Illuminate Legal Terminology™


Can we translate our customary methods and techniques when research transports us into another legal culture?

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Cultures and legal systems other than our own have made valuable contributions to the history of written law.

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Translation provides a laboratory in which we can learn to elevate our capacity to select and use legal terminology.

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/// Blog Archive

posted by Frank Taylor on June 17, 2018

The highlight of Startup Day Across America in Houston, Texas, during August 2017 was the address by Mayor Sylvester Turner on the future of the local ecosystem for startups and innovation.[1] Mayor Turner called attention to the existence of “[t]oo many silos” without “enough collaboration and integration”[2] and the need to “create a much more integrated ecosystem.”[3]

How can the startup communities of Houston and other cities harmonize their silos and ecosystems and create a new reality of collaboration[4] and integration[5]? The introduction of a new metaphor – the “ecosystem of silos” – will help.


Professor Daniel Isenberg noted that “[t]he predominant metaphor for fostering entrepreneurship as an economic development strategy is the ‘entrepreneurship ecosystem,’” but he warned that “we need to get a better grip on what the term really means.”[6] To better understand what the term “entrepreneurship ecosystem” means, we can return to the origin of the word “ecosystem.”

Botanist Arthur Tansley introduced the word “ecosystem” in an article that he published during the year 1935.[7] Tansley proposed that “[t]he fundamental concept appropriate to the biome considered together with all the effective inorganic factors of its environment is the ecosystem, which is a particular category among the physical systems that make up the universe. In an ecosystem the organisms and the inorganic factors alike are components which are in relatively stable dynamic equilibrium.”[8]

We can better understand the relationship between the ecosystems and silos of a startup community if we take into account Tansley’s clarification that “the systems we isolate mentally [for the purposes of study] are not only included as parts of larger ones, but they also overlap, interlock and interact with one another.”[9] In other words, one system – a silo of an enterprise or industry – can fit within another – an entrepreneurship ecosystem.


How well can the silos of startup communities fit into an entrepreneurship ecosystem? Author Gillian Tett explained the advantages and disadvantages of silos in an organization:

[T]he modern world needs silos, at least if you interpret that word to mean specialist departments, teams, and places. The reason is obvious: we live in such a complex world that humans need to create some structure to handle this complexity. … The simplest way to create a sense of order is to put ideas, people, and data into separate spatial, social, and mental boxes. Specialization and expertise usually deliver progress. …

But silos can also sometimes cause damage. People who are organized into specialist teams can end up fighting with each other, wasting resources. Isolated departments, or teams of experts, may fail to communicate, and thus overlook dangerous and costly risks. Fragmentation can create information bottlenecks and stifle innovation.[10]

Tett reminded us that we encounter metaphorical silos in a variety of contexts,[11] but the origin of the metaphor is agriculture.[12] The success of silos in agriculture[13] owes much to the contributions of Auguste Goffart, who“[i]n 1877 … published a book on ensilage which laid the foundation of all modern practice.”[14]

Goffart set out to develop “a system of preservation by ensilage” and “succeeded … only after thousands of experiments” over the course of “not less than a quarter of a century.”[15] The entrepreneurs of today can look to Goffart as a model not only for persistence and innovation but also for willingness to share experience and serve as a mentor:

It is above all the duty of the wealthy agriculturists who have entered upon the way that I have indicated, and from whom I receive every day so many grateful letters, to assist the willing farmers around them, and who have need of their advice. For my part, I shall hold myself in the future as in the past always at the disposal of farmers who think they need to recur to my experience.[16]

We reinforce the negative connotations of isolation, fragmentation, and failure to communicate and innovate when we view silos as containers[17] and highlight their “air-tight”[18] aspect. But what if we instead categorize[19] the silos of a startup community as autonomous and highly integrated systems[20] within an entrepreneurship ecosystem and emphasize the positive connotations of structure, expertise, and progress?

This harmonization of the silo and the ecosystem produces coherent metaphors that “fit together.”[21] From this coherence, a new metaphor emerges.

Ecosystem of Silos

A new metaphor – the “ecosystem of silos” – will help Houston and other cities create the new reality of collaboration and integration that Mayor Turner described. In Metaphors We Live By, Professors George Lakoff and Mark Johnson explained the transformative power of a new metaphor:

The metaphorical concepts that characterize [many of our] activities structure our present reality. New metaphors have the power to create a new reality. This can begin to happen when we start to comprehend our experience in terms of a metaphor, and it becomes a deeper reality when we begin to act in terms of it. If a new metaphor enters the conceptual system that we base our actions on, it will alter that conceptual system and the perceptions and actions that the system gives rise to.[22]

The “ecosystem of silos” metaphor highlights[23] behaviors that will promote collaboration and integration among the entrepreneurs and other actors in a startup community:

• the “dynamic, self-regulating network of many different types of actors,”[24]

• the “constant interchange of the most various kinds,”[25]

• the willingness of entrepreneurs to permit others to “profit from [their] experience,”[26] and

• the “insider-outsiders” who are “willing to jump out of their silo and break down some boundaries.”[27]

These behaviors, in turn, reinforce the concept of “local connectedness” that was introduced in the Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2018.[28] The challenge for entrepreneurs and other ecosystem actors is to think and act in terms of the new reality of collaboration and integration in the ecosystem of silos.


[1] Meghan Zarate, “Houston Celebrates Startup Day Across America at Station Houston,” Station Houston, August 3, 2017, accessed June 16, 2018,

[2] Station Houston, “Startup Day Across America,” Facebook video of remarks by Mayor Sylvester Turner and others during event on August 1, 2017, 12:00,

[3] Station Houston, “Startup Day Across America,” 23:00,

[4] The Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2018 includes several examples of collaboration. J.F. Gauthier et al., Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2018 (n.p.: Startup Genome, 2018), 3, 66, 73, 101, 170, 174, accessed May 4, 2018,

[5] The Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2017 used the term “integration” to identify one of four phases of the “lifecycle” of a startup ecosystem – along with “activation,” “globalization,” and “expansion” – and explained the “main objective” of the integration phase:

Integrate the ecosystems within the global, national and local flows of resources and knowledge inside and outside of the tech sector, optimizing laws and policies to sustain its competitiveness and growth, and spread its benefits (e.g. culture, source of competitiveness, wealth, innovation) to other sectors of the economy and parts of the nation.

J.F. Gauthier, Marc Penzel, and Max Warmer, Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2017 (n.p.: Startup Genome, 2017), 15, accessed May 4, 2018,

[6] Daniel Isenberg, “What an Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Actually Is,” Harvard Business Review, May 12, 2014, accessed June 14, 2018, (double quotation marks changed to single).

[7] Professor A.J. Willis wrote that “[t]he word ‘ecosystem’ was first used in print by A.G. Tansley (1935) in his well-known paper on vegetational concepts and terms” but “this term was suggested to him in the early 1930s by A.R. Clapham when Tansley asked Clapham … if he could think of a suitable word to denote the physical and biological components of an environment in relation to each other as a unit.” A.J.Willis, “The Ecosystem: An Evolving Concept Viewed Historically,” Functional Ecology, 11, no. 2 (Apr., 1997), 268.

[8] A.G. Tansley, “The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts and Terms,” Ecology, 16, no. 3. (July, 1935), 306.

[9] Tansley, “The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts and Terms,” 300.

[10] Gillian Tett, The Silo Effect: The Peril of Expertise and the Promise of Breaking Down Barriers (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015), 14.

[11] “Most of us have an uneasy sense that our world is marred by silos. We might not use that specific word to describe the problem. However, we encounter it all the time: in bureaucracies where one department does not talk to another; at companies where teams are fighting each other or hoarding information; in societies where rich and poor or different ethnic and political groups live in separate social and intellectual ghettos, side by side. … Silos exist in cyberspace too. We live in a world that is hyper-connected, yet often we barely know what is happening around us.”  Tett, The Silo Effect, 246-47.

[12] The Chambers Dictionary of Etymology offers this history of the English noun “silo”:

[P]lace where food for livestock is stored. 1835, borrowing of Spanish silo, probably of pre-Roman origin and from the same source as Basque zilo, zulo dugout, with the basic meaning of a cave or shelter for keeping grain.

Traditionally Spanish silo was said to have developed through Latin sīrus from Greek sīrós, seirós a pit for storing grain. However, Corominas points out various problems with this etymology, chiefly that the change from r to l in Spanish is phonetically abnormal and that Greek sīrós itself was a rare foreign term peculiar to Thrace, Phrygia, and other regions of Asia Minor and not likely to emerge in Castilian Spain.

The extended sense of a large bin used for storing loose materials, such as cement, is found in 1920. The military sense of an underground facility for housing and launching a guided missile appeared in 1958, in American English.

Robert K. Barnhart and Sol Steinmetz, eds., Chambers Dictionary of Etymology (Edinburgh: Chambers, 2008), s.v. “silo.”

[13] The Wisconsin Magazine of History published an article in 1924 that described some of the advantages of silos:

The silo has many advantages, but its greatest is the possibility through its means of utilizing all of the corn crop. There was a time when land was cheap and coarse feed abundant, and the loss of a portion of the corn crop was not serious. At the time of the advent of the silo in this state, land was increasing in value and feed was becoming high-priced. Under these conditions many of our farmers were unwilling to carry a herd of cows through the winter, finding it was not profitable to do so. Many would sell in the fall and buy again in the spring, thus being able to pasture the herd and throwing the wintering losses on others. The silo greatly reduced the cost of wintering cows and thereby introduced a fundamental improvement in the business of dairying.

N.S. Fish, “The History of the Silo in Wisconsin,” Wisconsin Magazine of History, 8, no. 2 (Dec. 1924), 160.

[14] “The chief credit for what may be termed the practical modernizing of ensilage undoubtedly belongs to M. Goffart, of France. Goffart began as early as 1852 to study the preservation of forage. In 1877 he published a book on ensilage which laid the foundation of all modern practice. This book was translated and published in the winter of 1878-79 in New York, by J. B. Brown of the New York Plow Company.” Fish, “The History of the Silo in Wisconsin,” 161.

[15] M. Auguste Goffart, The Ensilage of Maize, and Other Green Fodder Crops, trans. J.B. Brown (New York: J.B. Brown, 1879), 13, accessed February 4, 2014, available online through the Internet Archive at

[16] Goffart, The Ensilage of Maize, and Other Green Fodder Crops, 38.

[17] Professors George Lakoff and Mark Johnson explained the “container” metaphor:

We are physical beings, bounded and set off from the rest of the world by the surface of our skins, and we experience the rest of the world as outside us. Each of us is a container, with a bounding surface and an in-out orientation. We project our own in-out orientation onto other physical objects that are bounded by surfaces. Thus we also view them as containers with an inside and an outside. … But even where there is no natural physical boundary that can be viewed as defining a container, we impose boundaries — marking off territory so that it has an inside and a bounding surface — whether a wall, a fence, or an abstract line or plane. There are few human instincts more basic than territoriality.

George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Metaphors We Live By (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), 29.

[18] The English translation of Goffart’s book defined the term “silo” as an “[e]xcavation, pit, or trench, hollowed in the ground (Littré), or any compartment used for storing green fodder in an air-tight manner.” Goffart, The Ensilage of Maize, and Other Green Fodder Crops, 7.

[19] “A categorization is a natural way of identifying a kind of object or experience by highlighting certain properties, downplaying others, and hiding still others. Each of the dimensions gives the properties that are highlighted. To highlight certain properties is necessarily to downplay or hide others, which is what happens whenever we categorize something. Focusing on one set of properties shifts our attention away from others. When we give everyday descriptions, for example, we are using categorizations to focus on certain properties that fit our purposes. Every description will highlight, downplay, and hide.” Lakoff and Johnson, Metaphors We Live By, 163.

[20] “The more relatively separate and autonomous the system, the more highly integrated it is, and the greater the stability of its dynamic equilibrium.” Tansley, “The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts and Terms,” 300.

[21] Lakoff and Johnson suggested a way to reconcile two inconsistent metaphors:

Although the two metaphors are not consistent (that is, they form no single image), they nonetheless “fit together,” by virtue of being subcategories of a major category and therefore sharing a major common entailment. There is a difference between metaphors that are coherent (that is, “fit together”) with each other and those that are consistent. We have found that the connections between metaphors are more likely to involve coherence than consistency.

Lakoff and Johnson, Metaphors We Live By, 44.

[22] Lakoff and Johnson, Metaphors We Live By, 145.

[23] “We would like to suggest that new metaphors make sense of our experience in the same way conventional metaphors do: they provide coherent structure, highlighting some things and hiding others.” Lakoff and Johnson, Metaphors We Live By, 139.

[24] Isenberg, “What an Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Actually Is.”

[25] Tansley, “The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts and Terms,” 299.

[26] “It is that all agriculturists may profit by the experience acquired, often at my cost, upon this important subject, that I have written this Manual.” Goffart, The Ensilage of Maize, and Other Green Fodder Crops, 13.

[27] Tett, The Silo Effect, 143.

[28] The Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2018 explained that “[t]he new Success Factor of Local Connectedness is comprised of four sub-factors,” which include “sense of community” or “people helping people,” “local relationships” or “how many local founders, investors, and experts do startup founders and executives have a relationship with,” “collisions” or “serendipitously running into others from the startup community,” and “density” or “how closely startups work with other startups, either in the same office or in a coworking space, and how close founders and executives live to their office location.” Gauthier et al., Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2018, 37.

Posted by Frank Taylor on November 8, 2016

Centuries after the Roman Empire disintegrated,[1] the terminology of Roman law continues to influence our world.[2]  An examination of three legal terms – “jurisprudence,” “justice,” and “law” – will help us appreciate the variety of that linguistic legacy and the writing system with which it is associated, the Latin alphabet.[3]

The number of letters in the Latin alphabet increased from 21 to 23 with the inclusion of “y” and “z” during the first century of the Common Era and then to 26 letters with the differentiation of “j” from “i” and of “u” and “w” from “v” during the Middle Ages.[4]  Of particular interest is the initial symbol and sound in jus and juris[5] (or ius and iuris),[6] which were the nominative[7] and genitive[8] cases of one of the Latin terms for law.[9]

The “i” or “j” at the beginning sounded like the “y” in the English word “yet.”[10]  A different symbol or sound begins descendants of jus and juris in English (“jurisprudence,” “justice”), French (jurisprudence, justice), Italian (giurisprudenza, giustizia), and Spanish (jurisprudencia, justicia)[11]:

• /ʤ/ for the English “j,”[12] which sounds like the “j” in “jar,” the “g” in “logic” or “gentle,” or the “di” in “soldier”;[13]

• /ʒ/ for the French j,[14] which sounds like the “j” the French word jeune or like the “s” in the English word “vision”;[15]

• /ʤ/ for the Italian g,[16] which sounds like the “g” in the Italian word gente or the “j” in the English word “jam”;[17] and

• /x/ for the Spanish j,[18] which sounds like the “ch in Scottish loch or German auch.”[19]

Lex and legis[20] were the nominative and genitive of another Latin term for law.[21]  The descendants of lex and legis include terms in French (loi), Italian (legge), and Spanish (ley),[22]  but the English term “law” is a descendant of a term — lagu — that Old English borrowed from Scandinavian before the Norman Conquest.[23]  A series of variations in spelling[24] and pronunciation,[25] and the addition of the letter “w” to the English alphabet,[26] transformed lagu – or lɑʒu[27] — into “law.”

The Latin alphabet is only one of a number of alternative writing systems,[28] of course, so the variety of terms for jurisprudence, justice, and law is vast.  The more variations that we include in the vocabulary of our global community of law, the more interesting and significant the lessons will be.[29]


[1] Historian Edward Gibbon explained that “[t]he precise year in which the Western Empire was extinguished is not positively ascertained.  The vulgar æra of A.D. 476 appears to have the sanction of authentic chronicles.”  Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (New York: Heritage Press, 1946), 2:1143 n. 89 (italics omitted).  Gibbon identified May 29, 1453, as the day on which the forces of the Ottoman Empire conquered Constantinople.  Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 3:2348.

[2] Professor Tore Janson described the influence of Roman law on legal education:

After the fall of the Roman empire in western Europe both legal science and the administration of justice waned, but from the eleventh century properly founded legal education resumed in Bologna, in what is usually considered Europe’s first university.  This education was totally based on Roman law, and for many centuries thereafter Roman law was the foundation of the legal system in most European countries.  Even as late as the nineteenth century, Roman law survived almost intact in the legal systems of many countries in south and west Europe, from Portugal to Germany.  It is still important for students of law in the western world to know the basics of Roman law, which is an independent subject in most Faculties of Law.

One reason for this is that the Romans created a complete system of terms and concepts which were well thought out and readily applicable.  They have formed the basis for jurisprudence for some two thousand years, and they still turn up in modern debates.

Tore Janson, A Natural History of Latin, trans. Merethe Damsgård Sørensen and Nigel Vincent (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 71.

[3] Linguist Yuen Ren Chao described the influence of the Latin alphabet almost a half-century ago:

The Latin alphabet is so widely used that it would not be practical in this brief survey of writing systems even to enumerate the languages written with it.  As a result of the political and cultural ascendancy of Western Europe during recent centuries, it has been newly adopted by many languages.  The Latin alphabet is used in all of Europe except for those areas . . . which use the Cyrillic system, and Greece, which continues to use the Greek alphabet.  From Europe it has been adopted in modern times by such diverse languages as Turkish, Swahili, Vietnamese, and Indonesian, in each of which the Latin alphabet has replaced an older script.

Yuen Ren Chao, Language and Symbolic Systems (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1968), 109-10 (italics omitted).

[4] Linguist David Diringer wrote one account the adoption of y and z and the differentiation of j from i and of u and w from ʋ:

When, after the conquest of Greece, in Cicero’s time (first century B.C.), Greek words were largely borrowed by the Latin language, the symbols Y and Z were adopted for the sounds y and z respectively, from the contemporary Greek alphabet (but only in order to transliterate Greek words), and were placed at the end of the alphabet.  Thus the Latin script became one of twenty-three symbols; these became more regular, harmonious, well proportioned and elegant.

Although there were even in Roman times a few tentative additions of letters, . . . on the whole it can be said that the aforementioned alphabet of 23 letters was constantly used, with the same order of the letters, not only in the monumental writing of the Roman period, but also as capital letters of the Latin alphabet during the Middle Ages and in printing until the present day.

The only permanent additions of the Middle Ages were the signs U, W and J; in exact terms, they were not additions, but differentiations from existing letters; the U (for the vowel-sound u to distinguish it from the consonantal ʋ) and the consonantal W were easy differentiations of V, while J, the consonantal i, is only a slight alteration of I.  In the early Middle Ages both the forms (but not the W, which appeared only in the eleventh century) were used indifferently for both the consonantal and the vowel-sound, the signs U and J being used in hands current at this time.

David Diringer, The Alphabet: A Key to the History of Mankind, 2nd ed. (New York: Philosophical Library, [1948]), 538 (internal references omitted).

[5] Charlton T. Lewis and Charles Short, A Latin Dictionary: Founded on Andrews’ Edition of Freund’s Latin Dictionary; Revised, Enlarged, and in Great Part Rewritten (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1955), s.v. “2. jūs.”

The examples of third declension nouns and adjectives include the nominative jus and the genitive juris.  “Beginners’ Latin: Activities; Lesson 7, Third declension nouns and adjectives,” The National Archives, accessed November 1, 2016,

[6] P.G.W. Glare, ed., Oxford Latin Dictionary (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), s.v. “iūs2.”

With regard to the inconsistent employment of “j” and “u,” Janson explained the situation as it existed at the beginning of the 21st century:

The usual modern spelling of Latin is a compromise in which the distinction between u and v has been adopted but not the one between i and j.  It is this practice which we follow in this book, and so we make a difference between villa and urna but not between iustitia and intellectus.  There are, however, many editions and dictionaries where j is used and the spelling is consequently justitia and Julius for example.  Moreover, there are also many experts who do not like these reforms at all, and hence still write uilla beside iustitia and Iulius.  On this point, then, there is still disagreement about how to spell Latin.

Janson, A Natural History of Latin, 115.

[7] “The first of the six cases of a noun. Used for the subject of a sentence.”   “Beginners’ Latin: Glossary,” National Archives, accessed November 1, 2016,

[8] “The fourth of the six cases of a noun. The genitive case is used for nouns that are ‘of’ something else and also to show possession.”  “Beginners’ Latin: Glossary,” National Archives, accessed November 8, 2016,

[9] The Oxford Latin Dictionary of P.G.W. Glare lists thirteen senses for the term ius, including “[t]hat which is sanctioned or ordained, law”; “[a] legal system or code (with all the technicalities)”; “[a] particular provision of the legal code, a law, rule or ordinance”; and “[t]he binding decision(s) of a magistrate, judicial pronouncement(s).”  Glare, Oxford Latin Dictionary, s.v. “iūs2.”

[10] Janson explained that “[t]he rare letter y (originally a letter for a vowel in the Greek alphabet) is used for one sound [in English], and j for the other, as in yet and jet.  This distinction did not exist in Latin.  The consonant that is denoted i or j was pronounced like the first sound in yet.” Janson, A Natural History of Latin, 115.

[11] James H. Dee, comp., A Lexicon of Latin Derivatives in Italian, Spanish, French, and English: A Synoptic Etymological Thesaurus with Full Indices for Each Language (Hildesheim: Olms-Weidmann, 1997), 1:247-48.

[12] Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles, 6th ed., s.v.v. “jurisprudence,” “justice.”

[13] “Pronunciation guide,” in Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, xliii.

[14] Marie-Hélène Corréard et al., eds., The Oxford-Hachette French Dictionary: French-English; English-French, 4th ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 474-75.

[15] “The Pronunciation of French”, in Corréard et al., The Oxford-Hachette French Dictionary, xxxvi; “Prononciation de l’anglais,” in Corréard et al., The Oxford-Hachette French Dictionary, xxxvi, xxxviii.

[16] Joanna Rubery and Fabrizio Cicoira, eds., Oxford-Paravia Italian Dictionary: English-Italian; Italian-English, 3rd ed. (Milano-Torino: Pearson Italia, 2010), s.v.v. “giurisprudenza,” “giustizia.”

[17] “Simboli Fonetici / Phonetic symbols,” in Rubery and Civoira, Oxford-Paravia Italian Dictionary, [xvii].

[18] In Spanish, “J is always pronounced /x/ (jamón /xamˈon/, jefe /ˈxefe/).”  Beatriz Galimberti Jarman et al., eds., Gran diccionario Oxford: Español-inglés; inglés-español, 4th ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), xliv.

[19] Galimberti Jarman et al., Gran diccionario Oxford, xliii

[20] The endings of lex and legis are the same as those of the nominative rex and the genitive regis.  “Beginners’ Latin: Activities; Lesson 7, Third declension nouns and adjectives,” The National Archives, accessed November 1, 2016,

[21] The Oxford Latin Dictionary lists thirteen senses for the term lex, including “[a]n enactment of a sovereign power, law, statute”; “[t]he laws regarded as a body, the constitution”; “[a] rule made by any authority, ordinance, regulation”; and “[a] law or rule established by divine authority or universally accepted by mankind.”  Glare, Oxford Latin Dictionary, s.v. “lex.”

[22] Dee, A Lexicon of Latin Derivatives in Italian, Spanish, French, and English, 1:261.

[23] Linguist Otto Jespersen noted that English imported “a great many Scandinavian law-terms”:

The most important of these juridical imports is the word law itself, known in England from the 10th century in the form lagu, which must have been the exact Scandinavian form, as it is the direct forerunner of the [Old Norse] form lǫg, [Old Danish] logh. . . . It will be seen that with the exception of law, bylaw, thrall and crave — the least juridical of them all — these Danish law-terms have disappeared from the language as a simple consequence of the Norman conquerors taking into their own hands the courts of justice and legal affairs generally.

Otto Jespersen, Growth and Structure of the English Language, 9th ed. (Garden City: Doubleday Anchor, 1956), 75-76 (footnote omitted, “Old Norse” substituted for “ON” and “Old Danish” substituted for “ODan.”).

[24] Professor David Mellinkoff noted that the term “law,” in Middle English “could be spelled a couple dozen ways” and referred to the Oxford English Dictionary for the examples “lach, lɑewe, lɑgh, lɑghe, lɑhɑ, lɑu, lɑuh, lɑw, and even lɑugh.”  David Mellinkoff, The Language of the Law (Eugene: Resource Publications, 2004), 84.

[25] Jespersen included “law” among the examples of Scandinavian (Scn) words in his explanation of the Old English (OE) spellings from which the dipthong /au/ of early Modern English originated:

Secondly /au/ is from OE a + ɡ; ɡ stood for the back-open consonant which became rounded and then was practically ═ /w/ or /u/: haw OE haɡa . gnaw OE gnaɡan . maw OE maɡa. saw sb OE saɡa saɡu . draw OE draɡan . dawn OE daɡnian . fawn ‘cringe’ OE faɡnian ‘rejoice’.  The same in Scn words: law OE and Scn laɡu . awe Scn aɡe . flaw scn flaɡa.

Jespersen, A Modern English Grammar on Historical Principles (n.p.: 1954), 1:107.

In “Present English,” Jespersen explained that the dipthong /au/ has been replaced by the sound “[ᴐ∙]” in words such as “saw [sᴐ∙], law, awe; in cause; in all [ᴐ∙l], ball, baldballed [bᴐ∙ld], in talk [tᴐ∙k], walk [wᴐ∙k].”  Jespersen, A Modern English Grammar on Historical Principles, 1:311 (brackets in original).

[26] This account of the origin of the English letter “w” is from Jespersen:

The [Old English] symbol for this sound [/w/] was ƿ (cf. Runic Ƿ ‘woen’), which in most modern editions is printed w.  The new letter w — two interlaced v’s — was adopted from French and became usual from the 12th century.  As ʋ was also used for the vowel u, the name was ‘double u’, now [pronunciation] [ˈdʌblju].  In the [Middle English] period uu was also frequently written; in the early days of printing, vv or VV was often used.

Jespersen, A Modern English Grammar on Historical Principles, 1:37 (internal reference omitted).

[27] An alternative form of this Old English term for “law” was lɑʒu.  Mellinkoff, The Language of the Law, 84.  Jespersen noted that “[t]he [Old English] (Irish) form of the letter ɡ was ʒ,” but the shape of the letter changed for some sounds under the influence of the Normans, and other letters were substituted for other sounds.  Otto Jespersen, A Modern English Grammar on Historical Principles, 1:22.

[28] The alternatives to the Latin alphabet include the Arabic and Cyrillic alphabets as well as the Chinese and Japanese writing systems.  Chao, Language and Symbolic Systems, 109.

[29] Chao emphasized the value of variety in a speech community:

There is no complete uniformity in any speech community; there is always mixture of dialects in the same locality; there is class difference; there is difference in speech reflected by different personalities for the same dialect or same class; above all, there is difference in style in the same individual.  Thus, the more precisely we pinpoint a language in the speech of one individual at one time, perhaps the neural disposition of his brain at a given instant, the less significant it is for the language as a whole, while the more we include in the account about a language, the fuzzier the picture is, but the more interesting and significant it is.

Chao, Language and Symbolic Systems, 123.

Posted by Frank Taylor on December 8, 2015 (updated February 25, 2017)

The plural of most English nouns is formed simply by adding an -s or -es to the end,[1] but words that were borrowed from Latin and other languages “present some of the most troublesome aspects of English plurals.”[2]  For nouns that end with -um, the appropriate form of the plural is sometimes the Latin and sometimes the English -ums.[3]

The examples include the English nouns “forum,” “dictum,” “datum,” and “memorandum.”  How can we determine which form of the plural to select?  As a “reliable guide,” the third edition of Garner’s Modern American Usage recommends, “if in doubt, use the native-English plural ending in -s.”[4]

“For general matters of spelling,” the sixteenth edition of The Chicago Manual of Style relies on its preferred dictionaries, “Webster’s Third New International Dictionary and the latest edition of its chief abridgment, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.”[5]  In Chapter Seven, The Chicago Manual explains its practice with regard to the selection of a plural:

Where Webster’s gives two forms of the plural — whether as primary and secondary variants, like zeros and zeroes, or as equal variants, like millennia and millenniums — Chicago normally opts for the first.  In some cases, however, different forms of the plural are used for different purposes.  A book may have two indexes and a mathematical expression two indices, as indicated in the Webster’s entry for index.[6]


The plural of a noun is one type of inflection.[7]  We can often locate information about inflection in the “outside matter” of dictionaries.[8]

Another manual of style may recommend a different practice. For us as writers, the important points are to be alert for instances in which we need to choose between two forms of a plural and to maintain a consistent practice for making these choices.


[1] “Most nouns form their plurals simply by adding -s. … But if a word ends with the sound of –s-, -sh-, -ch-, or -z-, the plural is formed by adding -es.”  Bryan A. Garner, Garner’s Modern American Usage, 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), s.v. “plurals … A. Generally.”

[2] “Words imported into the English language from other languages — especially Greek, Latin, French, and Italian — present some of the most troublesome aspects of English plurals.  Many imported words become thoroughly naturalized; if so, they take an English plural.  But if a word of Latin or Greek origin is relatively rare in English — or if the foreign plural became established in English long ago — then it typically takes its foreign plural.”  Garner’s Modern American Usage, s.v. “plurals … B. Borrowed Words.”

[3] “The Latin plural being , and the English -ums, three selections follow of nouns (1) that now always use -ums, either as having completed their naturalization, or for special reasons; (2) that show no signs at present of conversion, but always use ; (3) that vacillate, sometimes with a differentiation of meaning, sometimes in harmony with the style of writing, and sometimes unaccountably.”  H.W. Fowler and R.W. Burchfield, eds., Fowler’s Modern English Usage, rev. ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), s.v. “-um.”

[4] Garner’s Modern American Usage, s.v. “plurals … B. Borrowed Words.”

[5] The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010), 7.1.

[6] The Chicago Manual of Style, 7.6.

[7] In relevant part, Garner defines the term “inflection” as “[t]he change of form that a word undergoes to distinguish its case, gender, mood, number, voice, or other characteristics. … Nouns are inflected to show that they are plural.”  Bryan A. Garner, “Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical, and Other Language-Related Terms,” in Garner’s Modern American Usage, 900.

[8] We might find inflectional information “[i]n individual dictionary entries,” under cross-references, or “as outside matter.”  Bo Svensén, A Handbook of Lexicography: The Theory and Practice of Dictionary-Making (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 126, 129.  In this context, the term “outside matter” refers to the components of a dictionary other than “the ordered set of dictionary entries.”  Svensén, A Handbook of Lexicography, 76.

I found this explanation under the “Help” section of Merriam-Webster Online:

The plurals of nouns are shown in this dictionary when suffixation brings about a change of final -y to -i-, when the noun ends in a consonant plus -o, when the noun ends in -oo or -ey, when the noun has an irregular plural or a zero plural or a foreign plural, when the noun is a compound that pluralizes any element but the last, when a final consonant is doubled, when the noun has variant plurals, and when it is believed that the dictionary user might have reasonable doubts about the spelling of the plural or when the plural is spelled in a way contrary to expectations.

Explanatory Notes to the Dictionary: Inflected Forms,” Merriam-Webster Online, 2015, accessed March 27, 2016,

Posted by Frank Taylor on May 7, 2013 (updated August 14, 2016)

William Shakespeare has received credit for many contributions to the English language.[1]  Those contributions include the advice that Polonius gave to his son Laertes in the play Hamlet:[2]

Neither a borrower nor a lender be,

For loan oft loses both itself and friend,

And borrowing dulleth edge of husbandry.[3]


That advice has prospered as a proverb,[4] but it has been ignored by language, which provides fertile terrain for borrowing,[5] loan words,[6] calques or loan translations,[7] and related transplants[8] in spite of the possible consequences.[9]

As a lender, English has contributed many “foreign words”:[10]

anglicismes and américanismes to French,[11]

anglicismos, americanismos, and angloamericanismos to Spanish,[12] and

• Anglicisms[13] and Americanisms[14] to other languages.[15]

As a borrower, English is “a particularly permeable language”[16] that has borrowed most of its words.[17]  The borrowings include the suffix “–ism,” which “is one of the most prolific word-creating elements in the [English] language”[18] and has a long and productive history:

–ismos or –isma in Greek, -ismus or –isma in Latin, and -isme in French,[19]

• cognates[20] such as -ismo in Spanish,[21] and

• the English noun “ism.”[22]

Change is “a universal and unstoppable process” in which “[a]ll aspects of language are involved.”[23]  A language changes when it borrows a word; modernization,[24] naturalization,[25] and translation[26] are other manifestations of change in language.

The verb “dulleth” serves as an example not only of the variant spellings[27] in different versions of Hamlet[28] but also of the modernization of inflection[29] from the time of Shakespeare to the present.[30]  During the development of Modern English,[31] the inflection for the third person singular of the present tense of verbs changed from “-eth,” “-ath,” or “-th”[32] to “-s” (sometimes “-es”).[33]

The changes that occur during borrowing are not predictable.[34]  Naturalization changes some loan words more than others,[35] and translation involves complications such as indeterminacy and interpretation.

The respective histories of the words “calque” and anglicisme give us some idea of the degree to which the changes can vary:

• The Latin verb calcare produced the verb calcare and the noun calco in Italian, from which French borrowed the verb calquer and the related noun calque,[36] which English copied;[37]

• English borrowed the adjective Anglicus from Medieval Latin[38] and combined it with “-ism” to form the noun “Anglicism,”[39] which French changed to anglicisme.[40]

But some things never change.  Debates over Hamlet continue to boil after more than 400 years, and languages continue to borrow from one another.


[1] According to Shakespeare Online, “The English language owes a great debt to Shakespeare.  He invented over 1700 of our common words by changing nouns into verbs, changing verbs into adjectives, connecting words never before used together, adding prefixes and suffixes, and devising words wholly original.”  “Words Shakespeare Invented,” Amanda Mabillard, accessed March 22, 2016,

[2] The British Library provides an online resource, Discovering Literature: Shakespeare, with links to information about Hamlet.  “Hamlet,” British Library, accessed August 14, 2016,

[3] Ham I.iii.75-77, “Works: Hamlet; Act I, Scene iii,” Shakespeare’s Words, David Crystal and Ben Crystal, accessed March 22, 2016,

We can see another version of the same lines at The Complete Works of William Shakespeare:

Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.

The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark: Act 1, Scene 3,” Jeremy Hylton, accessed March 22, 2016,

[4] “Neither a borrower nor a lender be; For loan oft loses both itself and friend.”  Jennifer Speake, ed., The Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs, with contributions by John Simpson, 5th ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), s.v. “borrower nor a lender be, neither a.”

[5] During the 19th century, Professor William Dwight Whitney commented on the magnitude of “the bringing into a language of words borrowed out of other languages”:

Borrowing, in greater or less degree, is well-nigh universally resorted to; there is hardly a dialect in the world, of which the speakers ever come in contact with those of another dialect, which has not taken something out of that other.

William Dwight Whitney, The Life and Growth of Language: An Outline of Linguistic Science (New York: Dover, 1979), 114.

In the 21st century, Professor Calvert Watkins repeated his observation that “languages commonly borrow words and other features from one another, in a whole gamut of ways ranging from causal or chance contact to learned coinages of the kind that English systematically makes from Latin and Greek.”  Calvert Watkins, ed., “Indo-European and the Indo-Europeans,” in The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots, 3rd ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011), vii.  As Watkins emphasized again, however, borrowing is only one of the possible explanations for the similarities among languages.  Watkins, “Indo-European and the Indo-Europeans,” vi-vii.

[6] Author J.A. Cuddon defined the term “loan word” as “[a] word imported into a language from another language, or ‘borrowed’ from it.  Very often such borrowings are permanent.”  J.A. Cuddon, A Dictionary of Literary Terms (Garden City: Doubleday, 1977), s.v. “loan word.”   The term sometimes appears as a compound word (“loanword”) or a hyphenated word (“loan-word”).  Bryan A. Garner, “Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical, and Other Language-Related Terms,” in Garner’s Modern American Usage, 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), s.v. “loanword”; R.R.K. Hartmann and Gregory James, Dictionary of Lexicography (London: Routledge, 2001), s.v. “loan-word.”

[7] Linguist David Crystal explained that “a loan translation or calque” occurs when “a word is not borrowed whole, but its parts are translated separately and a new word formed.”  David Crystal, How Language Works: How Babies Babble, Words Change Meaning, and Languages Live or Die (New York: Avery, 2007), 225 (italic emphasis omitted).  The term “calque” (or “loan translation”) is also used in the field of translation studies, in which it “refers to a translation technique applied to [a source-language] expression and involving the literal translation of its component elements.”  Giuseppe Palumbo, Key Terms in Translation Studies (London: Continuum, 2009), s.v.v. “calque,” “loan translation” (bold emphasis omitted).

[8] The terms for the related transplants include “loan shift (change of meaning under influence from another language), loan concept or semantic loan (concept introduced by borrowing), [and] loan blend (blend of which one element is foreign).”  P.H. Matthews, comp., The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Linguistics, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), s.v. “loan” (bold emphasis and internal reference omitted).

[9] One of the possible consequences of borrowing is that sometimes the form of a loan word makes it susceptible to “‘folk etymology’ or ‘popular etymology,’” which is a process that “appears to invent a new origin for a word, an origin which is contrary to fact.”  L. Bauer, “Folk Etymology,” in Concise Encyclopedia of Semantics, eds. Keith Brown and Keith Allan (Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2009), 314.  Another possible consequence is that “when a concrete term is borrowed it usually becomes a (partial) false friend by means of a restriction in meaning.”  P. Chamizo-Dominguez, “False Friends,” in Brown and Allan, Concise Encyclopedia of Semantics, 310.

[10] As lexicographer Bo Svensén explained, “‘Foreign words’ is the term applied in many languages to established loanwords still obviously of foreign origin as well as to recently introduced words clearly alien in spelling and sometimes also in pronunciation.”  Bo Svensén, A Handbook of Lexicography: The Theory and Practice of Dictionary-Making (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 33.

[11] Dictionnaire de l’Académie français, 9th ed., s.v.v. “anglicisme,” “américanisme,” accessed March 22, 2016,

[12] Real Academia Española and Asociación de Academias de la Lengua Española, Diccionario de la lengua española, s.v.v.  “anglicismo,”“americanismo,” “angloamericanismo,” accessed March 22, 2016,

[13] The senses of the English noun “Anglicism” include “[a]nglicized language; an English idiom.”  Shorter Oxford English Dictionary: On Historical Principles, 6th ed., s.v. “Anglicism.”

[14] One of the senses of the English noun “Americanism” is “[a] word, sense, or phrase peculiar to or originating from the United States of America.”  Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. “Americanism.”

[15] Although “[l]oanwords from English, because of its global reach and political history, have attracted particular antagonism,” Crystal noted that “some of the words now condemned as Anglicisms (such as computer and hamburger) are not in fact etymologically English at all.”  David Crystal, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, 3rd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 48.  He explained that, in general, “[a]ntagonism towards individual loanwords tends to fade over time”:

The novelties of one generation become the traditions of the next.  The process is aided by the way words rapidly conform to the sound and spelling system of the new language, or appear in new structures and with new meanings.

Crystal, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, 48.

[16] “English, a particularly permeable language, has assimilated a huge number of foreign elements, especially French, Scandinavian, Celtic, Latin and Greek.”  Cuddon, A Dictionary of Literary Terms, s.v. “loan word.”

[17] “English is a Germanic language which mainly consists of words that are not Germanic.  Certainly the most common words … are usually Germanic and resemble the corresponding item in German or the Scandinavian languages.  But the majority have been borrowed during the last thousand years.”  Tore Janson, A Natural History of Latin, trans. Merethe Damsgård Sørensen and Nigel Vincent (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 173.

[18] Michael Quinion, Ologies and Isms: A Dictionary of Word Beginnings and Endings (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), s.v. “-ism.”

[19] Robert K. Barnhart and Sol Steinmetz, eds., Chambers Dictionary of Etymology (Edinburgh: Chambers, 2008), s.v. “-ism” (diacritical mark omitted).

[20] Crystal defined the term “cognate” and demonstrated its use as an adjective:

A language or linguistic form which is historically derived from the same source as another.  Spanish, French, and Portuguese are all cognate languages, deriving from Latin.  Many of their words, accordingly, have a common origin, and are also said to be cognate.

David Crystal, A Dictionary of Language, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), s.v. “cognate.”

[21] Real Academia Española and Asociación de Academias de la Lengua Española, Diccionario de la lengua española, s.v. “-ismo,” accessed March 22, 2016,

[22] The noun “ism” derived from the suffix and possesses the sense “[a] form of doctrine, theory, or practice having, or claiming to have, a distinctive character or relationship.”  Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. “ism.”

[23] Crystal, A Dictionary of Language, s.v. “language change.”

[24] The noun “modernization” derived from the verb “modernize,” one of the senses of which is “give a modern character or appearance to something.”  Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. “modernize” (parentheses omitted).

[25] The noun “naturalization” derived from the verb “naturalize,” one of the senses of which is “[i]ntroduce or adopt a word, practice, thing, etc.[,] into a country or into common use.”  Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. “naturalize” (parentheses omitted).

[26] The senses of the noun “translation” include “[r]emoval or conveyance from one person, place, time, or condition to another,” “[t]he action or process of expressing the sense of a word, passage, etc., in a different language,” “[t]he expression or rendering of something in another medium, form, or mode of expression,” and “[t]ransformation, alteration, change; changing or adapting to another use; renovation.”  Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. “translation.”

[27] The variations include “dulleth th’edge,” “dulleth edge,” “dulleth the edge,” “duls the edge,” and “dulleth’ edge.”  Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor, eds., Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, Arden Shakespeare (London: Arden Shakespeare, 2006), 196.

[28] Shakespeare scholar Harold Jenkins commented that “Hamlet is unique among Shakespeare’s plays in having … three substantive texts. … The relation between them is complicated and in some respects puzzling.”  Harold Jenkins, ed., “Introduction: The Texts,” in Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, Arden Shakespeare (Walton-on-Thames: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1997), 18.  As a reader who is not a Shakespeare scholar, I was confused by the variations among the different editions of Hamlet that have been published.  The website Shakespeare’s Words based its texts of Shakespeare principally on the editions of a particular publisher and offered this explanation of the possible differences:

For users who make use of other editions of the texts, it is important to appreciate that varying editorial decisions will sometimes affect the way in which lines are numbered or words identified and spelled, and even at times scene divisions and numbering.

Works: About The Texts,” Crystal and Crystal, accessed March 22, 2016,

[29] Lexicographer Bryan Garner explained the relevant sense of the English noun “inflection”:

The change of form that a word undergoes to distinguish its case, gender, mood, number, voice, or other characteristics.  Nouns, pronouns, and verbs are inflected either by affixation or by internal vowel change.  Nouns are inflected to show that they are plural. … Verbs are inflected when conjugated.

Garner, “Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical, and Other Language-Related Terms,” s.v. “inflection” (internal bullet omitted).

[30] Like other editors, Jenkins determined that the available evidence did not establish a precise date for the writing or production of Hamlet, but he suggested that “[a] date between the middle of 1599 and the end of 1601 appears … beyond dispute.”  Jenkins, “Introduction: The Date,” in Hamlet, 1.  How far had the modernization of verb forms progressed at that time?

Two present-tense verb-endings from Middle English are still to be found in the Early Modern period: -est for the 2nd person singular following thou (as in thou goest); and -th or -eth for the 3rd person singular (as in she goeth). Both were reducing in frequency, and in due course the -est form would disappear (modern: you go), and the -(e)th form be entirely replaced by -s (modern: she goes).

Language Companion: List of Topics; Verb forms,” Shakespeare’s Words, Crystal and Crystal, accessed March 22, 2016,

[31] The website Words in English provides a chronological history of the English language that is divided into four time periods:

• the “Pre-English Period (before 600 AD),”

• the “Old English Period (ca. 600-1100),”

• the “Middle English Period (ca. 1100-1500),” and

• the “Modern English Period (ca. 1500-present).”

“A Brief History of English, with Chronology,” Suzanne Kemmer, accessed March 22, 2016,

The relevant details include the influence of Shakespeare and the time periods during which significant numbers of words have been borrowed.  “Index: Shakespeare, William,” “Borrowed Words,” Kemmer, accessed March 22, 2016,,

[32] Quinion, Ologies and Isms, s.v. “-eth².”

[33] Quinion, Ologies and Isms, s.v. “-s².”

[34] For example, translators may consider a variety of factors when they decide which “word or expression” to use:

A word … may be borrowed because it has no equivalents … or borrowed for stylistic effect. … The decision whether to translate a given [source-language] word with a borrowing ultimately depends on such factors as the purpose of the translation and the type of [target-language] audience.

Palumbo, Key Terms in Translation Studies, s.v. “borrowing.”

[35] As Garner observed, “Few or no changes are made to some adopted words,” but “[f]or others naturalization is evident.”  Garner, “Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical, and Other Language-Related Terms,” s.v. “loanword.”  If we juxtapose his definitions, we can see the contrasting degrees of change that distinguish the term “loan translation” — “[a] word or phrase borrowed from another language by literally translating the components” — from the term “loanword” — “[a] word borrowed or adopted from another language and partly or wholly naturalized.”  Garner, “Glossary of Grammatical, Rhetorical, and Other Language-Related Terms,” s.v.v. “loan translation,” “loanword.”

[36] Dictionnaire de l’Académie français, s.v.v. “calque,” “calquer,” accessed May 9, 2013,

[37] Barnhart and Steinmetz, Chambers Dictionary of Etymology, s.v. “calque.”

[38] The varieties of Latin are frequently identified by terms such as “Old Latin,” “Late Latin,” “Medieval Latin,” “New Latin,” “Vulgar Latin,” or “Classical Latin.”  “Glossary of Language Names and Linguistic Terms,” in Barnhart and Steinmetz, Chambers Dictionary of Etymology, s.v.v. “Latin,” “Medieval Latin.”  Here is one explanation of Medieval Latin:

[T]he Latin language, especially of European intellectuals during the Middle Ages, from about 700 A.D. to about 1500.  During this period … Latin ceased to be anyone’s mother tongue in the countries where the Romance languages developed. … The syntax and meanings of Medieval Latin were often much closer to modern languages (from which Medieval Latin borrowed liberally) than Classical Latin.

“Glossary of Language Names and Linguistic Terms,” in Barnhart and Steinmetz, Chambers Dictionary of Etymology, s.v. “Medieval Latin.”

[39] Barnhart and Steinmetz, Chambers Dictionary of Etymology, s.v. “Anglicize.”

[40] Dictionnaire de l’Académie français, s.v. “anglicisme,” accessed March 22, 2016,  http://atilf.

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