Most Misunderstood Words In Legal Writing 

Lawyers have a lot of words in their vocabulary, and it’s easy to mix up some of them with others. The most common mistake is to confuse “therefore” with “wherefore.” But there are plenty more mistakes out there! In this post, we’ll examine twelve common legal words that often trip up lawyers and how not to make those mistakes.

103: Rupert Haigh 5 Points for Better Legal Writing – YouTube
Key Takeaways
1. Clear communication is crucial in legal writing to avoid misunderstandings and misinterpretations.
2. Many commonly misused words have specific legal meanings that differ from their everyday usage.
3. Proper usage of legal terminology enhances the credibility and professionalism of legal documents.
4. Legal writers should prioritize precision and accuracy when selecting words and phrases.
5. Consistent reference to reputable legal dictionaries and style guides can help clarify terminology.


Avers is a legal term that has a few different meanings. In one sense, it means to state or affirm. For example, if you have a claim against someone else, you may aver the claim (that is, state it). In another sense, it can mean to declare or affirm as true; for example, your lawyer may “aver” in court that the documents you submitted were made by the person who signed them. 

And finally, in yet another use of the term (which we’ll cover here), it means to assert something factually: To say something happened or is true when other people may not believe it or even want to believe it!

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To avow is to declare openly. It can also mean to acknowledge or admit something, or even profess it. You could say, for instance: “I avowed my love for her in front of everyone!” or “He avowed his innocence when questioned by police officers.”

To be clear, this word has nothing to do with swearing (hence the confusion). That’s because when you swear something usually an oath you’re promising that what you’re saying is true and binding upon yourself; you are vowing an oath. But if your word isn’t as good as gold, then don’t expect anyone else’s to be either; this leads us back around the full circle once again…


Chattels are goods, as opposed to land. Chattels are movable property, while the land is immovable. They include tools, clothing, and furniture. Chattel real estate is a rarer concept in contemporary English usage and it can be confusing if you’re not familiar with it. 

The word chattel real estate refers to the use of an item to earn money or other profit; this means that something like a house becomes an investment property when it’s bought to sell later at a higher price than was originally paid for it. This type of real estate is also known as “brownfield.”

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Culpa is a Latin word meaning “fault,” and it can be used in various legal contexts to refer to negligence, fault, or responsibility. If you’re using culpa in your writing, make sure you understand which of these meanings you intend before using it. The word has another meaning as well: it’s also the name given to a butterfly known for its colorful wings.


A debauch is a corrupting influence, and it is a formal word that means “to corrupt.”

It’s a transitive verb, which means it takes an object. To debauch someone or something is to corrupt them or make them wicked with immortality. You would use this word in a legal document when discussing the sexual abuse of children by an adult or the corruption of a politician by big money interests.


Decimate is a word that often gets misused. It means to reduce by one-tenth, which is not what most people think it means. 

Most legal writers (and speakers) will use decimate when they mean to destroy or annihilate. For example: “The company promised to decimate its workforce to save money.” However, the correct use of this word would be something like “The CEO promised to decimate her employees if they couldn’t meet their sales targets by Friday.”

Disinterested and uninterested

These two words are commonly mixed up, which can lead to some confusion in sentences such as: “He was disinterested in helping his client fight against the allegations made against him by his ex-wife.” In this case, because he lacked interest or concern for the outcome of the case (he didn’t care), he was said to be “disinterested.”

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Delitescent means “to be delirious.” It’s not a word you’ll hear very often, but if you do happen to see it, don’t be surprised. It’s one of those words that has been around for so long that it’s almost forgotten which is why we’re here to remind you.

Delitescent was first used in the late 1700s as part of a poem by Oliver Goldsmith: “I saw him once with all his friends in tears; / He said he had received some bad news from his son, / And on their entering they found him delitescent.” The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) doesn’t even recognize this definition of delitescent until 1803.


  • What it means: To stop or to discontinue an action.
  • How to use it: “The defendant is hereby ordered to desist from infringing on the plaintiff’s trademark.”
  • What not to use for Saying “stop” in a legal context? A court order isn’t a suggestion; you can’t just choose not to comply with one!

Example of when it should be used: If there’s any doubt whatsoever that your client has been violating someone else’s rights or making false claims, ask yourself if they’ve stopped.

Ejusdem Generis (“Of The Same Kind Or Genus”)

The Latin phrase ejusdem generis means “of the same kind or genus.” It is used in legal writing to restrict the scope of a general term to things of the same genus as the specific terms (i.e., “dogs” would include all dogs, but not cats). 

For example, if you are drafting a contract that says “[A] promises to pay [B] $100,” your use of ejusdem generis prevents an overly broad interpretation such as “[A] promises to pay [B] $100 million.”

Esse Quam Videri (“To Be Rather Than To Seem”)

Aristotle said, “Virtue is the highest of all things; and since it is the highest, it must be good. It is ‘the best thing’ because there can be nothing better for a human being than to be virtuous.”

To Aristotle, happiness means living by reason and virtue is the exercise of reason. He defines virtue as “a state according to which we work well,” but also adds that “a good man” acts virtuously in every way possible he doesn’t just act well sometimes.

Aristotle goes on to say: “Virtue makes us perform deeds appropriate to what has been resolved on by our character.” This means that if you’ve decided something for yourself based on reason (which you should do), then your actions will be virtuous because they’re in line with your decision.

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Ex Parte (“On Behalf Of One Party Only, Without Notification To Or Argument By The Other Side”)

Ex parte is a Latin phrase that means “on behalf of one party only, without notification to or argument by the other side.” It’s used in many different contexts, including court proceedings and legal proceedings.

Ex parte is often used to describe court cases. When you are involved in a legal dispute, there are two sides: your side and the other person’s side (the opposing party). The opposing party may have more money than you do, so they can hire better attorneys and get their experts to testify against your case. You might not be able to afford all those things yourself. 

That’s where an ex parte comes into play you ask the judge or magistrate judge on behalf of yourself only if they would hear both sides’ arguments before deciding on your issue with this other person instead of waiting until after they’ve already heard both sides’ arguments at trial (which could take years).

An example would be when someone wants something done right now but doesn’t want anyone else involved yet because they don’t trust them yet (because maybe there was some bad blood between them before) even though. 

It’ll cost him/her more money later because he/she has no leverage yet with his/her opponents who control almost everything about how their conflict will be resolved — so what happens? He/she engages in “ex parte communications” with those who do control it all: namely judges!

Ex Post Facto (“After The Fact”)Takeaway: Know Your Words

Knowing the meaning of a word is important. Knowing the difference between words is also important, as well as knowing their spellings, rules of grammar, and usage.

Knowing your words will help you to write more clearly so that you can make your point in less time, with fewer mistakes and wasted rewrites.

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We hope this post has given you a better understanding of some of the most misunderstood legal words. If we’ve done our job right, you’ll never have to wonder what a word means again and if not, we apologize in advance for any confusion!

Further Reading

Explore more resources to enhance your understanding of commonly misused words in the legal industry:

Commonly Misused Words in the Legal Industry: Discover a comprehensive list of words often misused in legal writing and communication.

Understanding Confusing Legal Terms: Uncover insights into legal terminology that is commonly misunderstood or confused.

5 Commonly Misunderstood Legal Terms: Delve into an article discussing five legal terms frequently misconstrued and how to use them accurately.


What are some frequently misunderstood legal terms?

Legal writing often involves terms that are easily misunderstood. Some of these include “tort” and “negligence,” which can be confused due to their similar contexts.

How can I improve my legal writing skills?

Improving legal writing skills requires practice and a solid understanding of legal terminology. Consider referring to resources like style guides and legal writing courses.

Where can I find examples of commonly misused legal words?

You can find examples and explanations of commonly misused legal words in articles and blog posts dedicated to legal writing and language usage.

Why is it important to use precise legal terminology?

Using precise legal terminology is crucial to avoid misinterpretation and ensure accurate communication in the legal field. Misusing terms can lead to confusion and potential legal issues.

Are there online platforms that offer writing assistance for legal documents?

Yes, there are online platforms that provide writing assistance, proofreading, and editing services specifically tailored for legal documents. These services can help ensure the accuracy and clarity of your legal writing.