Highlighting New Books at the Law Library

Ever wondered where the term “rainmaker” came from? Or the origins of “blackmail”?  A new book in the library collection explains how many of the legal terms that we use everyday developed.

Lawtalk: The Unknown Stories Behind Familiar Legal Expressions
By James E. Clapp, Elizabeth G. Thornburg, Marc Galanter, and Fred R. Shapiro
Law Reference KF156 .L39 2011

For those of you familiar with the rules of evidence, this entry may be of interest:

  • Hearsay: This term originated in a 16th century textbook on French language that included English translations.  In one of the discussions, a cleric attempts to explain the properties of earth, water, air, and fire, but admits that this is not his area of expertise.  He states French words meaning “I know nothing about it except by hearing it said.” This was translated in the book to English as “I know nothing of it but by hear say.”  The phrase “by hear say” gradually began to appear in English writings, eventually as a single word: “hearsay.”

Separate entries in Lawtalk for each legal expression offer interesting and surprising aspects of the word’s evolution.  The authors also address urban myths and common misconceptions, and lightheaded sidebars on many entries offer jokes and comic historical material.

Hat tip to The Faculty Lounge