Friday, 12 October 2007

A.W.A.D. - Terms from the World of Law

My maternal grandfather was a lawyer. When he and my grandmother had a little tiff, she would sometimes say, "Go tell your lies in court." They would soon make up, but a statement like that is perhaps an occupational hazard to any married lawyer.

A lawyer's reputation for fine analysis of words is well-deserved. The outcome of a case often depends on the precise meaning of a single word. No wonder lawyers are deeply interested in words. Almost all the staff members of some law offices are AWAD subscribers. Many lawyers are well-known novelists and authors of books on language usage.

This week we look at terms from the world of law.

gravamen
(gra-VAY-muhn) noun
[plural gravamens or gravamina (-VAM-uh-nuh)]
The essence or the most serious part of an accusation.

[From Latin gravamen (trouble, grievance), from gravare (to burden or to weigh upon).]

force majeure
(fors ma-ZHOOR) noun
1. An unforeseeable and uncontrollable event (for example, a war or a strike) that exempts a party from a contract
2. Superior force.

[From French, literally superior force.]

per stirpes
(pur-STUR-peez) noun
A method of dividing an estate in which each branch of the descendants of a deceased person receives an equal share.

[From Latin, literally "by roots" or "by stocks".]

venireman
(vi-NY-ree-muhn) noun
A person summoned as a prospective juror.

[From Latin venire (to come), truncation of the term venire facias ("you should cause to come", directing a sheriff to summon people to serve as jurors) + man.]

stare decisis
(STAYR-ee di-SY-sis) noun
The legal principle of following precedents in deciding a case, the idea that future decisions of a court should follow the example set by the prior decisions.

[Latin for "let the decision stand".]

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