Queen’s English – Historically Speaking

Lawyers are often criticized for redundantly repeating themselves.  (That last sentence is an illustration.)  Some of these repetitive word formulas are deeply engrained in the law; and although they may be of no value now, they did serve a historical purpose.  As examples, if you look at your will, chances are good that it will be actually titled as your “Will and Testament.”  Meanwhile, if you buy real estate, your deed will convey the property “free and clear”, which is good because the deed is likely to say that the purchase price is “had and received” by the Seller.

These particular phrases (and there are many more like them) are viewed by historians as (like so much of our English-based law) a consequence of the Norman Conquest and the melding of the older Anglo-Saxon law with the “newer” law introduced by the Norman French.  To return to our examples:  “will,” “free” and “had” are all words with Old English/Anglo-Saxon histories; their redundant counterparts “testament”, “clear” and “received” are all words with Old French/Latin roots.

If your response is “so what – they’re still redundant”, well we might agree reluctantly, but the redundancy did serve a purpose once-upon-a-time in the 12th century.

One way or another, you can be sure that each of these duplications relates to a landmark decision at sometime during the past 800 years, and old habits die hard.

— Ken Butera


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