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Oyez, oyez, oyez! Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage

Legal English is not just for the legally-minded. It can be arcane, yes, but it’s certainly not irrelevant – whether we’re agreeing a mortgage, reading about changes to the law, or (tut, tut) standing as a defendant in a trial, legal language is not something we can easily ignore.

But it is still arcane – do you know the difference between ad damnum, ad finem, and ad idem? – which is why Bryan A Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage has been an essential reference  to legal English for over 20 years. First published by Oxford University Press in 1987, the updated third print edition was published last June.

Here are some of the new and perhaps unexpected entries that can be found in Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage.

  • Sexting. The sending of unsolicited sexually-explicit text messages has seemingly become enough of an issue since the coining of the term in 2005 to warrant a new entry. (Its less explicit cousin texting is also included.)
  • Testis. Garner records two senses of this, one meaning “a witness” and the other meaning “a testicle”. Garner discourages the use of the first sense in legal writing, because as he notes, “modern witnesses are not likely to take kindly to being called testes”.
  • Allegator. Meaning “one who alleges”, the rarity of this word is perhaps explained by its “its jocular suggestiveness of alligator”.
  • Lawyers, Derogatory Names for. Garner lists such names as ambidexter, a lawyer who takes money from “both hands” of an argument, “that is, from both sides of a controversy”; ambulance chaser, “a lawyer who solicits business from accident victims at the scene of an accident or shortly thereafter”; hired gun, a “a lawyer who acts like an aggressive gunfighter in the Old West, and who will do anything for a fee”; and white-powder lawyer, “a lawyer who represents cocaine dealers”.
  • Blawg. A blog “devoted to commenting on or discussing the law and legal issues”.
  • Troll. A person who “who acquires intellectual-property rights solely to collect royalties or infringement damages”. Patent trolls and copyright trolls represent specific types of such creatures.
  • Erronious “is an erroneous spelling of erroneous.”
  • According to Garner, logorrhea (diarrhoea of the mouth) is “an affliction of which lawyers must beware.”
  • Oyez, oyez, oyez. This “is the cry heard in court to call the courtroom to order when a session begins.”
  • A relic is a “surviving trace or memorial”; a relict a widow or survivor. Garner notes: “widows and widowers unfamiliar with the term will not take kindly to being called relicts”.

Whatever else legal English may be, it’s certainly not dull in the hands of Garner.