LAW TERMS FROM THE DEVIL’S DICTIONARY -Introduced by Srinivas Bodduluri Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914) U.S. newspaperman and master of Psychological and supernatural horror, called variously as ‘Bitter’ Bierce, Misanthrope etc., was born into a family of 13 children in Meigs County, Ohio, dropped out of a school in Warsaw, worked for an anti-slavery paper in its printing section, enlisted for the Union army in the civil war, wounded himself in the head, but nevertheless grew to be Lieutenant. He trained himself to be a writer, working in a sub-treasury in San Francisco, contributed for papers and left for England as an editor.
Back in America, he married Mary Allen Day, had two sons, one of whom was lost at 16 in a gun fight over a girl and left Day on reading compromising letters written to her by an admirer. All this nettled him to write stories of passion, terror and tragedy and he began the Devils Dictionary, initially named, the Cynic’s word book, in 1881 and completed it in 1906. Tired of American life, he wished to visit his old civil war battle fields, crossed the border from Texas into Mexico that was in the throes of rebellion and disappeared without traces. Devil’s Dictionary is a glossary of timeless aphorisms of sardonic and cynical wit, a new genre of writing a mixture of the graphic descriptive powers of a newspaperman with the gloom of his own nature. Following are the law terms and Bierce’s satirical definitions for them from the Dictionary. A Abandon: v.t., To confer the advantage of being rid of you. To recant. --, v.t., To correct an erring friend or admonish a needy one. Of women the word abandoned is used in the sense of indiscreet. Abdication, n., The surrender of a crown for a cowl, in order to compile the shin-bones and toe-nails of saints. The voluntary renunciation of that of which one has previously been deprived by force. The giving up of a throne for the purpose of enjoying the discomfiture of a successor. For these several definitions we are indebted to Spanish history. -- n, An act whereby a sovereign attests his sense of the high temperature of the throne. Abduction, n., In law, a crime; in morals, a punishment. --, n., A species of invitation without persuasion, See kidnap. Abet, v.t., To encourage in crime, as to aid poverty with pennies. Abide, v.i., To treat with merited indifference the landlord’s notification that he has let his house to a party willing to pay. Abscond, v.i., To be unexpectedly called away to the beside of a dying relative and miss the return train.
-- v.i., To ‘move in a mysterious way’, commonly with the property of another. Accomplice, n., Your partner in business. --, n., One associated with another in a crime, having guilty knowledge and complicity, as an attorney who defends a criminal, knowing him guilty. This view of the attorney’s position in the matter has not hitherto commanded the assent of attorneys, no one having offered them a fee for assenting. Accuse, v.t., To affirm another’s guilt or unworthy; most commonly as a justification of ourselves for having wronged him. Acquit, v.t., To render judgment in a murder case in San Francisco. Affirm, v.t., To declare with suspicious gravity when one is not compelled to wholly discredit himself with an oath. Alderman, n., an ingenious criminal who covers his secret thieving with a pretence of open marauding. A mensa et thoro (Latin, ‘from bed and board’) A term of the divorce courts, but more properly applied to a man who has been kicked out of his hotel. Amnesty, n., The state’s magnanimity of those offenders whom it would be too expensive to punish. Apologise, v.i., To lay the foundation for a future offence. Appeal, v.t., In law, to put the dice into the box for another throw. Arbitration, n., A patent medicine for allaying international heat, designed to supersede the old-school treatment of blood- letting. It makes the unsuccessful party to the dispute hate two or more nations instead of one-to the unspeakable advantage of peace. Argue, v.t., To attentively consider with the tongue. Arrest, v.t., Formally to detain one accused of unusualness. Arrested, p.p., Caught criming without the money to satisfy the policeman. Attorney, n., A person legally appointed to mismanage one’s affairs which one has not himself the skill to rightly mismanage.
B Bandit, n., A person who takes by force from A what A has taken by guile from B Barrister, n., One of the ten thousand varieties of the genus Lawyer. In England the functions of a barrister are distinct from those of a solicitor. The one advises, the other executes; but the thing advised and the thing executed is the client. Bigamy, n., A mistake in taste for which the wisdom of the future will adjudge. A punishment called trigamy. Bondsman, n., A fool who, having property of his own, undertakes to become responsible for that entrusted by another to a third.
C Cabinet, n., The principal persons charged with the mismanagement of a government, the charge being commonly well founded. Capital, n., The seat of misgovernment. That which provides the fire, the pot, the dinner, the table and the knife and fork for the anarchist; the part of the repast that himself supplies is the disgrace before meat. Capital punishment., A penalty regarding the justice and expediency of which many working persons - including all the assassins entertain grave misgivings. Client, n., A person who has made the customary choice between the two methods of being legally robbed. Common law, n, The will and pleasure of the judge. Conjugal, adj., (Latin con, mutual, and jugum, a yoke.) Relating to a popular kind of penal servitude – the yoking together of two fools by a person. Corporation, n., An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility. Court fool, n., The plaintiff. Creditor, n., A miscreant who would be benefited by resumption. --, n., One of a tribe of savages dwelling beyond the financial straits and dreaded for their desolating incursions.
D Debt, n., An ingenious substitute for the chain and whip of the slave-driver. Debtor, n., A worthy person, in whose interest the national finances should be so managed as to depreciate the national currency. Defendant, n., In law, an obliging person who devotes his time and character to preserving property for his lawyer. Desertion, n., An aversion to fighting, as exhibited by abandoning an army or a wife. Disincorporation, n., A popular method of eluding the agile liability and annexing the coy asset. Divorce, n., A resumption of diplomatic relations and rectification of boundaries. --, n., A bulge blast that separates the combatants and makes them fight at long range.
E Encumbrance, n., That which makes property worthless without affecting its title. Another fellow’s right to the inside of your pie. Estoppel, n., In law, the kind of a stopple with which a man is corked up with his plea inside him. Executioner, n., A person who does what he can to abate the ravages of senility and reduce the chances of being drowned. Executive, n., An officer of the government, whose duty it is to enforce the wishes of the legislative power until such time as the judicial department shall be pleased to pronounce them invalid and of no effect. Exonerate, n., To show that from a series of vices and crimes some particular crime or vice was accidentally omitted.
F Fault, n., One of my offences, as distinguished from one of yours, the latter being crimes.
G Gallows, n., A stage for the performance of miracle plays, in which the leading actor is translated to heaven. In this country the gallows is chiefly remarkable for the number of persons who escape it. H Habeas Corpus n., A writ by which a man may be taken out of jail and asked how he likes it. --, n., A writ by which a man may be taken out of jail when confined for the wrong crime. Hangman, n., An officer who produces suspended animation. --, n., An officer of the law charged with duties of the highest of the highest dignity and utmost gravity, and held in hereditary disesteem by a populace having a criminal ancestry. In some of the American States his functions are now performed by an electrician, as in New Jersey, where executions by electricity have recently been ordered – the first instance known to this lexicographer of anybody questioning the expediency of hanging Jerseymen. Homicide, n., The slaying of one human being by another. There are four kinds of homicide: felonious, excusable, justifiable and praiseworthy, but it makes no great difference to the person slain whether he fell by one kind or another – the classification is for advantage of the lawyers.
I Inadmissible, adj., Not competent to be considered. Said of certain kinds of testimony which juries are supposed to be unfit to be entrusted with, and which judges, therefore, rule out, even of proceedings before themselves alone. Hearsay evidence is inadmissible because the person quoted was unsworn and is not before the court for examination; yet most momentous actions, military, political, commercial and of every other kind, are daily undertaken on hearsay evidence. There is no religion in the world that has any other basis than hearsay evidence. Revelation is hearsay evidence; that the Scriptures are the word of God we have only the testimony of men long dead whose identity is not clearly established and who are not known to have been sworn in any sense. Under the rules of evidence as they now exist in this country, no single assertion in the Bible has in its support any evidence admissible in a court of law. It cannot be proved tat the battle of Blenheim ever was fought, that there was such a person as Julius Caesar, such an empire as Assyria. But as records of courts of justice are admissible, it can easily be proved that powerful and malevolent magicians once existed and were a scourge to mankind. The evidence (including confession) upon which certain women were convicted of witchcraft and executed was without a flaw; it is still unimpeachable. The judge’s decisions based on it were sound in logic and in law. Nothing in any existing court was ever more thoroughly proved than the charges of witchcraft and sorcery for which so many suffered death. If there were no witches, human testimony and human reason are alike destitute of value. Incorporation, n., The act of uniting several persons into one fiction called a corporation, in order that they may be no longer responsible for their actions. A, B and C are a corporation. A robs, B steals and C (it is necessary that there be one gentleman in the concern) cheats. It is a plundering, thieving, swindling corporation. But A, B and C, who have jointly determined and severally executed every crime of the corporation, are blameless. It is wrong to mention them by name when censuring their acts as a corporation, but right when praising. Incorporation is somewhat like the ring of Gyges: it bestows the blessing of invisibility – comfortable to knaves. The scoundrel who invented incorporation is dead- he has disincorporated. In forma pauperis (Latin) In the character of a poor person – a method by which a litigant without money for lawyers is considerately permitted to lose his case. Injustice, n., A burden which of all those that we load upon others and carry ourselves is lightest in the hands and heaviest upon the back. Innocence, n., The state or condition of a criminal whose counsel has fixed the jury. Inquisition, n., An ecclesiastical court for the discouragement of error by mitigating the prevalence and ameliorating the comfort of the erring. Insolvent, Adj., Destitute of property to pay just debts. Destitution of the will to pay them is not insolvency; it is commercial sagacity.
J Judge, n., A person who is always interfering in disputes in which he has no personal interest. An official whose functions, as a great legal luminary recently informed a body of local law-students, very closely resemble those of God. Jurisprudence, n., The kind of prudence that keeps one inside the law. Jury, n., A number of persons appointed by a court to assist the attorneys in preventing law from degenerating into justice. Justice, n., A commodity which is a more or less adulterated condition the State sells to the citizen as a reward for his allegiance, taxes and personal service. L Labour, n., One of the processes by which A acquires property for B. Lawful, adj., Compatible with the will of a judge having jurisdiction.
Lawyer, n., One skilled in circumvention of the law. Legislator, n., A person who goes to the capital of his country to increase his own; one who makes laws and money. Liar, n., An attorney with a roving profession. A journalist of any occupation, trade or calling. See Breacher. Liberty, n., One of imagination’s most precious possessions. Litigant, n., A person about to give up his skin for the hope of retaining his bones. Litigation, n., A machine which you go into as a pig and come out of as a sausage.
M Mace, n., A staff of office signifying authority. Its form that of a heavy club, indicates its original purpose and use in dissuading from dissent. Magistrate, n., A judicial officer of limited jurisdiction and unbounded incapacity. Misdemeanour, n., An infraction of the law having less dignity than a felony and constituting no claim to admittance into the best criminal society. O Oath, n., In law, a solemn appeal to the Deity, made binding upon the conscience by a penalty for perjury. P Pardon, v., To remit a penalty and restore to a life of crime. To add to the lure of crime the temptation of ingratitude. Penitent, Adj., Undergoing or awaiting punishment. Pettifogger, n., A competing or opposing lawyer Precedent, n., In Law, a previous decision, rule or practice which, in the absence of a definite statute, has whatever force and authority a judge may chose to give it, thereby greatly simplifying his task of doing as he pleases. As there are precedents for everything, he has only to ignore those that make against his interest and accentuate those in the line of his desire. Invention of the precedent elevates the trial-at-law from the low estate of a fortuitous ordeal to the noble attitude of a dirigible arbitrament.
Prison, n., A third-class boarding house for temporary lunatics, whose friends can’t afford to get them into a high-toned establishment. Punishment, n., A weapon which justice has almost forgotten how to use. R Redress, n., Reparation without satisfaction. Among the Anglo-Saxons a subject conceiving himself wronged by the king was permitted, on proving his injury, to beat a brazen image of the royal offender with a switch that was afterward applied to his own naked back. The latter rite was performed by the public hangman, and it assured moderation in the plaintiff’s choice of a switch. Referendum, n., A law for submission of proposed legislation to a popular vote to learn the nonsensus of public opinion. Respite, n., A suspension of hostilities against a sentenced assassin, to enable the Executive to determine whether the murder may not have been done by the prosecuting attorney. Any break in the continuity of a disagreeable expectation. S
Sheriff, n., In America the chief executive officer of a country, whose most characteristic duties, in some of the Western and Southern States, are the catching and hanging of rogues. T Trial, n., A formal inquiry designed to prove and put upon record the blameless characters of judges, advocates and jurors. In order to effect this purpose it is necessary to supply a contrast in the person of one who is called the defendant, the prisoner, or the accused. If the contrast is made sufficiently clear this person is made to undergo such an affliction as will give the virtuous gentlemen a comfortable sense of their immunity, added to that of their worth. In our day the accused is usually a human being, or a socialist, but in mediaeval tunes, animals, fishes, reptiles and insects were brought to trial. A beast that had taken human life, or practiced sorcery, was duly arrested, tried and, if condemned, put to death by the public executioner. Insects ravaging grain fields, orchards or vineyards were cited to appeal by counsel before a civil tribunal, and after testimony, argument and condemnation, if they continued in contumaciam the matter was taken to a high ecclesiastical court, where they were solemnly excommunicated and anathematized. In a street of Toledo, some pigs that had wickedly run between the viceroy’s legs, upsetting him, were arrested on a warrant, tried and punished. In Naples an ass was condemned to be burned at the stake, but the sentence appears not to have been executed. D’Addosio relates from the court records many trials of pigs, bulls, horses, cocks, dogs, goats, etc., greatly, it is believed, to the betterment of their conduct and morals. In 1451 a suit was brought against the leeches infesting some ponds about Berne, and the Bishop of Lausanne, instructed by the faculty of Heidelberg University, directed that some of ‘the aquatic worms’ be brought before the local magistracy. This was done and the leeches, both present and absent, were ordered to leave the places that they had infested within three days on pain of incurring ‘the malediction of God’. In the voluminous records of this cause celebre nothing is found to show whether the offenders braved the punishment, or departed forthwith out of that inhospitable jurisdiction.
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