Legal History

A Book for Those Who Wonder About the Origins of Legal Words Like 'White-Shoe' and 'Boilerplate'


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Image from Yale University Press

If you have ever wondered about the origins of legal-related terms and phrases, a new book may have an answer.

Lawtalk: The Unknown Stories Behind Familiar Legal Expressions is available at Amazon.com. Legal Blog Watch checked out the book after seeing a post at The Faculty Lounge.

Lawtalk answers these questions:

• Who originated the term “affirmative action”? (A Houston businessman chose the phrase when he drafted an executive order for President Kennedy. He liked the alliteration.)

• Why do publications refer to “white-shoe” law firms? (White buckskin shoes were popular at Ivy League schools in the 1950s and worn by cricket players in the 1880s. They connote “gentlemanly pursuits.”)

• Why do we use the term “boilerplate”? (It originally referred standard-sized plates made into steam boilers and later used in all kinds of metal construction. Later, news organizations used prewritten items supplied on metal plates also referred to as boiler plates.)

The book’s authors are legal dictionary author James Clapp, SMU Dedman School of Law professor Elizabeth Thornburg, University of Wisconsin law professor Marc Galanter, and Yale associate law librarian Fred Shapiro.

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