| @ | August 2,2020

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 IV

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

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

Also Read: The Devil’s Advocate’s Dictionary


This Week’s Entries


Kala Bazaar: The outcome of unfair prohibition and unjust taxation.

Kidnap: Protection of MLAs in beach resorts.

Know-How: The price for biryani which you have to pay to a Texan company, if you want to have your basmati rice and eat it too.

Kow-Tow: What the Judiciary never does before the Executive. Almost never. Well, sometimes. All right, at worst, frequently.



Labour Laws: The quaint legal notion that workers have rights: a mechanism for the oppression of exploited capitalists. Just as well that these laws are now being dismantled.

Land Laws: The quaint legal notion that tribals have property rights: a mechanism for the oppression of exploited sandalwood smugglers. Just as well etc.

Law: See entries under ‘ass’ and ‘idiot’.

Lawsuit: Avoid, if you have the law on your side.

Legacy: Our Glorious Tradition. See entry under ‘gomutra’.

Legal: Crimes okayed by appropriate legislation and helpful judicial endorsement. Offering sound examples risks punishment for sedition, defamation, contempt, lack of patriotism, disrespect for the flag, bad manners, etc.

Legal Aid Scheme: Printing error from faulty transcription of Legal Aid Scam.

Letter of Credit: Banking instrument for creation of Non-Productive Assets.

Licence: See entries under ‘bribe’ and ‘certificate’, as in ‘License-Permit Raj.’

Lifafa:  Urdu word for the instrument of a legal doctrine called ‘sealed-cover litigation’, as in electoral bonds, the Rafale deal, the National Registry of Citizens, Loan Defaulters’ List, etc. Aimed at maximising transparency in judicial verdicts.

Litigant: A nit-wit when not vexatious.

Lordship, His: Proper nomenclature for a judge. He is usually addressed as ‘Milard’ in Bollywood films, where his sole purpose is to smash his desk with his gavel, to the accompaniment of the words ‘Aarder! Aarder!’ This constitutes the height of cinematic verisimilitude, for this is what His Lardship is like in real life too.



Maal: Vernacular legal term for contraband. C.f. Ajit: ‘Raabutt, maal laye ho?’

Magistrate, Sub-Divisional: The beginning of a career in India’s Administrative Disservice.

Majority: (a) Voting age. (b) The segment of the electorate that is responsible for the ensuing catastrophe.

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

Malice Aforethought: Electronic Voting Machines.

Malicious Prosecution: PIL. Ask any judge.

Malpractice: Convenient contraction of the term ‘medical practice’ in certain parts of the country. See entry under ‘Vyapam’.

Mandamus, Writ of: Not to be confused with Certiorari, Writ of. Certiorari is employed by a Higher Court to quash the Mandamus (if any) of a Lower Court. (You will have guessed correctly that a Writ of Mandamus is a command given by a court to the government to do its job.)

Master of the Rolls: No, no, let us keep this clean.

Mea Culpa: “Never, never, never, never, never.” (King Lear: Act 5, Scene 3; also, any politician). (See also entries under ‘Guilty’ and ‘Not Guilty’.)



Naturalization: Granting one country’s citizenship to another country’s citizen. While we do naturalization under special circumstances, what we don’t believe in is granting citizenship to our own citizens.

Negligence: The result of imprudence and unreasonable conduct under the Law of Torts. Applicable to human beings and therefore not to government.

Negotiable Instrument: The truth. How negotiable, can be inferred, inter alia, from government responses to court notices.

Next of Kin: A good idea to avoid like the plague.

Notary: A person who requires ten years’ practice as an advocate to qualify him for stealing you blind. (Seven years if female.)

Not Guilty: Of course not. See also entries under ‘Guilty’ and ‘Mea Culpa’.

Nexus: Have you ever tried establishing it in a court of law?



Oath: What clears the decks for perjury.

Obligation: Never heard of it. This dictionary deals with real things.

Obstruction to Justice: Also called Police.

Occupation: Also called Land Grab, a perquisite of political office.

Occupational Pension Scheme: Life-affirming institution. (Every December.)

Offensive Weapon: Weapon which offends, e.g. truth, non-violence, justice, democracy, secularism, equality, the Constitution, Mahatma Gandhi.

Official Secrets Act: The reason we never know the true budgetary deficit, nor our Ministers’ actual educational degrees.

Outlaw: In most cases of spousal harassment, a woman’s in-law.

Oxymoron: 1. Bovine with low IQ. 2. An honest lawyer. (If 2, then 1.)


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


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