| @ | July 26,2020


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

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

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

This Week’s Entries


Gaali: Vernacular for ‘Abuse’, permitted for certain political parties under the legal provision of ‘Freedom of Speech’, which see.

General Body Meeting: Annual excuse for samosa and chai.

Gol-maal: Vulgar native term for a serious legal issue: see entry under ‘Fraud.’

Gomutra: See entry under ‘legacy’.

Grievous Bodily Harm: As caused by the guardians of the law to human rights activists and other urban naxals in response to peaceful protests.

Guarantee: A promise not meant to be taken seriously.

Guarantor: Wilful loan-defaulter’s accomplice.

Guardian of the Law: As in Do Not Tangle With.

Guilty: Who, me? (See also entries under ‘Mea Culpa’ and ‘Not Guilty’.)




Habeas Corpus: Writ petition seeking remedy for wrongful imprisonment. (Of little avail when the detention in jail is genuinely unlawful: see entry under ‘False Imprisonment’.)

Havala: A foreign-exchange racket in which, of course, no Indian politician has ever been involved. See entry under ‘Guilty.’

Harassment: An aspect, inter alia, of sexual misconduct, of which the higher judiciary has been wholly innocent. Again see entry under ‘Guilty.’

Health Insurance: Don’t be silly.

Hell: See next entry.

High Court: Place where you will find fellows with nervous tics and haunted faces, waiting for justice when they have been through only 369 adjournments. See previous entry.

Hindu: See entry under ‘citizen.’

Housing Associations: An important reason for keeping the legal profession alive and well.



I: Me, myself. A legal entity who is the Indian elite’s favourite obsession. The other one is Priyanka Chopra.

Idiot: See entry under ‘Ass.’

Illusion: The notion that the Bench presiding over a Court in session is awake.

Income: There are two kinds—Private Disposable and Gross National, the first of which is declared by the tax-payer and the second is estimated by the government. Consequently, the one is always too small and the other too large to be true.

Indictable Offence: Working for the oppressed and in the cause of one’s country. The offence is called sedition.

Information: There used to be a Right to it.

Infructuous: Going to court.

Intermediary: The villain in all defence deals who never exists.

Interrogation: In a police station, this is constituted by questions addressed to the suspect’s shin and knee-caps.

Intestate: The meaning of the word is conveyed literally in this piece of judicial anecdotage:  when asked by the judge why litigant’s father had made no legal provision for the disposal of his property before his death, litigant replied: ‘Unwilling.’

Intimidation: What should work if a bribe does not.

Ipso facto: Part of the judge’s arsenal on which she or he draws when putting down learned counsel, just to make it clear to the cocky advocate that the former, at a pinch, might also have access to ‘pari passu’, ‘per se’, ‘pro tem’ and ‘in extenso.’

Issue: Legal expression for one’s brats. It has now passed into common parlance such as in conversations addressed to you by a stranger on a railway journey: ‘Your good name? Employed? Monthly emolument (see entry)? Married? Any issues?’




Jail: An honest person’s rightful residence. C.f. Henry David Thoreau: ‘Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.’

Jamia Milia: See entries under ‘Bhima Koregaon’, ‘jail.’

Jammu and Kashmir: See entries under ‘Jamia Milia’, ‘jail’.

Joint and Several Liability: You and I, as in people who have the responsibility of making up the budget deficit.

Joint Lives Policy: Invitation to homicide.

Joint Tenancy: Invitation to forgery.

Joyriding: Ministerial activity undertaken in the cause of foreign policy. See entry under ‘alibi’.

Judge: Pedestrian term for ‘His Lordship’, ‘His Eminence’, ‘His Excellency’, ‘His Majesty’, ‘His Exaltation’, ‘His Handsomeness’, etc. See entry under ‘unimpeachable’.

Judicial: As pertaining to a law court’s or judge’s action or pronouncement, e,g. ‘a judicial order’.

Judicious: As pertaining to a judgement, e.g. ‘a judicious order’ (necessarily not to be confused with ‘a judicial order’).

Jurisdiction: The reach of a court, open to interpretation by a judge: e.g., most extensively if it means meddling in your and my private affairs; and most modestly if it means directing the government to protect the safety of migrant workers.

Justice: No, seriously?


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



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