Why the Legal Profession Needs More Latin

It’s taken me awhile, but I’ve finally focused in on the primary difference between lawyers and other professionals (especially doctors and scientists).  We don’t use enough Latin!

When science needs to describe a particular idea, it invents a completely new word to do so.  Often, it will borrow parts of words from fancy languages like Latin and Greek to come up with a word that may be difficult to spell, impossible to pronounce without coaching, but in the end is a unique combination of phonemes that has one very particular meaning, subject to no confusion.  Go look up esophagogastroduodenoscopy if you have any doubts.

When law, on the other hand, needs to describe a particular idea, it borrows some innocent, unassuming word in common parlance, a word that is completely unaware of the torture it is about to go through.  “Gift” for example, means completely different things depending on whether it’s in the scope of gift tax or income tax.  “Malice,” as far as libel goes, has nothing to do with what your ordinary English speaker would understand as its meaning.  And then there is that bane of first-year torts, “cause.”

Where law does use Latin, there is often less confusion because the terms are more specialized.  Res ipsa loquitur has a very particularized meaning.  (I have always been a little confused as to how an opinion “by the court” (per curiam) could have a dissent, though.)  Thus, my suggestion for cleaning up the legal profession would be to make up more words!  It will result in less confusion outside the profession while still requiring our specialized skills. 

I’m sure our Dean would have some great Latin suggestions.

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