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[This is a question about Legal English, that is, English language used in legal writing, not about strict usage of English outside of legal writing. —DN]

In Legal English what does “over the age of ‘X’” mean? I see both these wordings in California Law:

  1. “over the age of 18”
  2. “age 18 or older”

Literally interpreted, these have different meanings. I would tend to prefer the second wording, but is there some reference that defines and clarifies the correct, authoritative or preferred wording in law?

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    Voting to close as too localized. The literal meaning is clear (I think) and any legal implications would be something only a lawyer could answer. – Lynn Jan 16 '12 at 23:36
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    Voting to close as off-topic. At best this would be a point of law not language, but in practice lawyers would probably be needed to debate the point for each specific law that included such a vague phrase as “over the age of 18”. – FumbleFingers Jan 16 '12 at 23:39
  • If not here, where should this question about English language and usage be posted? – danorton Jan 17 '12 at 4:18
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It has its ordinary English meaning of “having lived for eighteen years”. It will, consequently, be legally construed as having reached one’s eighteenth birthday.

A phrase only has a separate, legal, meaning when it is a term of art or when a particular statute supplies one. In those cases, the legal meaning would take precedence over the ordinary English meaning. However, “over the age of” is not a term of art: it does not appear in law dictionaries. Nor am I aware of it being defined by a definition section of any California statute.

The legal doctrine which says that a word is to be construed using its ordinary English meaning in the absence of a term of art or a definition in the statute is the “plain meaning rule”. For an introduction to the various rules of interpretation of legal English, start with the Wikipedia article “Statutory interpretation”.

  • Downvoted, as you seem to have given your personal opinion. I asked for authoritative references. – danorton Jan 16 '12 at 23:07
  • I have elaborated. – MetaEd Jan 16 '12 at 23:32
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    @danorton: Question downvoted (see IMNAL). There certainly won't be an internationally-recognised standard, for law or any other purpose, as to exactly what “over the age of 18” means. To be honest, I would be gobsmacked if even the judiciary within one single country had such a definition. – FumbleFingers Jan 16 '12 at 23:37
  • +1 so MetaEd can get some recompense for his efforts before the question gets closed! – FumbleFingers Jan 17 '12 at 0:31
  • Removed downvote for authoritative reference. – danorton Jan 17 '12 at 4:21

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