Law Latin

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Law Latin refers to a form of Latin used in modern legal contexts. It is a type of legal jargon that is used in the United States, as well as in common-law and civil law systems around the world. Law Latin does not exist as a complete language but exists instead as a collection of Latin words and phrases borrowed from classical, medieval, or church Latin. 

Law Latin terms take their meaning from modern jurisprudence and legal precedents, divorced from their original usage in Latin. In other words, the meaning of a Law Latin term may differ significantly from the term’s original meaning in Latin. In the U.S. legal system, many Law Latin terms have developed extremely particular meanings, creating precise definitions and nebulous concepts that can’t be easily expressed in English. 

Examples of phrases in Law Latin commonly used in the United States include: 

  • A priori
  • Ad hoc
  • Affidavit
  • Caveat
  • Contra
  • Habeas corpus
  • Res ipsa loquitor
  • Subpoena

[Last updated in June of 2023 by the Wex Definitions Team]