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National Spelling Bee? We Can't Even Handle These Legal Terms

By William Peacock, Esq. | Last updated on

Ha. Let's all take a moment to be thankful that we're not these kids, the finalists at the National Spelling Bee. "OMG. Totes went to the Biebs concert last night. What'd you do?"

"Uh, I won a spelling bee on television." (Crickets. Years of loneliness.)

Kids, go learn guitar. It'll help you impress fellow tweens and means you won't spend your entire youth pouring through literature, alone in your room, wishing, ever so desperately, that you never appeared on national TV spelling the word "appoggiatura" (which is gross and sounds like a body part).

Okay, so the truth is, I'm actually jealous. Though generally, thanks to the magic of spell check, I've been coached out of most misspellings (too OCD to ignore the red squigglies), there are certain words that always trip me (and many other lawyers, FindLaw staff included) up. Here is a non-exhaustive list, courtesy of a quick office poll:

Judgment. Admit it. You want to put that "e" in there. We all do. It's just begging for it. Jud-guh-ment? Judge-mint? Forget it.

Certiorari. That's why we all say "cert." It's not to be hip. It's because we can't pronounce it, nor can we spell it.

Respondeat superior. Three years of law school and it's still out of reach. However, 1,544 blog posts later, and ... yep. Got it.

Affidavit. I thought it might've just been me, but when one searches Google for "affadavit", there are actually quite a few results.

Sovereignty. "I before E, except after C" or when you write the word sovereignty, which somehow ends up with an extra "i", a flipping of a few letters, and a constant red squiggly.

Intestacy. This was suggested by someone else. I only have a scant idea of what it means and never have used it in a sentence. Estates and trusts, right?

Amicus curiae. While "amicus" may be easy to spell (and harder to pronounce ... a-me-cuss, ahh-mih-cus?), "curiae" is a Latin relic that still haunts my keystrokes. Much like "cert" replaces "certiorari", you'll notice a lot of lawyers just say "amicus brief" instead of dropping the "c" bomb in there.

LawProse has another great list, which include such classics as "de minimis" and "in personam". You really could stick any Latin term on this page and it would fit. They also point out this tidbit, which is just a wee bit diabolical:

Just deserts (not *just desserts): a reward or punishment that is deserved (not a sweet treat -- though deserts in this sense is pronounced like desserts).

Wait, so it's spelled like the dry patch of land but sounds like a highly caloric post-meal treat? Total mind blower.

And finally, if you want to know the most commonly misspelled words by consumers, we tackled that topic a couple years back.

Editor's Note: My personal favorite is not so much a spelling as a meaning issue, "haled into court" which as we know, happens when there is jurisdiction, whether you like it or not. I always thought it should be "hauled." More accurate, more colorful.

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