Putting the Lex in Lexicography

lex. Latin for “law.”

lexicography. The making of dictionaries.

Articles about legal dictionaries and definitions

The Language of Lawyers, From “Jingle Mail” to “Benchslap”

Most Notable Legal Phrases of 2014

Most Notable Legal Phrases of 2015

Most Notable Legal Phrases of 2016

Most Notable Legal Phrases of 2017

Chutzpah as a Legal Word

“Reasonably Reasonable” and Other Head-Spinners

Legal Housekeeping

Legal quotations about dictionaries





The following terms are not in the 10th edition of Black’s Law Dictionary, published in 2014. This is not a criticism. No dictionary is complete. Some of these terms were widely used too late for the 10th edition. And some terms may be among the 2,500 that the editor has said are awaiting review for the next edition.

Are these entries neologisms, that is, new words? Some of them, yes, depending on how long a new word stays new. But most of them, no; they just haven’t made a legal dictionary yet, or not Black’s Law Dictionary. (Black’s, of course, is not the only legal dictionary. But it is the most prominent and probably the most authoritative. And I admire it.)

Send me your legal terms that are not in Black’s, whether neologisms or not. Please send sources for the legal term, as well. If you’ve invented a term, please tell me if you’ve published it, in print or on-line. If you have any claim on or interest in what you send me, you waive it by sending it to me. I’ll credit you when appropriate.

– Ken Bresler

© 2014


abatement ab initio. noun. Common-law rule that the death of a criminal defendant whose conviction is on appeal voids the conviction. E.g., U.S. v. Oberlin, 718 F.2d 894 (9th Cir. 1983).

ag gag law, ag-gag law. noun. Statute criminalizing the filming of treatment of farm animals, such as by animal-rights activists. [Ag[ricultural] gag]

amatory tort. Noun. Tort alleging criminal conversation (suing a third party for adultery), alienation of affection (suing a third party for marital desertion), breach of promise to marry (suing a sexual partner for engaging in behavior that the plaintiff would not have engaged in without an expectation or promise of marriage), and seduction (suing a woman’s sexual partner, sometimes by her father for premarital sex or unwed motherhood). Abolished in most states through heartbalm statutes, but survive in six states.

Amazon law. noun. State law requiring internet retailers to collect sales tax even if they have no in-state physical presence.

B corp, B corporation. See benefit corporation.

benefit corporation. noun. A for-profit corporation, authorized by a majority of American states, with goals, in addition to profiting its shareholders, of benefiting workers, society, the community, and the environment. Also called “B corp,” “B corporation,” and “public benefit corporation (PBC).” (Not the same as “B Corp certification,” “B Lab certification,” or “B Corporation certification,” which is a private certification that B Lab, an international non-profit, issues to for-profit corporations.)

biosimilar. noun. A biologic product that is “highly similar” to one that the Food and Drug Administration has already approved. Sandoz, Inc. v. Amgen, Inc., 137 S. Ct. 1664, 1679 (2017).

cat’s paw theory, cat’s paw liability, cat’s-paw liability. noun. Employer liability for “the acts of a biased subordinate, even if that subordinate is not the formal decisionmaker,” Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. BCI Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Los Angeles, 450 F.3d 476, 482 (10th Cir. 2006), such as when a biased subordinate influences an unbiased supervisor. Arendale v. City of Memphis, 519 F. 3d 587, 604 n.13 (6th Circuit 2008). “The term ‘cat’s paw’ derives from a fable conceived by Aesop…and injected into United States employment discrimination law by [Seventh Circuit Justice Richard] Posner in 1990. See Shager v. Upjohn Co., 913 F.2d 398, 405 (CA7). In the fable, a monkey induces a cat by flattery to extract roasting chestnuts from the fire. After the cat has done so, burning its paws in the process, the monkey makes off with the chestnuts and leaves the cat with nothing.” Staub v. Proctor Hospital, 131 S. Ct. 1186, 1190 n.1 (2011).Sometimes called, related to, and see also “rubber stamp theory,” “rubber stamp liability,” and “rubber-stamp liability.”

CFPB. abbreviation. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

chutzpah. noun. Audacity, especially when an argument or position is advanced hypocritically, with unintentional irony, or with unclean hands. See e.g., Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett, 131 S. Ct. 2806, 2820 n.6 (2011), id. at 2835 (Kagan, J., dissenting), and 87 Ky. L.J. 417 (1999).

cisgender. noun. A person whose sexual identity corresponds with the legal sex he or she was assigned at birth. adjective. Pertaining to a cisgender. See e.g.Norsworthy v. Beard, 74 F. Supp. 3d 1100, 1116 (N.D. Cal. 2014).

cryptocurrency. noun. A form of digital currency (non-physical currency that can only be transmitted electronically) using encryption to control its creation and to verify and secure transactions, not created by a central bank.

Congressional Emolument(s) Clause. noun. U.S. Const., art. I, § 6, cl. 2, sometimes called the Emolument(s) Clause, which bars a U.S. senator or representative from voting to increase the salary for a federal office and then filling it. Also called the Ineligibility Clause, Incompatibility Clause, or Sinecure Clause.

CORI. verb. To check a person in the Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) database. Example: “The prospective employee was CORI’d.”

DACA. See Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

dark money. noun. Money, spent to influence an election, whose donors are undisclosed, such as money spent by certain nonprofit groups that can receive unlimited donations from corporations, unions, and individuals without identifying them.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). noun. Policy announced by the Department of Homeland Security in 2012, and phased out by the Trump Administration in 2017, not to deport certain undocumented aliens who were brought to the U.S. as children, and to grant them access to various benefits, including work authorization and drivers’ licenses. DACA recipients are often imprecisely called “Dreamers.” See Dreamer.

designated lender counsel. noun. The law firm that private equity firms require banks to use when lending for a leveraged buyout or other acquisition. The requirement is controversial as a potential conflict of interest for the law firm or diminution of legal protection for the bank.

dictumizer. noun. Creator or purveyor of dicta; person who reads too much into a dictum. Justice Antonin Scalia used this word in his concurrence to Schuette v. BAMN, 134 S.Ct. 1623, 1645  (2014), but was not the first to use it; it appears in a 2011 self-published ebook castigating President Barack Obama.

DMCA. verb. Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), for a copyright owner to send a takedown notice to an Internet Service Provider, demanding it remove Internet content allegedly infringing a copyright. See 17 U.S.C. § 512(c)(1)(C).

Domestic Emolument(s) Clause. noun. U.S. Const., art. II, § 1, cl. 7, sometimes called the Emolument(s) Clause or the Presidential Compensation Clause. Among other things, it bars the president from receiving compensation other than salary from the federal or a state government.

d order. noun. Court order for information from an Internet service provider, telephone company, or other communications provider under 18 U.S.C. §2703(d), the Stored Communications Act (SCA), which in turn is part of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA).

diversity rider. noun. Contract provision for a film performer, usually a star, requiring that cast and people in offscreen positions include a certain number or percentage of women, people of color, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender people.

Dreamer. noun. Alien minor who could receive conditional and then permanent residency under legislation first proposed in 2001, but not passed, called the DREAM Act, for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act. Often used imprecisely as a synonym for a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). However, the DREAM Act’s provisions overlap with, but do not coincide with DACA, and the DREAM Act has not passed.

Emolument(s) Clause. noun. Reference to one of three possible provisions in the U.S. Constitution. 1. U.S. Const., art. I, § 9, cl. 8, sometimes called the Foreign Emoluments Clause, which bars the president from accepting compensation from a foreign official or government. 2. U.S. Const., art. II, § 1, cl. 7, sometimes called the Domestic Emolument(s) Clause or the Presidential Compensation Clause, which, among other things, bars the president from receiving compensation, other than salary, from the federal or a state government. 3. U.S. Const., art. I, § 6, cl. 2, sometimes called the Congressional Emolument(s) Clause, which bars a U.S. senator or representative from voting to increase the salary for a federal office and then filling it. Also called the Ineligibility Clause, Incompatibility Clause, or Sinecure Clause.

Federal Housekeeping Statute. See Housekeeping Statute.

FOIA. verb. To use the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA); to file an FOIA request. Example: “She FOIA’d the policy manual.”

FOIA’d. adjective. Pertaining to documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Example: “The FOIA’d voice mails reveal that….” verb. Past tense of verb “to FOIA.”

ghost gun. noun. Firearm without a serial number that a person has made individually from parts, allowing the owner to bypass a background check and registration requirements, and making the firearm untraceable.

Global Magnitsky Act. See Magnitsky Act.

go lawyer on. verb. To act or speak legalistically or adopt such a position or attitude excessively or in a nonlegal situation, whether or not the actor is a lawyer. Example: “She went lawyer on him.” See go prosecutor on.

go prosecutor on. verb. To act or speak prosecutorially or accusatorially or adopt such a position or attitude excessively or in a noncriminal situation, whether or not the actor is a prosecutor. Example: “Don’t go prosecutor on me.” See go lawyer on.

housekeeping. adjective. Pertaining to administrative, logistical, or minor procedural rules or acts to tidy up matters or keep them tidy, such as language,which are not substantive, adjudicative, or intended to affect or grant rights.

Housekeeping Statute. noun. 5 U. S. C. § 301. Also called “Federal Housekeeping Statute.”

inversion. noun. Tax-reducing transaction in which a U.S. company buys a company in a foreign country with lower taxes, and moves its domicile there, but typically leaves its operations and management in the U.S. Called an inversion because the foreign company is typically smaller, around 25% of the U.S. company’s size. A super-inversion is a U.S. company’s purchase of a foreign company that is more than 40% of its size. U.S. Treasury rules restrict the tax benefits of inversions but not super-inversions.

lawfare. noun. Abuse of law for political or military ends, often in international and human rights forums. [law + [war]fare]

law-firm verein. See verein.

limitrophe. adjective. Pertaining to a border, boundary, or buffer zone, as in “limitrophe area.” Used in Hernandez v. Mesa,137 S.Ct. 2003, 2009, 2010 (2017)(Breyer, J., dissenting) and treaties to describe a culvert between the U.S. and Mexico through which the international border runs.

Logan Act. noun. Federal statute making it a felony for a U.S. citizen to, without authority, communicate or interact with a foreign government with intent to influence that government’s conduct in a dispute or controversy with the U.S. or to defeat a U.S. measure. 18 U.S.C. § 953. Named after Dr. George Logan, a Pennsylvania state legislator who in 1798 negotiated with France as a private citizen during naval hostilities between that country and the U.S.

Magnitsky Act. noun. 1. Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, also called Global Magnitsky Act (GMA), passed in 2016, which authorizes financial sanctions and visa restrictions against foreign persons (individuals and entities) who have violated human rights and acted corruptly. Pub. L. 114-328, Subtitle F. Named for Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who died in a Moscow prison in 2009 after exposing a tax scam involving Russian officials. 2. Less frequently, a predecessor statute, Russia and Moldova Jackson-Vanik Repeal and Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012, passed in 2012, which sought to punish Russian officials blamed for Magnitsky’s death, by barring them from the U.S. and its banking system. Pub. L. No. 112-208, 126 Stat. 1496.

NDA. abbreviation. Nondisclosure agreement.

net neutrality. noun. Principle that broadband providers must treat all internet traffic the same regardless of the source of the traffic.

non-binary, nonbinary. adjective. Pertaining to a person who is neither male nor female.

parent coordinator, parental coordinator, parenting coordinator. noun. Neutral third parties who serve separated or divorced parents in resolving conflicts, such as implementing custody and visitation. Depending on circumstances and jurisdiction, a coordinator’s function may be to mediate, arbitrate, serve as a master, gather facts for or make recommendations to a court, or a combination of functions. See Bower v. Bournay-Bower, 469 Mass. 690, 691 n.1 (2014).

PC. verb. To place in protective custody.

perp walk. noun. Practice of law enforcement officials to display a handcuffed arrestee or alleged perpetrator by walking him past photojournalists during his transfer from a vehicle or building, such as a courthouse or police station, to another location. A staged perp walk does not involve a transfer, but is performed at the request of photojournalists, often by bringing an arrestee outside a police station. An executive perp walk involves a white-collar arrestee.

Presidential Compensation Clause. noun. U.S. Const., art. II, § 1, cl. 7, sometimes called the Domestic Emolument(s) Clause, which, among other things, bars the president from receiving compensation other than salary from the federal or a state government.

public benefit corporation. See benefit corporation.

rehoming, re-homing. noun. Practice in which parent(s) transfer an adopted child, no longer wanted, to another home, often with a simple power-of-attorney letter or a notarized statement.

revenge porn statute or law. noun. Statute providing criminal and/or civil penalties against a person for posting online images of a former spouse or lover who is nude, partially nude, and/or engaged in sex and who has not given permission for the online posting.

right to try, right-to-try law, statute, bill. noun. Statute in several states, contravening federal law, allowing fatally ill people to try medications not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

rubber stamp theory, rubber stamp liability, rubber-stamp liability. noun. Employer liability arising when a decisionmaker perfunctorily approves a biased subordinate’s explicit recommendation for an employment action. Employment Opportunity Commission v. BCI Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Los Angeles, 450 F.3d 476, 484 (10th Cir. 2006). Sometimes called, related to, and see also “cat’s paw theory,” “cat’s paw liability,” and “cat’s-paw liability.”

sanctuary city, sanctuary jurisdiction. noun. City or jurisdiction whose officials provide sanctuary to refugees, undocumented immigrants, and other non-citizens by hindering or not complying fully with federal immigration laws. Defined more narrowly by Executive Order 13768 (Jan. 25, 2017) § 9 as a “jurisdiction[] that willfully refuse[s] to comply with 8 U.S.C. 1373,” which governs communications between federal immigration officials and state and local officials.

Scaliaesque, Scalia-esque. adjective. Pertaining to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia; his sharp and witty style of speaking, questioning, or writing; forceful and colorful legal writing; or originalist constitutional theory.

sexsomnia. noun. Sleep disorder in which a person can engage in sex while sleeping, sometimes offered as a defense to sex crimes. [sex + [in]somnia]

sextortion. noun. Blackmailing a person into engaging in sexual activity, often by threatening to post on-line nude or pornographic images or videos of a person unless he or she provides more such images or videos. The sextortionist often obtains the original images or videos by hacking into a victim’s computer or webcam. Not a crime in any U.S. jurisdiction as of this writing (May 2016). [sex + extortion]

slut shaming, slut-shaming. verb, noun.1. To gratuitously attack a party or witness for alleged sexual conduct or promiscuity, or publicize it during legal proceedings, to gain a strategic advantage, such as discouraging the party or witness from proceeding, or to punish him or her for proceeding. 2. noun. A form of defamation alleging sexual promiscuity.

spoofing. verb, noun. Financial manipulation in which a participant places an offer, order, or bid in a financial market without intending its completion, induces the market to rise, cancels the offer, order, or bid, and profits from the rise, such as from an order on the opposite side of the market. Illegalized by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, specifically 7 U.S.C. §6c(a)(5)(A). (Not the same “spoofing” context as in Black’s Law Dictionary.)

stealthing. verb, noun. A man’s removal of a condom during sexual intercourse without his partner’s consent. See “‘Rape-Adjacent’: Imagining Legal Responses to Nonconsensual Condom Removal,” 32.2 Colum. J. Gender & Law 183 (2017).

super inversion, super-inversion, superinversion. See inversion.

stash-house sting. noun. Controversial sting involving a confidential informant who recruits confederates to raid a stash or shipment of illegal drugs, when no such stash or shipment exists, whereupon the confederates are arrested for drugs, weapons, and/or conspiracy.

take down notice, takedown notice, take-down notice. noun. Notice by a copyright owner to an Internet Service Provider, demanding it remove (take down) Internet content allegedly infringing a copyright. See 17 U.S.C. § 512(c)(1)(C).

tall building lawyer, tall-building lawyer. noun. High-powered lawyer. See Obergefell v. Hodges, 135 S. Ct. 2584, 2629 n.18 (2015) (Scalia, dissenting)(first mention in a reported decision).

targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP). noun. State statutes designed to decrease the number of abortion clinics and doctors, such as requiring clinics to have comparable standards to ambulatory surgical centers and requiring doctors to have admitting privileges at local hospitals.

telephone justice. noun. Practice of power-holders, such as government or party officials, in countries with a weak rule of law to telephone judges to instruct them how to act and rule.

three-quarters house or home, three-quarter-way house or home (with variations in hyphenation). noun. A living facility, often unregulated, for recovering alcoholics and addicts and/or people released from incarceration as they transition to more independent living. It has fewer restrictions, such as a shorter curfew, than a halfway house, although the distinction between the two types of facilities is imprecise.

TRAP laws. See targeted regulation of abortion providers.

TTT. abbreviation.Third tier toilet, referring to a low-ranked law school.

twibel. noun. Libel by tweet. (A tweet is a message conveyed by Twitter, the social media service). [tw[eet] + [l]ibel)

upskirt. verb. To voyeuristically look up a woman or girl’s skirt or dress, often using a still or video camera.

vaccine court. noun. The Office of Special Masters in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims that administers the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, a no-fault compensation process designed as an alternative to traditional civil litigation. See 42 U.S.C. § 300aa-12.

vehicle of interest. noun. Vehicle that law enforcement officials are interested in locating, usually because it may have been involved in a crime. Predicted future terms: “robot of interest,” “bot of interest,” and “drone of interest.”

verein, verein law firm. noun. Pronounced “fair-ine,” from the German for “association” or “network.” A centuries-old Swiss umbrella-like structure in which two or more law firms in different cities operate under one name without merging. For example, a law firm in one country could expand into a second country by having a law firm there use the first law firm’s name. The second law firm retains its structure, finances, and profits, and pays marketing and branding fees to the first law firm. Or two firms in the same country could form a verein and use an amalgamation of the two firms’ names without merging.