ABA Journal


Question of the Week

What’s Your Favorite Legal Word?

Dec 19, 2012, 08:45 pm CST


There's something sexy about "attractive nuisance."

By AndytheLawyer on 2012 12 19, 9:55 pm CST

I vote for "plead the Fifth." Everybody from lawyers to laymen seem to appreciate this vital amendment's importance, and it is applicable to quite a number of social situations where I've messed up. Of course, Dave Chappelle's famous skit where he sings "I plead the Fif" in falsetto is a personal favorite.

Chappelle show's "Plead the Fifth" skit:

By Plead the Fif on 2012 12 19, 10:00 pm CST

"Witnesseth" - - - it is a word that can't be pronounced without spraying everybody in close proximity to you - - - particularly if you have a speech impediment, such as a lisp.

By Yankee on 2012 12 19, 10:01 pm CST

I was also going to say "attractive nuisance."

Though I also like "perpetuity."

By Another Andy on 2012 12 19, 10:02 pm CST


By W.R.T. on 2012 12 19, 10:56 pm CST

A fortiori

By Alan Polonsky on 2012 12 19, 11:50 pm CST

Attractive Nuisance is irresistible indeed and, Witnesseth......classic but, yes; potentially messy.
I really like Transmutation by Comingling; it sounds absolutely scandalous! :@

By TMT on 2012 12 20, 2:42 am CST


By mamartinez on 2012 12 20, 4:37 am CST

I found turncoat to be catchy for some reason. Also recently I have noticed a term in game of thrones "turncloak" which I found very amusing.

By Joshua Neuman on 2012 12 20, 1:47 pm CST

Ipse dixit (insert Beavis laugh).

By NoleLaw on 2012 12 20, 2:11 pm CST

Back in law school, it was either 'livery of seisen' or 'duty.' I still crack up a little at hearing the word 'duty.' Strangely, in the past 3 years of practice, I've yet to come across the phrase 'livery of seisen.' Go figure.

By Jeff on 2012 12 20, 2:14 pm CST


Well then you'll love Yahoo Answers! Their full of those xD.

By Joshua Neuman on 2012 12 20, 2:14 pm CST

Tort-feasor is fun to inflict.

By Walt on 2012 12 20, 3:00 pm CST

unlawful detainer

It just sounds a lot more evil than it actually is, and I think that's kind of funny.

By Lori H on 2012 12 20, 3:23 pm CST

"Socage in fief," from a P.G. Wodehouse short story. Its great fun to use at lawyer parties.

By Wes on 2012 12 20, 3:39 pm CST

@7 I will acknowledge that "Transmutation by Comingling" is an unusually humorous term, suggesting something bordering on the scandalous.

Although I don't practice in the area of domestic relations whatseover, as a complete interloper I would think that a prenuptial agreement might include certain 'prophylactic rules' to prevent 'Transmission by Comingling' from occurring?

By Yankee on 2012 12 20, 3:41 pm CST

Loss of Consortium.

By OKBankLaw on 2012 12 20, 3:41 pm CST

Flagrante delicto
Quare clausum fregit
De minimis, de minimis
Non curat lex

Stare decisis
Forum non conveniens
Reductio ad absurdum
Reductio ad absurdum
Reductio ad absurdum
Per curiam

By Conn Lawyer on 2012 12 20, 4:10 pm CST

Special Master gets me every time.

By EsqinAustin on 2012 12 20, 4:13 pm CST

Why waste ink on "in pari delicto" when you can opt for "in flagrante delicto"?

By get a grip on 2012 12 20, 4:16 pm CST

Someone once defined "hereinafter" as where lawyers go when they die.

By get a grip on 2012 12 20, 4:17 pm CST

Res ipsa loquitor. It's so relevent to everyday life situations in which people attempt to waste my time with foolishness.

By Esq. on 2012 12 20, 5:09 pm CST

I always like to define, "tortfeasor," for clients as a person who feases torts.

By Joel Kauffman on 2012 12 20, 5:47 pm CST

de minimus non curat lex ; but that's because I know the limerick that goes with it. wait, that's a phrase, not a word, does that count?

By okiedokie on 2012 12 20, 8:35 pm CST

"Post hoc ergo propter hoc" because it makes me feel like a lawyer and "to the extent" because I can't stop saying it in every brief, email, telephone conversation and argument with my husband. :)

By Shantel on 2012 12 20, 9:23 pm CST

@10 - since we're invoking Beavis, I offer "penal."

By MrBill on 2012 12 20, 9:36 pm CST

For Florida attorneys, there's also "sword-wielder", as in the sword-wielder doctrine concerning venue and suits against the state. Actually, that's my fave. I'd like to withdraw #10.

By NoleLaw on 2012 12 20, 11:28 pm CST

every criminal defense lawyer knows that the two sweetest words in the English language, when spoken together in the right order are...


you hear those words in court, it's better than sex....

By defensive lawyer on 2012 12 20, 11:39 pm CST


By Docile Jim Brady - Columbus OH 43209 on 2012 12 21, 12:29 am CST

Nunc pro tunc

By Ex-Prosecutor on 2012 12 21, 12:32 am CST

Habeas Corpus -- "You have the Body!" Ancient Roman pick-up line.

By Bob Loblaw on 2012 12 21, 1:27 am CST

Newer Roman line ♦ Vidi vici veni

By Docile Jim Brady - Columbus OH 43209 on 2012 12 21, 2:43 am CST

A man has got to know him limitations.

By zekethewonderdog on 2012 12 21, 4:16 am CST

Sui generis. The Supreme Court has informed us that dogs are sui generis, and I couldn't agree more. But I like to think that we're all sui generis.

By Mark Stansbury on 2012 12 21, 12:24 pm CST


By Dennis Mickunas on 2012 12 21, 12:30 pm CST

I love "res ipsa loquitur." But "in terrorem" is a good one, as is "testatrix." I sometimes have to explain to bemused and giggly clients that a testatrix isn't someone carrying a riding crop and wearing high boots (unless, of course, she wants to).

By Lori In the South on 2012 12 21, 12:43 pm CST

I'm with Ex-Prosecutor - Nunc Pro Tunc makes me smile every time :-)

By MRM on 2012 12 21, 12:51 pm CST

Fungible. Just love the sound of that .

By Jim Moriarty on 2012 12 21, 1:01 pm CST

I was having a senior moment, but remembered - USUFRUCT!!! PROPERTY 101 , Suffolk Law 1979. Merry Christmas to Prof. Sandoe and all my classmates.

By Jim Moriarty on 2012 12 21, 1:10 pm CST


By Marcy on 2012 12 21, 1:15 pm CST


By David on 2012 12 21, 1:40 pm CST

Superfecundation: How could you not love this word. The definition only makes it better. Google it and see.

By James R. Neal on 2012 12 21, 1:49 pm CST

Anticipatory repudiation. Says it all.

By Michael J. McCartney on 2012 12 21, 2:26 pm CST

I went to law school with a women who was strickingly beautiful, but extremely verbose and argumentative--we called her the Attractive Nuisance.

By Cheyenne Young on 2012 12 21, 2:35 pm CST

Equity. It's a legal word that's not used outside of legal circles very often but is still understandable to the non-lawyer.

By Andrew G. on 2012 12 21, 2:37 pm CST


By St Cheryl on 2012 12 21, 2:47 pm CST

Dire Straits

By Grayghost on 2012 12 21, 2:47 pm CST

Sui generes.

Nice Latin ring to it, and courts use it when they are covering up for just making up a brand new rule and don't have any basis for it.

By MIchael Leech on 2012 12 21, 2:59 pm CST

Not Guilty always makes me smile.

By Mike on 2012 12 21, 3:05 pm CST

I vote for nunc pro tunc. The science fiction of the law. And it's fun to say.

By Estera on 2012 12 21, 3:38 pm CST

I like the writ of "fieri facias", now generally known as a writ of execution (also quite a word). I imagine the sheriff serving the fieri facias as approaching the poor defendant with a burning red face (some flame erupting perhaps?): "You better pay up!"

By Dan on 2012 12 21, 3:50 pm CST

I am partial to incorporeal hereditament.. It rolls off the tongue musically.

By holly on 2012 12 21, 3:56 pm CST

I'm fond of "notwithstanding."

By OneElle on 2012 12 21, 3:59 pm CST

I love a word from my trusts and estates class that just rolls off the tongue: "eleemosynary" - especially when associated with the mythical "fertile octogenarian" my professor always discussed.

By Steve on 2012 12 21, 4:02 pm CST

Writ of Mandamus to compel public officers to perform duties that they are refusing to do. It's one of my favorites because it is necessary in Connecticut where judges and law enforcement are repetitively refusing to correct fraud applied to judicial proceedings by oficers of the courts.

By Phillip Inkel on 2012 12 21, 4:03 pm CST

"per stirpes"

There is no simple English definition. You have to explain both how it's pronounced and what it means. Drawing a picture is helpful.

By Old House Gal on 2012 12 21, 4:05 pm CST

Although not technically a legal term, I enjoy using the word "axiomatic" whenever possible. Also, I've recently learned the word "taradiddle," and I'm anxiously waiting for the perfect brief in which to use it.

By Jeff Helffrich on 2012 12 21, 4:19 pm CST

My favorites are "subjacent lateral support" and "officious intermeddler" .

By beentheredone that on 2012 12 21, 4:21 pm CST

"Res Ipsa Loquitur" is my favorite--the think speaks for itself. It rolls off the tongue, and it's a perfect phrase for what it describes.

By Diana C. Durham on 2012 12 21, 4:23 pm CST

"subjacent lateral support" and "officious intermeddler"

By beentheredonethat on 2012 12 21, 4:24 pm CST

Did you ever drop "mopery" on a gathering of friends ? long time favorite

By Mike Cord on 2012 12 21, 4:26 pm CST

I admire "disingenuous" because it's a classy way to say "liar" ...

By Jim on 2012 12 21, 4:31 pm CST

My favorite legal word is "purloin." It sounds filthy, but it's not.

By Jason Schrier on 2012 12 21, 4:32 pm CST

"Testatrix" has a naughty ring.

By Amanda on 2012 12 21, 4:38 pm CST

Detrimental reliance.

Like the sound of it and the principle itself.

By Game Over on 2012 12 21, 4:44 pm CST

Usufruct or usufructuary.

Definition: The owner of a thing grants to another, the use and enjoyment of that thing. The grant is the usufruct, and the grantee is the usufructuary.

Seems as though someone else from a common law state has mentioned this, but it is definitely a term ubiquitously used in Louisiana Civil Law property and successions (probate).

By Erintherenegade on 2012 12 21, 4:51 pm CST

One phrase and one concept:
1. Sed non allocatur
2. In discussing the concept of religious exemptions, what my trusts professor said was the Christian Scientists view of hell: "it's not hot and I'm not here."

By O. w. Holmes on 2012 12 21, 5:02 pm CST

I love all of these! But no one has mentioned "inapposite". Such a classy way of saying "boneheaded".

By jlwright on 2012 12 21, 5:02 pm CST

Letters rogatory.

By Terry L. Miller on 2012 12 21, 5:32 pm CST

Prior Art (My wife's former boyfriend)

By Old Patent Guy on 2012 12 21, 5:41 pm CST

The question is what is your favorite legal word. The question is not what is your favorite legal phrase. In choosing one word, it is "res." As immortalized in L.A. Confidential by Kevin Spacey, the facts, the thing, will reveal all to the trained observer. Latin is succinct and known for its axiomatic use of epigrams. A favorite epigram might be a challenging, yet different question. Back to L.A. Confidential, Mr. Spacey's uttering "Rollo Tomasi," the demon-man who gets away with the crime, could have been simply "Rollo," and Dudley's downfall would have been just as imminent. One word can capture the universe of overly nuanced, too often neurotic, "reasoning."

By Jeremy M. Miller on 2012 12 21, 5:56 pm CST


By ReaganNYC on 2012 12 21, 6:01 pm CST

"Res ipsa loquitur" - Hands down. Agree with 22's reasoning, plus the seminal case involves a rat in a Coke bottle. And it sounds very cool (I think).

Second would be sui generis - love using that too.

By Calling It Like It Is on 2012 12 21, 6:03 pm CST

"res ipsa loquitur” Hands down. Agree totally with #22. And its seminal case involves a rat in a Coke bottle. Sounds gret too.

Second place is sui generis. Love using it.

By Calling It Like It Is on 2012 12 21, 6:05 pm CST

I've always liked "officious intermeddler". Have you ever met an intermeddler who wasn't officious?

By Benched on 2012 12 21, 6:10 pm CST

Scire Facias - best pronounced "scary faces".

By MrBill on 2012 12 21, 7:05 pm CST

"Forthwith".....President Nixon had to resign after the Supreme Court ordered him to turn over the Oval Office tapes to the Watergate Special Prosecutor "...forthwith....".

By Madtown Bob on 2012 12 21, 7:37 pm CST

Not Guilty

By Evan on 2012 12 21, 7:51 pm CST

My absolute favorite phrase is, "Inclusio unius est exclusio alterius" - the inclusion of one is the exclusion of others. I just love the way it sounds.

My least favorite is "prima facie," because everyone pronounces it differently, and no one pronounces it properly -- or at least as my college Latin professor would have pronounced it.

By The authentic LAB on 2012 12 21, 8:16 pm CST

I've counted about 20 Latin expressions, but nobody has mentioned "noscitur a sociis" -- it is known by its companions, or roughly, You are known by the company you keep.
NB #18 can be sung to the tune of Adeste Fideles, with comic effect.

By Conn Lawyer on 2012 12 21, 8:50 pm CST

nuncupative. Always use a four syllable word where a two syllable word might have served.

By GCP on 2012 12 21, 8:53 pm CST

From patent law:

File Wrapper Estoppel

By NYer on 2012 12 21, 9:54 pm CST

"Hereintofore". I don't think it's even a word, but we have an outside counsel who LOVES to use it.

By in-house on 2012 12 21, 9:57 pm CST

"Lewd & Lascivious" is just so fun to say... and define!

By BUTTERFLawYer on 2012 12 21, 10:20 pm CST

Promissory Estoppel

By Alejandro Cabrera on 2012 12 21, 10:25 pm CST

"false imprisonment" ** when it happens isn't false, it's true imprisonment (under false pretenses, which is redundant terminology !)

** as a (beloved) footnote - this term-of-art cannot get 'smart quotes' because it is a not-so-smart expression which has survived the ages...
Prof P J Gammarano

By Prof P J GAMMARANO on 2012 12 22, 5:53 am CST

Oh, I just had so much fun reading all these comments, and seeing some of these words for the first time in years. Many many LOLs.

As a crim defense appellate lawyer, my substantive favorite is "reversed."

But I otw have to agree with the "nunc pro tunc" proponents: both for its meaning (sci-fi indeed) and its poetic, exotic-language-y sound. And definitely if I were a judge it would be my favorite, as it would make me a wizard!

By Lee on 2012 12 22, 5:59 pm CST

#24 - Please share the limerick. I'll share one back as a reward. But not here.

By Marilou Auer on 2012 12 22, 8:38 pm CST

statutory rape
breach of promise

By jaxshark on 2012 12 23, 4:58 am CST

statutory rape, breach of promise

By jaxshark on 2012 12 23, 5:10 am CST

statutory rape

By joel kauffman on 2012 12 23, 5:12 am CST

I was/am always partial to the phrase "ad hominem," especially when responding to overly emotional opposing briefs...

By Marc Hurd on 2012 12 23, 6:06 pm CST


By Docile Jim Brady - Columbus OH 43209 on 2012 12 24, 5:54 am CST

Illegitimi non carborundum.

By American Patriot on 2012 12 25, 8:09 am CST


If we're just throwing out latin phrases now, I had a professor who always said "Semper ubi sub ubi."

But to answer the question of the week, I'm also a big fan of officious intermeddler.

By OKBankLaw on 2012 12 26, 2:34 pm CST

It's not Latin, but the most ironic term I've encounted is "brief" (especially when I get one thats 60 pages.

By donniem23 on 2012 12 28, 11:14 am CST

Frolic and Detour

By B.F.Edwards on 2012 12 28, 12:20 pm CST

Void abinitio

By Karma on 2012 12 28, 2:16 pm CST

Bottomry. I found it in a form power of attorney I was ordered to use while a Navy lawyer and look for it in such forms regularly. There have been no bottomries since the 19th century, but it often still appears in the powers granted to a person with a power of attorney.

By James on 2012 12 28, 2:56 pm CST

"Crave Oyer." it's still a valid pleading in Virginia. Gives me a Dickensian image of an urchin reaching up to the gentleman on the cold London streets....
But when someone files that motion they seem so pedeantic and prissy. real men don't crave oyer; they just demand to see the contract.
Or maybe because of my fondness for seaside bivalves--I crave oysters.

In flagrante delicto--I picture activity at a grand Victorian house of entertainment for gentlemen. And if it shows up "in FRAGRANTE delicto" we know what delcious fragrance that invokes.

Hint: don't introduce a friend and his wife as "John et ux" unless you wish not to remain on social terms with the couple. Even if you explain "ux" isn't "ox."

By Hadley V. Baxendale on 2012 12 28, 3:13 pm CST

I have always liked and frequently use the double negative, which has a slightly different meaning, i.e., "not unwelcome".

By Douglas Blackstone on 2012 12 28, 3:30 pm CST

On a related note, keep this one handy:


(Whatever is said in Latin, sounds profound.)

By Hadley V. Baxendale on 2012 12 28, 3:49 pm CST

"Quash" is a great word. Having the other side's subpoena "quashed" makes one sound utterly victorious. Although... some of my clients have misquoted it as "squashed." Same amount of satisfaction, apparently.

Estate terms are endearing: "several tail," "tail after possibility," "tail general," "tail male," "tail female," and of course, "tail special." And who can forget "feoffator"?

But I have to agree that the word "PAID" is best of all.

By Goldcoaster on 2012 12 28, 3:57 pm CST

Although not technically a legal word, Judges and attorneys (including me) like to use the word "disabuse." My favorite strictly legal term is "writ of audita querela." This hardly-used remedy can really come in handy. Look it up.

By lawsailor on 2012 12 28, 4:30 pm CST

"Purging the PFIC taint" - It's a tax law term that frequently comes up.

By Taxlawher on 2012 12 28, 5:36 pm CST

I love those Subpoenas Ad Prosequendum. Sounds exotic.

By Red on 2012 12 28, 6:55 pm CST

I've had to explain to my non-lawyer friends what the phrase "sua sponte" means, because I use it in everyday language. "We agreed to go to Olive Garden, but she sua sponte drove me to Taco Bell!"

By Todd on 2012 12 29, 12:22 am CST

I'm impressed that so many great, great words/phrases got suggested! Even picking ten winners, and certainly selecting just one, isn't enough to do them justice.

"Hereditament" (thanks, #52!) is a word that got every student in the required Legal Drafting course in my law school (circa 1980) extra credit, if used correctly in a document writing assignment. Plus, holly spelled it right.

Which brings me to my pet peeve here: folks who can't spell their OWN favorite legal word! I saw "loquitor" and "comingling," and there could be other mistakes that escaped me at skimming speed.
C'mon, folks, really?!?

By Avon on 2012 12 29, 2:10 am CST

Constructive Virgin
For those of you unaware of the tawdry history of rape, it started as a crime against property. For that reason the elements required that the victim be a virgin. The first step in liberalizing the elements was to allow that the victim could be a "constructive virgin" which is a woman who never had sexual relations outside the bonds of marriage. So then it wasn't just your daughter, but your wife as well who could be he victim of the crime. Assuming that the wife fits the definition, of course (and daughter, too). Dura Lex, Sed Lex

By Victoria on 2012 12 30, 2:33 pm CST

I like the sound of certiorari.

By Chuck on 2012 12 31, 3:01 am CST

It's apodictical that every lawyer should eschew obfuscation.

By Gary Pope on 2013 01 02, 5:23 pm CST

How about "fertile octagenerian"?

By NOW JERRY BROWN on 2013 01 02, 10:58 pm CST

For all you seafarers--"letters of marque" (outlawed, by the way, when the Constitution was ratified.)

By NOW JERRY BROWN on 2013 01 02, 11:06 pm CST

Like #53, my favorite is:

My reason is that when lawyers use it, we often add additional text to explain what "notwithstanding" means in the context rather than using a more readily understood word. For example, I rarely see the straightforward language " 'Condition A' notwithstanding 'Condition B' " because most people cannot tell you whether condition A or condition B would prevail if both were true [yes, there is a correct answer]..

By Charles Victor Szasz on 2013 01 03, 12:51 am CST

Fee Simple - because it's nothing like it sounds!
quiet title - because it's exactly like it sounds!
adverse possession - because it SHOULD be more popular!
intestate succession - because you sound brilliant using it!
riparian water rights - because if you actually understand it, you ARE brilliant!
malingering - because there's never a dull case where this word was used!

By WCarter on 2013 01 03, 11:07 am CST

I like "saucy intruder."

By holly on 2013 01 03, 10:31 pm CST

#36 Testatrix is our favorite around here. I had one client giggle as she signed her will saying, "it sounds like something you find on the Internet."

My paralegal tried to amend our forms to leave it off, and while I generally support reducing the legalese in our documents, TESTATRIX had to stay. : )

By WAlawyer on 2013 01 04, 6:43 pm CST

I vote for : "Ius fruendi, utendi el abutendi"

By Oscar Zalckwar on 2013 01 04, 8:08 pm CST

"quid pro quo"

By Seymour Serebnick on 2013 01 08, 6:40 pm CST

Recuse -- Judge Baglady was an old maid; nobody ever recused her.

By Millard Filmore on 2013 01 09, 7:49 pm CST

Motion to Withdraw. hehehe

By KnowLow on 2013 01 16, 10:19 pm CST


By Namina Scolari on 2013 01 22, 11:01 pm CST

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