LEGAL USAGE

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LEGAL USAGE, also legal English. The REGISTER of the legal profession. The term covers the formulas and styles of both courts of law in all English-speaking countries and such documents as contracts and writs. In England, from the Norman Conquest in 1066 to the later 14c, the languages of law were FRENCH and LATIN, and both have left their mark on the English which succeeded them, especially in such terms as lien (French ‘binding, tie’: a legal claim on someone's property to secure the payment of debt) and habeas corpus (Latin ‘you may have the body’: a writ requiring that someone be brought before a judge or court, especially as a protection against that person's unlawful imprisonment). Legal usage in all English-speaking countries tends to be conservative, formal, syntactically complex, and often archaic, using expressions such as aforesaid, hereinafter, thereto that hardly occur in the language at large. Lawyers generally argue that the conventions and complexities of legal prose ensure that all possible contingencies are covered and ambiguities removed from documents on which legal decisions must rest. Critics reply that ‘LEGALESE’ makes lawyers necessary as interpreters as well as counsellors, may obscure the implications of contracts and other documents, and often worries people unnecessarily. The first excerpt below is part of a traditional contract, the second the same material recast in ‘plain’ language:
GENERAL LIEN—The contractor shall have a general lien upon all goods in his possession for all monies due to him from the customer or for liabilities incurred by him and for monies paid on behalf of the customer, and if part of the goods shall have been delivered, removed or despatched or sold the general lien shall apply in respect of such goods as remain in the Contractor's possession.Our right to hold the goods. We have a right to hold some or all of the goods until you have paid all our charges and other payments due under this contract. These include charges, taxes or levies that we have paid to any other removal or storage business, carrier or official body.

In recent years, campaigners for PLAIN ENGLISH have sought simpler contracts and in some cases ‘translations’ of difficult usage, so that the public can grasp the meaning and intent of documents couched in legal terms. See LAW FRENCH.

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