When you engage a lawyer or an estate agent, for example, you instruct them. What is the most appropriate word to use when you decide you've had enough and want to get rid of them? There are several good contenders but 'dis-instruct' would seem most appropriate - and yet I'm unable to find this word in any of the common reference dictionaries. Is it a legitimate word?

Google Ngram yielded the following, but only for 'dis - instruct'. All other possible constructions of this word flatlined.


Other possible constructions are uninstruct (although as back-formation of uninstructed there is potential for misinterpretation) and de-instruct.

  • If you have had enough and want to get rid of him: you discharge him, or cancel his services, or terminate your agreement, or fire him, or take him off your case....... or are we talking British? in which case nevermind. Feb 23 '15 at 12:55
  • 1
    In the US I think you "discharge" a lawyer, agent, etc.
    – Hot Licks
    Feb 23 '15 at 13:06
  • 2
    You fire them. Because before that, you had hired them (retained their services.) Those dis- words are incorrect here.
    – Lambie
    Nov 19 '18 at 18:18

Disinstruct is in neither the Oxford English Dictionary, nor Oxford Dictionaries Online nor Merriam-Webster. Not only that, but there are no records for it in either the British National Corpus or the Corpus of Contemporary American English.

If you’re looking for a suitable word, I suppose you could use dismiss.

  • That's good to know - googling however does produce a surprising number of results given the complete absence in reference works.
    – user49727
    Oct 1 '13 at 14:17
  • The absence of a word from the dictionaries doesn't mean you can't use it. You must apply your own judgement. Oct 1 '13 at 14:20
  • Agreed. Hence the question. And I was quite surprised that this word has not entered common usage given the omnipresence of solicitors and estate agents.
    – user49727
    Oct 1 '13 at 16:29
  • Dismiss is rather old fashioned, and applies to certain positions where the individual is a full-time employee. Not someone whose services one retains.
    – Lambie
    Nov 20 '18 at 14:36
  • Be your own Shakespeare. "Pleaded" is the convention today. It used to be 'Pled.' Words are conventions. Many modern words/phrases can be traced back to their first appearance in print/media. 'Dismiss' or 'fire' are current convention. 'Deinstruct' conveys the closest meaning to the concept of letting a lawyer go. In conjunction with 'instruct', prefix "de" is more "remove". "Dis" is more "reverse". Disinstruct comes closer to the concept of 'intentionally teaching something false.' Compare to 'diseducate,' also not a current English convention, but could easily be understood to mean the same.
    – Chris
    Feb 28 '21 at 13:51

Deinstruct is a good word suggestion, particularly in the legal context (since the word instruct frequently appears in law), and is comparable to words such as deauthorize (and disauthorize), deactivate and disinter (and their corresponding French precursors). That said Latin stems beginning with st commonly take un- as their antonym prefix (as in uninstall) and uninstructed has been usurped.

However since it is not found in dictionaries and is only occasionally found on webpages, the most suitable alternative is deauthorize in the given context, unless one wants to revive the pretty much obsolete word disauthorize.

  • This is simply wrong.
    – Lambie
    Nov 19 '18 at 18:18
  • I don't see much support for the statement that "Latin stems beginning with st commonly take un- as their antonym prefix (as in uninstall)".
    – herisson
    Nov 20 '18 at 2:04

As you have engaged their services, I would say the best word was "disengage." I'm not sure that instruct has a precise antonym that would fit the situation.

  • 1
    Yes - if there was vehement objection to using disinstruct, disengage or discharge would be my personal choice.
    – user49727
    Oct 1 '13 at 16:31

I used the term "withdraw my instruction".

  • 1
    I like this answer, but it could be improved by turning it from a personal anecdote to a substantiated usage by reference to an authority or at least well-known third party using it this way.
    – Dan Bron
    Feb 23 '15 at 20:03

We say in American English: to fire one's lawyer.

In British English: to sack your lawyer "A client is entitled to sack their solicitor at any time ending legal representation without giving any reason. The solicitor is then normally entitled to retain the file until their costs are paid (known as a "lien")." sack a solicitor or end legal representation

More formally in both: to end legal representation [of me or for me or on my behalf]

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.