or oldest daughter”

Contract states Upon the death of the stockholder his interest shall pass to the oldest son or oldest daughter. I am the oldest daughter and have a younger brother. Who gets the interest?
4
votes
2answers
143 views

What do you call a spoken disclaimer on a radio/TV commercial?

The other day I was listening to the radio, and a very lengthy disclosure came on after a commercial. I know that in printed legal documents, and even on websites, the colloquialism for legal ...
4
votes
1answer
95 views

Pluralizing Numbered Items

In US legal practice, we often refer to numbered items: Interrogatory No. 1, Request for Admission No. 3, U.S. Patent No. 5,555,555. What part of the item should be pluralized? That is, should one ...
4
votes
1answer
1k views

What are the differences among ‘Rules’, ‘Standing Rules’, and ‘Bylaw’?

Recently I was given a document titled Standing Rules of an English speaking club of a local community, which was written in English, and asked to study the contents. I wondered what difference ...
4
votes
2answers
573 views

Why is common law referred to as “at common law”?

While researching the differences between modern penal codes with common law I noticed that in many places it is written as at common law. An example is, "A crime at common law defined as unlawful ...
4
votes
1answer
570 views

What is the origin of “fine” meaning a legal penalty? [closed]

What is the origin of the word fine meaning a legal penalty involving the payment of a sum of money?
4
votes
3answers
2k views

Payment to be due within three months “of” that meeting

Does the word "of" in the context of an established point in time refer to before or after that established point in time?
3
votes
3answers
397 views

Expression for the advantage of being in possession of disputed goods in a civil suite?

Some time (years?) ago I saw (In fact it might have been in a comic, possibly Zits.) an expression/proverb that basically said that being in possession of a disputed goods meant that a civil law suit/...
3
votes
4answers
5k views

Your signature vs your mark

Is there a difference between your 'signature' and your 'mark'? One of the comments on this post on Bruce Schneier's blog claims there is: This might be out of date in these days of 100% literacy (...
3
votes
2answers
5k views

What's the term/word for a legal case without merit?

What's the term/word for a legal case without merit? There's something more technical than "fraudulent" or "groundless"... can't pinpoint it.
3
votes
6answers
1k views

Is the “will” in “can and will” necessary?

Anyone who's ever seen much American film or television has heard some variation of the following sentences countless times: You have the right to remain silent. If you choose to give up that ...
3
votes
3answers
438 views

Clear way of saying that one set of rules overrides another, if contradicts [closed]

I'm working on updating a constitution, but as it is for a non-incorporated entity it doesn't have to be legally perfect. I'm much more interested in clarity. Here is what I have at the moment: ...
3
votes
1answer
372 views

Is there such a thing as “Injective Relief” (as a legal term)?

I was recently given a nondisclosure agreement to sign. On the form it stated that the company may seek "injective relief" as needed in order to enforce the agreement. Now, I'm quite familiar with ...
3
votes
1answer
95 views

What's the meaning of “designs” in the clause below?

The undersigned agree that this Fee Protection is assignable and transferable to the beneficiaries, designs, heirs and assigns upon written notice of all parties, and shall not be amended without ...