The Latin connection

As all of us know languages like Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Rumanian come from Latin. What is not known to many instead, is that Latin also strongly influenced the development of Legal English together with French. 

Legal terms like convict, admit, mediate and legitimate come from Latin but one of the main examples is “clerk” that comes from the latin word “clericus”which means “priest”. In the early Middle Ages, only the elites were literate, notably clerics. For this reason, priests often operated as scribes. From there the word in modern English: office worker, secretary, recorder, clerk of the court, registrar. 

The English Legal system was created in the period immediately following the Norman Conquest ( 11th and 12th centuries) when Latin was the language of legal documents in England. This is the reason why many common law terms were originally formulated in Latin like breve (writ). Latin was later ousted by French in English legal circles, which became the official legal language from the 13th century, since it was the language spoken by the English aristocracy.

Still , Legal English is full of Latin words and expressions, curiously enough, even more than in Civil Law systems based on Roman Law. 

A typical example of this is i.e. (id est) or e.g. (exempli gratia) which we find everywhere in legal  and non-legal documents. We often see “ Verbatim “ (in exactly the same words) and “n.b.”( note well) in books, articles, documents of every nature and on the strictly legal side there is a high number of expressions used in general and also in specific areas of the law which are typical to that subject. 

We all have seen expressions like “prima facie evidence” or “ in forma pauperis”,in rem” or “in personam” and sometimes wondered why they are used so often in English. There are in fact (“de facto”) many more and we go though them in our Legal English courses with the aid of useful exercises and practice. Contact us for more information. 

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