Monday, February 6, 2006


Redundancy is one of the hallmarks of American legal English.  "On or about" such-and-such a date, the complaint reads.  "Cease and desist," the judge orders.  Many of these redundancies, now committed out of habit, began with an earnest effort to be thorough and avoid problems.  If the judge simply used the  verb "stop" nowadays, surely the parties would know what to do.

Some of the more interesting redundancies in legal English are the result of history.  We write a last "will and testament" because "will" is of Anglo-Saxon origin and "testament" is from the Norman French, reflecting the two languages used in the English courts after 1066.  If you ask the average American lawyer or law student why we have the two words that mean essentially the same thing, "will" and "testament," with a moment's thought probably most will be able to answer.

But why then do we "will, devise, and bequeath?"  Sure, "will" is from the Anglo-Saxon, and "devise" is from the Norman French.  But do you know the origin of "bequeath?"  Apparently it's from the Vikings, whose Norse language crept into legal English as they marauded around Eastern England and sometimes settled there. (spl)

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