“Legalese & Fried Rice” by Abena A. Asomaning.

Imagine a meal of fried rice prepared without soy sauce. It’s not a big deal but it is. Yes it’s fried rice; rice fried in oil with eggs and vegetables, but you might as well call it a rice and vegetable mix because without the soy sauce, it is definitely not the unique Chinese dish called “fried rice” that so many are willing to pay for.

Legal language and Latin terminology have for long been mixed up in a meal rather savoury for some but a little difficult to swallow for others. These others being mostly  fresh students of the law and legal practitioners who have an excessive preference for candour and brevity in their practice of the law.

For the former, getting used to words and phrases like absque hoc, actori incumbit probatio and more complex Latin terminology used generously in legal materials can be a little tough and alternatively studies exclusive of the unfamiliar vocabulary would be more desirable. For the latter, however, the contention is; why bother using Latin terms when plain old English can be perfectly used to convey the same concepts. Besides, gone are the days when Latin was the language of the elite, when the usage of Latin vocabulary and concepts were exhibitions of high intellectualism. Why then will the law not move on from this outmoded culture of Latin-worship?

Here lies the simple answer. Let’s take our colleagues in the medical field for example and let’s admit that some of the awe if any, we may feel towards their profession is partly due to all the scientific gibberish they so effortlessly grasp and rattle, that we simply cannot with similar ease. Let’s admit that when we visit the doctor and are told we have acute viral rhinopharyngitis, instead of simply,a cold, we are more confident of the doctor’s expertise, though we may be thinking, “Why not go right ahead and tell me I have a cold?” And let’s admit that we are often willing to pay more for a drug that reads 2-Acetoxybenzoic acid and much less for one that simply says aspirin. Let’s admit that the excitement we feel watching Sheldon and his gang of nerds on the Big Bang Theory is partially because we are simply impressed by all the science talk. It’s partly the reason why the television series has ranked as the highest-rated sitcom since 2014.

Thus it can quite safely be said that complex professional jargon used in the right circumstances can increase credibility and sell for a higher price.

So despite, some may say, the frivolity of maintaining Latin terminology in legal language, the fact is it really does improve the credibility of the legal practitioner and is a means by which he may wow clients into paying more. Or maybe, it just adds a touch of exclusivity to the legal profession and distinguishes it from other professions.

Whichever way one looks at it, it is not without good reason that the law is having difficulty breaking free of Latin-worship, because like fried rice prepared without soy sauce, so is legal language without Latin to give it some colour.