|The JC’s guide to pithy Latin adages
This article comes to you from the Jolly Contrarian’s legal maxim generation service.
An outrage in the eyes of anyone with an affection for plain English, Latinisms are (with flannel) the most obvious device by which the profession puts its language beyond the comprehension of the laiety. Some, in fairness, neatly capture concepts that their English equivalents make a bit of a meal of — like mutatis mutandis. Others are really just buzzwords that young lawyers learn to use to sound competent in front of their elders.
- causa sine qua non
- contra proferentem
- consensus ad idem
- cui bono
- ipso facto
- mutatis mutandis
- pari passu
- prima facie
- quod erat demonstrandum
- ultra vires
- causidicus mediocris
Then there are legal maxims — pithy aphorisms describing fundamental principles of the common law — which their authors inevitably render in Latin, thereby making them sound like they have existed since the dawn of curial civilization, rather than having just been made up on the spot to fudge an awkward precedent.
Of course, anyone can play that game: anyone, that is, lucky enough to know someone with O-Level Latin, who can therefore make up legal maxims to one’s heart’s content. This can be quite fun. Guess which ones are real and which ones aren’t:
- anus matronae parvae malas leges faciunt
- bonum ovum esse
- fatum nos privet etiam parvis victoriis
- nemo dat quod non habet
- nolli mentula esse
- what the eye don’t see the chef gets away with
- Quod non potes videre, non mihi reprehendo