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A writ is a formal written order, originally of the English monarch but later of a common law court. Since 1999, the Civil Procedure Rules have provided for civil cases in England and Wales to be started with a plain English 'claim form,' rather than the traditional 'writ of summons' (commanding the defendant to attend court to answer the plaintiff's claim). However, the writ of summons still exists in other common law jurisdictions (eg. the High Court of Australia) and the 'prerogative writs' of certiorari (commanding an inferior tribunal to send its records to a court of review), mandamus (commanding an executive officer to perform a duty) and prohibition (commanding an executive officer not to perform an unlawful act) still exist in the United States and other jurisdictions.

The writs of election are a non-judicial example of the continuing use of writs. These writs command electoral officers to conduct an election in Commonwealth countries, and are usually still expressed in the traditional Victorian drafting style. For example, the writ for the election of the Queensland Legislative Assembly in 2012, issued by Governor Penelope Wensley, read:

Writ of election for the Queensland Legislative Assembly

Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, Queen of Australia and her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth.

To the Electoral Commission of Queensland

Greeting:

Wᴇ ᴄᴏᴍᴍᴀɴᴅ ʏᴏᴜ that you proceed according to the law to an election of eighty-nine Members of the Legislative Assembly of Queensland ...

The writs issued in Canada (and presumably the United Kingdom) retain the same form. My question is: what is the meaning of the word 'Greeting' in this form? Was the word 'greeting' historically itself a greeting which could be used in formal English speech? In writs it is usually followed by a colon – does this indicate that the following preamble is a 'greeting'? Are there any other historical contexts in which the word 'greeting' was used in this way?

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  • Looks like a placeholder in a template.
    – Ash
    Sep 19, 2017 at 2:38

1 Answer 1

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In the same way as you begin a letter to an individual with the salutation 'Dear So-and-so', this is the Queen (in her official capacity) making a salutation to the official body to whom the document is addressed. It is a traditional style used in the most formal documents. The colon signifies the end of the preamble.

Nowadays we would use 'Greetings' in the plural, as in 'Season's greetings!' on a Christmas card.

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  • Can you provide a source for this, or an example of another document in which 'Greeting' is used as a salutation?
    – sjy
    Sep 20, 2017 at 0:57
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    The following website gives examples of medieval writs (presumably translated from Latin) in the two indented paragraphs. earlyenglishlaws.ac.uk/reference/essays/writs Sep 20, 2017 at 16:14
  • Thanks for the reference! It didn't occur to me to look into the history of writs before they were expressed in modern English, but now that I have done so, it seems clear that the form of the writ dates back to the Anglo-Saxons (Harmer 1952). It seems that originally the Old English word gret was used, and after the Norman conquest writs were expressed in Latin using the greeting salutem. I will do some more research on the transition to modern English and add a more complete answer later.
    – sjy
    Sep 21, 2017 at 13:26
  • This morning I attended the installation service for the new Dean of Derby Cathedral. The Bishop read out a formal document beginning in exactly the same style - "[The Bishop of Derby] to [the new Dean], Greeting". Sep 30, 2017 at 15:14
  • It often is in the form, 'To all whom these presents shall come, greeting'.
    – JDF
    Oct 29, 2017 at 10:58

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