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Student’s Corner: Gotta love that Latin!

By Lisa Selby-Brood

If you start to study Latin, you will learn the words – like any other language — and you’ll learn lots of legal terminology as well. Best of all, you won’t get so thrown by Latin terms. Here are a few goodies, plus some regular English words that I just have to throw in because I think they’re really funny!

Nunc pro tunc. It sounds pretty much just how it looks. I love this one! Kind of rolls right off your tongue. Fun to write, too! Anyway, the Latin is “Now, for then,” and basically it is a judgment or order by a court correcting usually a clerical rather than a judicial error. It applies retroactively to an earlier ruling.

Say for example there’s a divorce. For some unknown reason, the final divorce decree never got filed, so therefore, the divorce is technically not final. This could bring us some huge problems, for instance, if one of the parties decided to remarry.

A nunc pro tunc order would be issued by the court making the divorce final, retroactive to the earlier date.

Res ipsa loquitur. This one pretty much sounds the same as well, but don’t ask me for a brief on this one. I don’t hear it come up much, but I remember this from when I was in school. The Latin means “The thing speaks for itself.” The doctrine of res ipsa loquitur states that the elements of duty of care can sometimes be inferred due to the very nature of an accident, even without direct evidence. An example would be getting hit by a rock that flew off a passing dump truck.

Ipso facto. I like this one, too. Latin for “By the fact itself.” An example would be an alien, ipso facto, has no right to a U.S. passport.

Corpus delicti. All right, class, we all better know that “Corpus” means “body.”

Corpus delicti means “body of crime.” It doesn’t refer to an actual body, as one person I knew made the mistake of saying, “They can’t find him guilty of the murder, because there’s no corpus delicti.” (I loved this person dearly, so I didn’t have the heart to correct her. She was referring to the fact that the body was never found in a murder.)

It refers to the fact that it must be proven that a crime has occurred before a person can actually be convicted of committing same. In other words, corpus delicti would be the body of evidence, so to speak. For example, you can’t charge somebody with larceny if you can’t prove something was taken.

In the case of murder, I’m sure there’s plenty of people sitting on death row right now who got convicted of a murder saying to themselves, “How could they convict me if they didn’t find the body?” Answer: Good circumstantial evidence.

Okay. Enough Latin.

Here are some words that are just plain funny to me! They don’t sound (well, maybe one does) anything like what they look like, and they’re in my dictionary exactly the way they sound.

Segue. (Sounds like SEG-way) It means a smooth transition from one thing to another. This case or this doctrine or this line of questioning or whatever segues into my next point. Something along those lines.

Hyperbole. (Sounds like high-PURbowl-lee) This one has to be my favorite. Hyperbole is a figure of speech, kind of like a simile but not quite. Saying “this thing weighs a ton” when it doesn’t weigh anything near that, or saying “we knew each other about 100 years ago” are examples of hyperbole. This one, believe it or not, is in my dictionary as Hyper-bowl. I’m sorry, I can’t do it any other way.

Bailiwick. (Sounds like BALE-ewick.) My boss loves this one, because she uses it a lot! Originally it referred to an area of jurisdiction of a bailiff. Today it usually means a sphere of authority or expertise. The first time I heard it from her was when I had some question about something going on in the criminal arena and she said, (in an email, of course) “Not my bailiwick. Ask Sandi!”

Students, study language! The more familiar you are with it, the better you will be at your job.

Lisa Selby-Brood, RPR, is a freelance court reporter in Palm Harbor, Fla. She can be reached at and through NCRA’s Virtual Mentors Program.