| @ | July 19,2020


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


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

Also Read: The Devil’s Advocate’s Dictionary


This Week’s Entries




Damages: Compensation payable by the litigant to victims of Public Interest Litigation.

Defamation: Punishable truth published about politicians, corporate honchos and judicial functionaries.

Defendant: Person without a chance in hell if she or he is a human rights activist.

Demonetisation: A bona fide, perfectly legal breach of promise, as in the undertaking contained in any banknote: ‘I promise to pay the bearer…’. See entries under ‘Bona Fide’ and ‘Cash’.

Dependant: Parasite, or leech, or blood-sucker, i.e. a person who depends upon some other person for financial support—see entry under ‘lawyer’.

Deponent: Person who testifies to telling the truth on oath. Used interchangeably with the word ‘perjurer’ when deponent is a witness for the defence in a case of government corruption.

Diminished Responsibility: Lower order of guilt associated with a crime for reasons of being mentally challenged. Applicable to all agents involved in making government policy.

Diplomatic Immunity: One of the perks of being a crooked Ambassador. Go for the IFS, children!

Discrimination: The unfair treatment of people who deserve it. See entry under ‘Assault and Battery.’

Dismissal: The usual fate of petitions alleging government corruption.

Doctrine: Legal mumbo-jumbo, usually spelt out with incantations such as ‘whereas’, ‘heretofore’, ‘thereinunder’, ‘not elsewhere stipulated’, ‘mutatis mutandis’, ‘without prejudice’, ex parte, etc.

Double Jeopardy: Twin dangers, viz. your lawyer and the Court’s judge.

Draconian Law: Libtards’ description of Section 124a of the Indian Penal Code (Punishment for Sedition).

Drivel: See entry under ‘Ad Infinitum.’

Due Process: Polite expression for Undue Delay.



Eminent: Qualifying adjective for any judge of the highest court, failure to use which will lead to action for contempt.

Eminent Domain: Fool-proof legal excuse for stealing agricultural land from poor marginal cultivators for use as industrial land by poor business magnates—always, of course, in the national interest. See entry under ‘Forfeiture’.

Emoluments: Returns to employment, e.g., ‘emoluments of a Minister’: see entry under ‘bribe’

Essential Services: Ha!

Estate: Subject of untruthful declaration by politicians and virtually no declaration by the higher judiciary.

Euthanasia: Killing out of kindness. Unlikely to be seen as a convincing motive for shooting politicians and bureaucrats in order to put them out of their suffering from a bad conscience for their actions. This follows from the well-established fact that politicians and bureaucrats do not have a conscience. Consequently, they never suffer, they only cause others to do so.

Excise Duty: Mechanism for the Centre to replenish its coffers while denying to States the benefit of a lower price of petrol.

Exclusions: The stuff that is printed in invisible ink on insurance policies.

Executor/Executrix: The person you blame when you are not mentioned in your grandmother’s will.

Ex gratia: Gift bestowed, not because it is legally mandated, but as an act of kindness, e.g., MNREGA wages owed to workers.

Extension: Usually employed in conjunction with the word ‘indefinite’. It is what is granted to every Commission of Enquiry in order to enable the retired judge in charge of it to avail of, without end, what in the business is called t/a-d/a-sitting fee.

Extradition: Futile request made by a government to another country to repatriate a criminal who has fled there, in the first instance, with the government’s assistance.



False Imprisonment: See entries under ‘Bhima Koregaon’, ‘Jama Milia’, ‘Jammu and Kashmir’, and ‘jail’.

Felony: Serious crime, punishable under the law. Exceptions apply to those with a net worth in excess of Rs. 1,000 crore.

Fiat Justitia: A Latin phrase meaning ‘Let Justice Be Done’. It is supposed to signify the motto of any court of law, which is why it is expressed in a dead foreign language that no one can be expected to understand.

Final Judgement: Description of the terminal act in a saga of unqualified idiocy inspiring one’s quest for justice from the lowest court to the highest. Synonyms: finis, kaput.

Force majeure: Acts of God which prevent the fulfilment of contractual obligations, as in floods, earthquakes, and government jiggery-pokery.

Forfeiture: Dispossession of land in the national interest. See entry under ‘Eminent Domain.’

Fraud: A minor misdemeanour, such as cheating, embezzlement, wilful loan default, forgery, insider trading, election promises, etc. For instructive treatises on an unrelated subject, see the literature on ‘The Covid Financial Stimulus Package.’

Freedom of Speech: Widely regarded as a dubious joke.


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

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