Mutatis mutandis

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The JC’s guide to pithy Latin adages


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Mutatis mutandis /m(j)uːˌtɑːtɪs muːˈtandɪs/ (adv.)
A genuinely tolerable Latinism, that succinctly captures a concept with which English struggles. My secret Latin advisor tells me it means “with the things having been changed that need to be changed”. When you are applying a concept from one agreement into another by reference there remains that abject and unutterable fear that, rather like moving a train carriage to tracks of a different gauge, somehow it might not quite work. Throwing in a mutatis mutandis is a legal eagle’s Rosetta stone, and operates like so: “as amended so the provision makes sense in the context in which you’ve just applied it”.

My secret Latin advisor also tells me it is an ablative absolute phrase. “Mutatis” is a past participle and “mutandis” is a gerundive. Don’t you just love it when he talks dirty?

For example, say Bob and Joan have an agreement where a certain Event of Default applies to Bob only.

It will be an Event of Default if Bob forgets to bring his lunch to school one day.”

And let’s say, for some reason (just go with me here) that Bob and Joan want the same event to apply to Joan in one circumstance only. But only if Joan forgets to bring in her lunch (not Bob’s). If you’re the kind of soul — and legal eagles tend to be — who thinks that isn’t so face-slappingly obvious you don’t need to say it, a cheeky mutatis mutandis can help.

In circumstance X, the Event of Default will apply to Joan, mutatis mutandis.

As ugly as this seems, it is better than “In circumstance X, the Event of Default will apply to Joan, as amended so the provision applies to Joan and her lunch, and not Bob and his lunch.

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