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Sunday, June 26, 2016

Latin Legal Terms for Genealogists -- Part Four

Portrait of Desiderius Erasmus by Albrecht Dürer, 1526, engraved in Nuremberg, Germany.
The English language is peppered with words derived from Latin. Because of the invasion of England in 1066 AD, through William the Conqueror and his followers who spoke "Oil" a range of dialects from Northern France, the English language became divided between its Anglo-Saxon roots and the newly added overlay of Latin-derived words and grammatical constructions. Hence we have two sets of words for many common objects. Such as the following:
  • ham/pork
  • kingly/royal
  • brotherly/fraternal
  • bring or bear/carry
  • ghost/phantom
  • smell/odour
  • hue/color
  • hen/poultry
This list could go on and on. This may be of casual interest to genealogists, but more importantly, for more than a thousand years, Latin was the language of the Catholic Church. Ecclesiastical Latin, also know as Liturgical Latin or Church Latin, was used until the Second Vatican Council of 1962 - 1965. Interestingly, Latin is still taught in many public schools in the United States.

As genealogists research their family lines back more than a hundred years or so, it is very likely they will encounter records written with Latin terms. In researching church records in Europe, finding Latin is inevitable. As I have been pointing out in this series of posts, Latin was and is used extensively in legal documents.

I have been reviewing some of the more common Latin terms and adding a bit of commentary where appropriate. Of course, if you encounter an entire text in Latin in the course of your research, you will need a lot more than just a word list. I suggest the online version of Black's Law Dictionary and the books in the following list:

Chambers, Paul. Early Modern Genealogy: Researching Your Family History 1600-1838. Stroud: Sutton, 2006.

Cook, Michael L. Genealogical Dictionary with Alphabetical Nationwide Index Included. Evansville, Indiana: Cook Publication, 1979.

Durie, Bruce. Understanding Documents for Genealogy & Local History. Stroud, Gloucestershire: History Press, 2013.

Gosden, David. Starting to Read Medieval Latin Manuscript: An Introduction for Students of Medieval History and Genealogists Who Wish to Venture into Latin Texts. Lampter, Dyfed: Llanerch, 1993.

Shea, Jonathan D, and William F Hoffman. In Their Words: A Genealogist’s Translation Guide to Polish, German, Latin, and Russian Documents. New Britain, CT: Language & Lineage Press, 2000.

Now back to the word lists.

viz. literally namely
This is an abbreviation for the word "videlicet" and could be used instead of the term "following" that I frequently use.

veto literally "I forbid"
This is good example of a word that has passed entirely into the English language. I would guess that very few people recognize its Latin roots. It has a broad range of meanings today, but is used extensively when referring to a governmental executive's power to prevent the passage of legislation.

uxor literally "wife"
This term is commonly encountered in the context of the captions of lawsuits, deeds and other legal documents where a man's name is followed by the term "et ux." or "and wife." It still appears from time to time when an old document is cited as authority in a lawsuit.

ultra vires literally "beyond the powers"
Rather than falling into disuse, this is one of those terms that have moved into a special niche in the English language. They are still recognized as Latin (foreign) terms but are so commonly used that they have acquired additional meanings in English. An "ultra vires" act is one that exceeds a person's legal power or authority. I found this used in arguments when the attorneys disagreed over the power of the court or judge to decide a particular issue. In most cases, throwing in a Latin term or two was an attempt to appear more erudite and to bolster otherwise weak arguments.

trial de novo literally "trial anew"
There seems to be no movement away from the usage of this term. It is completely entrenched in legal terminology and in fact, is almost always used by the courts instead of the plain "new trial." The reason is that there are several reasons why a trial would be reheld. Not all of the reasons compel that the entire proceeding be repeated, but a trial de novo is a complete rehearing of the entire trial. I have been through this experience where the new trial was decided completely the opposite of the original. Believe me, it is not fun to go back and retry a long trial the second time.

trial literally "trial"
Yes the word "trial" is derived from the Latin word "triallum." This is another example of how pervasive Latin words are in the English language.

supra literally "above"
You could probably guess that this is a Latin term, but if you were taught a formal citation method, you probably did not think of this as a Latin term. It goes along with the other citation word, "ibid." which is an abbreviation for "ibidem" meaning in the same place and used when citing sources that come from the same reference location as the preceding one.

i.e. literally "that is"
If you have read any of my posts over the years, you have probably noted that I use this term frequently to mean "for example" or "in other words." It is a useful term and is used from time to time in legal documents today. The expanded Latin phrase is "id est" and is almost never used.

supersedeas literally "refrain from"
This is a technical term for which there is no English equivalent. It is commonly used in the context of a "supersedeas bond" or a money payment that is made to prevent the execution of a judgment. For example, if a party obtains a formal money judgment from the court, then the opposing party who then owes the money can post a "supersedeas bond" during an appeal to prevent the execution of the judgment until the appeal is decided. The court has the option to stay or prevent the execution of the judgement (collection of the money due) or not and the also has the discretion to set the amount of the bond required to be posted with the court. Arguments over the terms of the supersedeas bond can be quite involved and require a separate hearing.

Well, as you can probably guess, I am not running out of Latin terms. See you next time.

Here are the previous posts in this series.

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