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In modern writing about legal affairs, it is common to say something along the lines of:

The judge heard his guilty plea.

and

He decided to plead guilty.

It seems to me like in this legal sense of the words, "plead" is used as a verb while "plea" is used as a noun, even in a context where both represent the same concept.

As a simple example, consider this opening sentence from Wikipedia's page on "plea bargain," which uses "plead" as a verb, almost as if it were an inflection of the same word.

The plea bargain (also plea agreement, plea deal, copping a plea, or plea in mitigation) is any agreement in a criminal case between the prosecutor and defendant whereby the defendant agrees to plead guilty to a particular charge in return for some concession from the prosecutor.

Yet according to the OED, the two words have totally separate etymologies, and both words have a noun form and verb form.

Plea: < Anglo-Norman and Old French plaid (842 in Old French in the Strasbourg Oaths in sense ‘pact, agreement’; French plaid ; compare α forms), Anglo-Norman pleet, pleit, plete,

Plead: < Anglo-Norman plaider, plaidier, pleder, pledire, pledre, pleider, pleidier and Old French pledeer, pledier, Old French, Middle French plaidier

Have these words, despite their separate etymologies, always been used in a somewhat interchangeable way, as in the Wikipedia quote? Or is that a more recent phenomenon resulting from the similarity of the words?


Edit: It seems people are either finding this question unclear or disliking it. Let me add a clarification that I also posted as a comment.

I understand that the words are not exactly used "interchangeably." My point is that both "plea" and "plead" are both nouns and verbs, and neither word derived from the other in English. So hypothetically, one could say:

I plea guilty.

Or

He gave a guilty plead.

But today, it appears we always use "plead" as a verb and "plea" as a noun, often both referring to the notion of:

a legal plea where one pleads guilty or not guilty.

My question is why that is and for how long.

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    Where are they used interchangeably? One is a noun, and the other is a verb. And how are their etymologies "separate"? – Mick Jan 17 '18 at 2:22
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    @Mick I struggled to find a better word than "interchangeably." My point is that both "plea" and "plead" are both nouns and verbs, and neither word derived from the other in English. So hypothetically, one could say "I plea guilty." Or "He gave a guilty plead." But today, it appears we always use "plead" as a verb and "plea" as a noun, often both referring to the notion of a legal plea where one pleads guilty or not guilty. My question is why that is and for how long. – RaceYouAnytime Jan 17 '18 at 2:25
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    @Mick when I said "separate etymologies" I meant that one word was not derived from the other within English. Our tendency to use "plea" as a noun and "plead" as a verb in the same context might not have always been the case, and hence the question. – RaceYouAnytime Jan 17 '18 at 2:39
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    They are not “both nouns and verbs”. The verb use of plea documented by the OED almost always is written plea’d: you have to go back more than 200 years to find otherwise. This is strictly informal at best. The noun use of plead is obsolete. Lastly, to say that “neither was derived from the other in English” obscures the fact that these entered English via French where of course they were extremely closely related. You would not say that the noun cloth and the verb clothe “were unrelated”, and it is the same here. – tchrist Jan 17 '18 at 2:41
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    It would have been helpful if, at the outset, you have given examples of noun and verb usages for both words. – Mick Jan 17 '18 at 3:03
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According to the following source the use of plea as a verb is a regionalism, while plead as a noun is just a non-standard usage:

In general use, the verb plead means

  • to make an earnest appeal, entreaty, or supplication; to beg, implore.

The noun plea has similar legal and general meanings:

plea: - 1. A suit or action at law; the presentation of an action in court. An urgent, emotional request, an entreaty; (also) an unarticulated appeal.

Used as a verb in place of plead, plea can be regarded as a regionalism (Chiefly Eng. regional [north.], and Sc. Now also U.S.):

  • If you plea guilty and then later in another hearing say th(at you didn’t do it, can you be charged with perjury? –example of U.S. usage in OED

Using the verb form plead for the noun plea, however, is jarringly nonstandard:

  • A Plead to Sinners –title of a poem on a religious site

  • A plead to ban homophobia –headline on a college site

  • A plead for help –part of a blog title

In each of these examples, the word wanted is plea.

Also from blog.bennettandbennett.com:

When a person admits her guilt in court, she does not plea guilty. She pleads guilty, entering a guilty plea. “Plead” is a verb. “Plea” is a noun.

After a person has admitted his guilt in court, he has not plead (or “pleaed”) guilty. The past tense of “to plead” is “pleaded” or “pled.

So, referring to regional, non-standard usages, most likely due to the similarity of the spelling of the two terms, it is really hard to find a precise period when it all started. Google Books, if it can be of any real help here, suggest usages of a plead for and plea guilty from the mid-20th century.

  • I think you'll also find plea used as a verb when it is short for plea bargain, as in "they plea'd it down to time served". In that sense I don't think it's regional (unless the "region" is the whole US legal system). – 1006a Jan 17 '18 at 16:03
  • The distinction I was trying to make is between "plea" substituted for the verb "plead", which I don't think is common or widespread in the US, and "plea" substituted for the verb "plea bargain", which is. The "US" quote does not sound like a proper legal usage (but perhaps a question that a non-legally-trained defendant would ask), so I can buy "plea" for "plead" as "regional" within the US. But "plea" used to mean something like "negotiate about the sentence that the prosecutor puts on the table" is a common legal usage. The OED does not make this distinction, perhaps because this kind... – 1006a Jan 17 '18 at 16:27
  • ...of plea bargaining is not a regular feature of the British legal system. – 1006a Jan 17 '18 at 16:27

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