| @ | July 12,2020

After a depressing week of gloom, we bring to you our Weekend Special column by S Subramanian to brighten your Sundays and tickle your mind.



This compendium has been inspired by the thought that a website devoted to legal affairs ought also to have a legal lexicon. At a less parochial level, Ambrose Bierce had the same idea when he compiled The Devil’s Dictionary. What follows—The Devil’s Advocate’s Dictionary—is an attempt at retracing the great man’s footsteps in the restricted world of judicial matters. In preparing the entries for this collection, I have been greatly aided by The A to Z Guide to Legal Phrases.  It only remains to add the customary caveat. Any resemblance, in what follows, to any person or persons, or class of persons such as those belonging to the judicial or political or bureaucratic profession—living, dead, superannuated or currently in service—is wholly deliberate and intended. Just kidding: that was a printer’s devil! What I meant, of course, is: ‘is wholly coincidental and unintended.’ Besides, this lexicographer has a most healthy respect for the superior intelligence of lawyers and the politicians who hire them: they can arrange for you to be mulcted in damages at a moment’s notice; and as for judges, why, he (the lexicographer) is simply terrified to bits and pieces by Their Eminences. Or, putting it simply, in an easy colloquialism which I hope will nevertheless be acceptable to the frighteningly erudite legal fraternity and sorority to which it is addressed:  No offence meant here, and none, I hope, taken.


‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’

                                                                    Lewis Carroll: Through the Looking Glass


 For a large class of cases—though not for all—in which we employ the word “meaning” it can be defined thus: the meaning of a word is its use in the language.

                                                                    Ludwig Wittgenstein: Philosophical Investigations



Read Also: The Devil’s Advocate’s Dictionary I


This Week’s Entries




Bail: What the court denies a human rights activist when she has been arrested.

Balance Sheet: A company’s mandatory statement of audited lies in which the sum of the numbers on the left column is exactly equal to the sum of the numbers on the right column.

Bankruptcy Order: The one order a Court never seems to pass on an Absconder (see entry) who can therefore get away with defaulting on a loan without having his property attached, this being the legal equivalent of stealing one’s cake and having it and eating it.

Bar: The legal profession, considered as an institution. A worthier institution that goes by the same name is the one at which nice people foregather in the quest for alcoholic stimulation.

Barrister: A legal specialist—the chap who pockets your fee etc. (see the entry under ‘Advocate’), only the fee charged by a barrister is a jolly sight fatter than an ordinary advocate’s. So, for the same reason, is the average barrister compared to the average advocate.

Bench: An assemblage of august justices who will slam you in the cooler for pointing out how they almost always manage to get it wrong.

Bhima Koregaon: See entry under ‘False Imprisonment’.

Bigamy: The most restricted form of polygamy which can, however, proliferate into something bigger if a man with two wives were to marry a woman with two husbands, in which event we would have a case of double-trigamy.

Blackmail: A criminal offence of threatening extortion from a person in exchange for not publicising some unsavoury secret of hers or his. As in the case of other criminal offences, you could be convicted for this one—assuming, of course, that you are not rich and well-connected, nor, this being given, necessarily guilty.

Bona Fide: A Latin phrase which is the opposite of Mala Fide (see entry).

Bribe: See entry under ‘Emoluments’.




CBI: Fancy title for ‘Snooping Bureau’ (see entry).

Capital Gains Tax: A seriously evasive subject.

Case Law: The legal means for perpetuating judicial error.

Cash: A form of legal tender in the old days prior to demonetisation (see entry).

Cause of Action: What Public Interest Litigants on behalf of migrant workers never seem to have, if our justices are to be believed.

Caveat: Latin word for ‘warning’. A very good example is the Latin injunction ‘Ludex Cave!’ (‘Beware of the Judge!’)

Certificate: Principal means of livelihood for underpaid government functionaries. See entry under ‘bribe’.

Chambers: Legal dens of sin and iniquity.

Charge Sheet: The document in which the police register their accusations against human rights activists. It is the basis for denying them bail (see entry).

Cheating: A form of sharp practice which used to be considered a legal offence.

Cheque: Opposite of Cash (see entry), an instrument of payment accepted only by suckers who pay tax.

Child Labour: A subject of legal amendments which will eventually drive the phenomenon out of existence through appropriate exemptions and definitions.

Circumstantial Evidence: What the prosecution relies on when it wants to get the accused off the hook.

Citizen: See entry under ‘Hindu’.

Citizen’s Arrest: An act which is sometimes a prelude to Citizen’s Execution, the punishment for suspected beef-eating. Of course, suspicion is sufficient for execution, with arrest, trial, proof and conviction being optional add-ons which no-one is expected to seriously entertain.

Clause:  A potent instrument of legal argumentation, as in: ‘It is clear that Defence Counsel’s brief is patently unsustainable, as will be revealed by a plain reading of Subsection 28.3.5 of Section 28.3 of Sub-Clause 9.2 of Clause 9 of Article 31 in conjunction with Clause 14, subject to exemptions and caveats as specified in Clause 8 and defined by, but not restricted to, Clause 4, suitably qualified by the provisions of Clause 2 when not superseded by the exceptions listed in Clause …’



(The author is an economist who lives and works in Chennai.)




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