My Favorite Legal Terms

by Hanish Patel

Image by Flickr user your_teacher

Image by Flickr user your_teacher

You may be lying (or perjuring) if you claimed you did not have a favorite legal word. Essentially, a legal term is a vast and abstract concept, spanning generations from our legal ancestors, boiled down to a few syllables. So, here is a syllabus of my personal favorites – some you might have never heard of, some you may be trying to forget:

Lex loci (leks LOH-ky) – noun: the law of the place. From the Latin lex (law) + locus (place). Earliest documented use: 1832.  Note: The doctrine of lex loci holds that the law of the jurisdiction where the act was done applies.

Suborn (suh-BORN) – transitive verb: to induce to perform an unlawful act or give false testimony. Earliest documented use: 1534.

(Writ of ) Mandamus (man-dame-us) – noun : a writ or order issued from a court ordering a public body to perform an act when it has neglected or refused to do so. From the Latin, We Command. Note: The jurisdiction to issue writs of mandamus was a core issue of Marbury v. Madison.

Precatory (PREK-uh-tor-ee) – adjective: expressing a nonbinding wish or suggestion. From the Latin, precari (to pray). Note: precatory language in a statute or will is merely suggested, but not legally binding. For example, “I hope my son uses the land for farming.”

Curtilage (cur-ti-lage) – noun: the area, generally enclosed, encompassing the grounds and buildings immediately surrounding a home. From the French, cortillage (court, yard).

Prima facie (pry-muh fey-shee) – noun: an initial burden of proof made apparent from the facts. From the Latin, primus (first) + facies (face). Earliest documented use: 15th century

Surplusage (SUR-pluhs-ij) – noun: irrelevant matter; an excess of words. Note: statutory interpretation aims to construct statutes and legal language as ignoring or avoiding instances of surplusage.

Littoral (LIT-er-uh-l) – adjective: pertaining to the shore of a body of water. Note: Littoral rights refer to the rights concerning property that abut a body of water such as an ocean, lake, sea, rather than a river (riparian). For instance, littoral rights may include rights to the tidal waters as well as the underlying land to a certain point.

Of course, you can always find more fascinating words using Black’s Law Dictionary.

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