Res Ipsa Loquitur? (actually no it doesn’t) – AKA Latin and the Law

I did my law training in 2000, around the time of the ‘Woolf Reforms’. I recall being relieved to learn that part of these reforms involved the abolition of latin in the law, which was helpful since I didn’t know any, being an interloper and all. Ever since then I have considered it a point of principle never to learn any latin unless absolutely necessary – thereby proving to the posh kids that their expensive education was wasted.

But in truth, over 20 years later, we do still use latin, albeit fortunately not that often. And there are a few terms that have become so normalised in the law that we maybe even forget they are latin and that non-lawyers might not have a scooby what they mean (pro bono being the best example – giving an organisation providing free legal representation to non-lawyers a latin name was rightly recognised as less than optimal signposting a few years ago when the excellent Bar Pro Bono Unit renamed itself Advocate). And I still don’t have a clue what most of them mean…

Recently, I’ve seen a few things that have reminded me of the prevalence of latin… This thread on twitter set me off…

This is a US video – its kind of amusing, and I was interested to see that whilst there are a few familiar terms, there are also quite a few that I have never heard of before! Actually, most of these aren’t latin, but the same difficulties with impenetrable technical language arise.


Anyway, I thought I’d give you a run down of some key latin terms used in the law* and what they probably** mean. A sort of (entirely unreliable and made up) urban dictionary of legal latin…

Inter alia – what goes on tour stays on tour

Res ipsa loquitor – I lost my keys

Pro bono – your argument was the dogs b***ks

Pro se – professional speaker

Mar a lago – I deny everything and plead the fifth

Ad idem – by my calculation…

Bona fide – good dog

Certiorari – absolutely sure, your honour

A posteriori – talking out of one’s backside

Voire dire – baggsie my turn to speak now

Mutandis mutandi – Another X Men sequel (likely to bomb)

Prima facie – one sided

Mutandi facie – your lips are moving but you seem to be on mute

Habeus Corpus – there is a body in my basement

Forum non conveniens – can we have a remote hearing please? I will have to get a very early train in order to make it to Haverfordwest by 9am.

A fortiori – an Englishman’s home is his castle

Stare decisis – when the judge’s decision is conveyed merely through his facial expression

In camera – case involving a celebrity (B list or above)

Espresso – hurry up, time for a caffeine break

Ex parte – the morning after

Quantum meruit – the number of followers a celebrity litigant has on twitter

void ab initio – get in the bin

Decree nisi – the order I wanted

Ultra Vires – covid secure courtroom

Expeliamus – you lose!

(Writ of) fieri facias – the red face of the losing party post-judgment

Mens Rea – objectification, Milud!

Decree absolute – she got everything, even the house

Caveat emptor – Avengers baddie

Ratio – probability of winning your case (see Thanos)

Thanos ratio –  50% chance of complete annihilation at trial

Ejusdem Generis – Just give me everything I ask for oh kind judge.

Per incuriam – this judgment is so long lost the will to live

Doli incapax – childrens’ toys not permitted

Mandamus –  applicable to persons of both sexes

Amicus Curiae – nosey parker

Obiter – saviour of Leia

Dicta – grateful idiot

Tardisi regretix – I would like to rewind and make that submission again, please

Darth Vader – the presumption of legitimacy

Yes, it’s a bank holiday weekend. Yes, I’m not sure what to do with myself when I’m not working. Yes this is a banal and pointless post. I need to get out more… I promise to write something useful next time.
For anyone who actually wants to know what all these things really mean – this wikipedia page is quite useful.
*not necessarily actual latin….**
**not necessarily their actual meanings…

4 thoughts on “Res Ipsa Loquitur? (actually no it doesn’t) – AKA Latin and the Law

  1. You are right (prima facie). Do away with Latin. Bring back Norman French – whoever he was.

    As for res ipsa loquitur, the thing speaks for itself, it’s a disgrace. Things shouldn’t speak for themselves. They should pay lawyers to speak for them.

  2. A P Herbert’s hilarious book Uncommon Law, which I used to have, had an excellent chapter about the confusion caused when a young barrister pronounced Latin phrases as he’d been taught at school, when addressing judges who’d been taught different pronunciations during their own school days. E.g. decree “knee-see” versus decree “nigh-sigh”.

  3. William Millard

    Status quo..

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