Questions about the strange language of legalese.

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62
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8answers
17k 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?
50
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, ...
27
votes
12answers
7k 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 ...
16
votes
4answers
471 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
5k 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 ...
11
votes
8answers
5k 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
2answers
310 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
6answers
836 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 ...
10
votes
4answers
244 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" ...
10
votes
6answers
1k 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.   ...
8
votes
5answers
10k 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 ...
8
votes
2answers
186 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
7answers
92k 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 ...
6
votes
2answers
728 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
5answers
11k 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.
6
votes
2answers
295 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
2answers
93 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
4answers
6k 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
5answers
236 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 ...
5
votes
4answers
15k 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 ...
5
votes
3answers
17k 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 ...
5
votes
6answers
466 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
18k 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? ...
4
votes
4answers
219 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
172 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
356 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
4answers
248 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 ...
4
votes
1answer
332 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 ...
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
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
202 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
3answers
802 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
4answers
4k 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
1k 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
3answers
314 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
188 views

This long sentence is ambiguous, and difficult for me to understand [closed]

I got this sentence Property value litigation is no different than any other type of litigation where experts are used in that expert opinions are fair game for attack by the opposing side in ...
3
votes
1answer
323 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?
3
votes
1answer
307 views

Situation when a sentence can't be appealed

After a specific period, or if the appeal is found invalid for any reason, or was issued at the final instance court, a sentence becomes valid and is to be executed. I found the translation of the ...
2
votes
2answers
713 views

Reason for Subject-Verb Inversion: Only in cases where A is B, shall the Company do X [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: Sentences using: [something] + have + they subject-auxiliary inversions not associated with questions In the following, why does subject-verb inversion occur? Is it ...
2
votes
4answers
649 views

How is an “assault” different from “battery” in everyday English?

In legal parlance, the word "assault" historically means an attempted battery (battery being defined as below) or an intentional frightening of another person. No contact is necessary. On the other ...
2
votes
2answers
4k views

“In all events” as opposite of “in no event”

I was recently trying to explain to a non-native English speaking colleague the meaning of the phrase "in no event" which often appears in legal documents. This produced the question: "Can you say 'in ...
2
votes
6answers
474 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 ...
2
votes
2answers
67 views

Notarial Deed Translation from Canadian English

I have to translate an English document from Quebec into Polish language. However, there is one sentence that I cannot understand: As the whole now subsists with all its rights members and ...
2
votes
2answers
182 views

Help in demystifying the meaning of 2 sentences from an academic journal article!

1.) This is basically an english translation of a section of a Hittite Law code: "If someone wounds a man and makes him ill, he shall nurse him. He shall give a man in his place who will work in his ...
2
votes
4answers
72 views

A person or entity that decides how an obligation should be fulfilled

Let's say that I caused some nasty accident and someone was hurt and a judge told me that I have an obligation to amend their damage somehow. However, some other person (or entity) will decide how ...
2
votes
1answer
3k views

“In contemplation of”

I came across this phrase in an legal case relating to an ante-nuptial agreement, and was wondering what it meant exactly. The sentence is: Agreement concluded prior to and in contemplation of ...
2
votes
3answers
115 views

Placing the object of an infinitive before it instead of after it

At the beginning of 1807, based on information gathered from Burr’s correspondence allegedly showing that he had begun preparations for a large-scale military expedition, the former vice ...
2
votes
1answer
65 views

Intuition - “to enjoin”

Would someone please explain the etymology or the intuition behind this verb? I'm aware of the etymological fallacy, but still want to intuit its definition.
2
votes
2answers
1k views

Are commas considered superfluous in legal documents?

I'm in the process of purchasing a house and reading through the contract, I can't find a single instance of the comma. (As if legalese wasn't hard enough to read already!) This includes the ...
2
votes
1answer
611 views

What do “take ground” and “vested in” mean in this context?

Here is an extract from the headnote of a case [1] I am trying to understand: The defendants, who were wharfingers, agreed with the plaintiff for a consideration to allow his vessel to discharge ...