Most people use these 8 common legal terms and phrases incorrectly…
Thanks to popular television shows and other media that showcases the legal industry and how cases are handled, legal terms (or “legalese”) have become common place in day to day conversation.
However, there are basic legal terms that most people, including legal interpreters, use incorrectly. As a legal interpreter it is imperative that you always use the correct term when relaying an individual’s message into English.
If you misinterpret what a client says, this can carry extreme consequences in terms of how evidence is interpreted, or how the case proceeds.
The only time you would use a common legal term incorrectly is if the individual you’re interpreting for has used the incorrect term themselves. You should always remain faithful to the words of the person you are interpreting for, regardless if they are correct or incorrect.
To help you avoid making mistakes due to confusing legal terms, we’ve gathered eight common legal terms and phrases that are often used incorrectly, and what they actually mean!
Are you using these 8 common legal terms and phrases incorrectly?
- Moot Point – due to the way this phrase sounds when spoken, people often colloquially mistake it for “mute” point. However, this word has nothing to do with something being quiet or silent, but instead refers to an issue not determining an outcome. In law it can be used to refer to a hypothetical point in a discussion.
- Per Se – you’ve probably heard someone use per say in day to day conversation (or perhaps you’ve used it yourself); however, it does not carry the exact meaning you may believe it to. Often when people use per say colloquially it’s used as a replacement for “necessarily” – for example: “I don’t think the conclusion from the meeting is the final agreement per se, but just how the situation will be approached right now.”
In legalese, per se is used to refer to various things, one of which is “illegal per se” which means that an act is illegal regardless of whether or not an individual had knowledge (or any other type of defense) that it was. An example would be drunk driving.
- Hearsay – this term is also used rather colloquially, often to refer to gossip or unverified information. However, in a court of law hearsay refers to a statement about evidence supporting a matter that is made out of court. Hearsay is often not allowed in court as the person making the statement can’t always be followed up with to confirm it.
- Imply versus Infer – these two words are often used interchangeably, but they in fact mean two distinct things. To imply something is to suggest or insinuate. To infer is to deduce or assume something.
- Robbed vs Burglarized – while at first you might think these two words refer to the same action – someone stealing something from you – they do in fact refer to different situations. If you are robbed that means someone physically came and took something from you (ex. someone holding you at gun point, demanding your wallet). If you were burglarized however, someone took something from you without you being physically present (ex. someone stealing from your car when you parked it on the street overnight).
- For all Intents and Purposes – this phrase originated from English law, and is often spoken incorrectly in day to day speech as “for all intensive purposes”. The correct form describes something as official.
- Due Diligence – this is not a phrase that refers to someone doing something in a diligent or responsible manner, but rather is a legal term that refers to engaging in research and investigation before signing some kind of contract (ex. researching a company fully before signing a business deal with them).
- Assault vs Battery – similar to the confusion between robbed and burglarized, assault and battery are used interchangeably but refer to different legal occurrences. The easiest way to describe the difference is, assault is when a person is threatened with attack (someone says they will hit them), and battery takes place when a person is physically attacked (someone hits them).
People often use the word assault when they have been physically attacked; however, the correct term in this instance would be battery.
It is important to review these terms and their meanings, as they are basic legal terms that you will hear in court.
How to Avoid Confusing Legal Terms
The best way, of course, to avoid confusing legal terms is to practice them through professional experience.
However, in order to start gaining experience as an interpreter in many courts in the United States, you will need to pass a legal interpreter certification exam (also colloquially referred to as court interpreter certification). The Massachusetts legal interpreter exam covers grammar, vocabulary, reading comprehension and translation.
The best way to prepare for this exam is through legal interpreter training programs. Language Connections offers a 7 week Legal and Court Interpreter Certificate Training Program teaching students the basic skills of interpreting in court, as well as covering the following topics:
- The Massachusetts legal system
- Standards and procedures for court interpreters
- Common legal terms in English and the target language
- Interpreter ethics
Our interpreter training programs have been developed and are taught by professional legal interpreters with years of experience. Class sizes are small to encourage maximum dialogue between students and teachers, and upon successful passing of a final exam students receive a certificate of completion documenting their training hours.
Don’t make the mistake of using common legal terms incorrectly – begin your legal interpreter training today!
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