Poorly translated legalese

I vaguely recall being warned at the beginning of this academic year that learning to read case law and other legal sources would be not unlike learning to read a new language. I understood this to mean that words would be used differently than they are in everyday speech, texts would be more formalistic, sentences constructed differently, and so on. To a certain extent this is true – especially when reading cases that were decided well over a century ago. (Seriously, 19th century judges apparently had a bizarre penchant for run-on sentences – why have five separate sentences for five thoughts when you can just have one incredibly complex sentence?)

I was not, however, warned of the sheer amount of Latin that would be involved. To whoever warned me about readings for law school: Latin is not like reading a different language, it is reading a different language. A language long since dead which, for my own part, I have no interest in properly learning. While learning to navigate expressions in this language I do not speak, I have been building up my own internal Latin dictionary, with the definitions determined solely by the random images and thoughts that spring to mind when I encounter the terms. I thought I would share some with you.

Ultra vires: a contagious disease of apocalyptic proportions. If it should ever occur, by the time the WHO gets around to classifying the new disease, it will already be too late.

Intra vires: a unique form of virus which will spontaneously manifest inside a single human or animal. Incapable of being communicated to others, it will never be a threat to humanity at large. Its sole victim, on the other hand, will wish they had never been born.

Jus cogens: juice which increases the thinking and reasoning capacities of the person who drinks it.

Rebus sic stantibus: a man named Rebus, tired from standing inside of a bus.

Nemo dat quod non habet: the observation that Nemo (from the movie, Finding Nemo) is not a halibut.

Ratio decidendi: the decrease in reasoning capacities that heralds a descent into madness.

Given the fact that I have bothered not only to come up with these alternate translations, but taken the time to write them down and share them, I am arguably suffering from the onset of ratio decidendi myself. Thankfully I now have a long weekend on which to recover.

On that note…

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!


2 thoughts on “Poorly translated legalese

  1. Hm. I think ratio decidendi should be a multiple personality disorder with exactly ten different persona.

  2. Thanks for the morning laugh! I read your newest one as well, best of luck with the new year!

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