Many rulings and even laws in today's societies have a basis/root in the past.

For example, let's say that there is a community which holds a king from the 18th century, let's call them A, in a very high regard. Say, in 1850's, during the rule of A, a person who had a second marriage while their first spouse was alive, was prosecuted and punished. This particular incident in history serves as an evidence that A was against polygamy. The community might still have laws against polygamy, simply because the practice of polygamy has never been acceptable in the society, and this has more to do with A having been against polygamy, than the issue of human rights.

Now, I want to ask a question about a similar thing being practiced in a community.

I want to ask if there are any incidents in the history in which this particular thing was practiced (which became the root of the practice which still continues today)?

Is there a word which describes an incident from history which becomes a basis for some law, rule, custom being practiced today?

  • 1
    Case law, maybe? Tradition, custom, or even blue laws?
    – Dan Bron
    Mar 1, 2016 at 19:08
  • 7
    Maybe precedent: n. an earlier event or action that is regarded as an example or guide to be considered in subsequent similar circumstances.
    – Yay
    Mar 1, 2016 at 19:41
  • 1
    @DanBron I think 'case law' is the correct term to describe the law which stems from the incident. Thank you for sharing this. But I was particular looking for a word for the incident. I think 'precedent' (as suggested by Yay) should do.
    – Solace
    Mar 1, 2016 at 20:13
  • 1
    @Solace Yes, I like precedent. Wish I'd thought of it. Maybe, for your particular needs, you could emphasize it with original precedent?
    – Dan Bron
    Mar 1, 2016 at 20:14
  • Many incidents have been lost. Another name for it is common law. Otherwise, precedent seems to fit the bill. Isn't there a law blog out there somewhere?
    – user116032
    Mar 3, 2016 at 2:30

1 Answer 1


It has been many years since my first year in law school, but I want to mention the Latin phrase sui generis. When a court is confronted with one of a kind situations, the court might reason by analogy to a settled body of law.

In Pierson *v. Post, a court considered competing claims for the body of a captured wild fox. One claimant had owned the fox and released it in an organized hunt. Another claimant owned the land where the fox was captured. Another claimant was an itinerant man who had actually caught the fox. The law of wild animals was not settled. In this sui generis situation, the court ruled that the body belonged to the man who had captured the wild fox.

Centuries later, courts decided novel oil lawsuits by analogy to this settled "capture" rule for wild animals. At the time, courts had the mistaken belief that oil was like a wild animal running around under ground.

Relevant to the effort to find a word for the original incident or practice, I suggest this forum can identify a word or phrase that can be used. Perhaps a Latin word for incident, practice, or wild fox will be useful.

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