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The Unknown Stories Behind Familiar Legal Expressions

James E. Clapp, Elizabeth G. Thornburg, Marc Galanter, and Fred R. Shapiro

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Not just for lawyers, these illuminating histories of popular law-related expressions will delight anyone fascinated by words, by history, or by law and law enforcement

Law-related words and phrases abound in our everyday language, often without our being aware of their origins or their particular legal significance: boilerplate, jailbait, pound of flesh, rainmaker, the third degree. This insightful and entertaining book reveals the unknown stories behind familiar legal expressions that come from sources as diverse as Shakespeare, vaudeville, and Dr. Seuss. Separate entries for each expression follow no prescribed formula but instead focus on the most interesting, enlightening, and surprising aspects of the words and their evolution. Popular myths and misunderstandings are explored and exploded, and the entries are augmented with historical images and humorous sidebars.

Lively and unexpected, Lawtalk will draw a diverse array of readers with its abundance of linguistic, legal, historical, and cultural information. Those readers should be forewarned: upon finishing one entry, there is an irresistible temptation to turn to another, and yet another .  .  .

James E. Clapp, a member of the New York and District of Columbia bars and a former litigator, works primarily in the field of legal lexicography. He is the author of Random House Webster's Dictionary of the Law. Elizabeth G. Thornburg is a professor at SMU Dedman School of Law, where she teaches and writes about civil procedure and alternative dispute resolution. Marc Galanter is John & Rylla Bosshard Professor Emeritus of Law and South Asian Studies, University of Wisconsin–Madison, and the author of Lowering the Bar: Lawyer Jokes and Legal Culture. Fred R. Shapiro is associate librarian and lecturer in legal research, Yale Law School. He is the editor of The Yale Book of Quotations, available from Yale University Press, and a major contributor to both the second and the third editions of the Oxford English Dictionary.

"Lawtalk combines enormous erudition with loads of levity-the result being a compulsively browsable book that will leave readers wordly-wise."—Bryan A. Garner, President, LawProse, Inc., Editor in Chief, Black's Law Dictionary

"A genuine contribution in an area where precious little exists. Extraordinarily original and of even more extraordinary scholarship, truly erudite, researched and sourced. I would run to buy it." --Roger Newman, editor of The Yale Biographical Dictionary of American Law.

“This imaginative book will enlighten and amuse not only lawyers, but anyone who thinks about law, talks about law, or has to deal with law—that is to say, all of us,”—Linda Greenhouse, author of Becoming Justice Blackmun

"The language of the law is endlessly colorful, sometimes quite literally so: think of blue laws, green cards, blackmail and white-shoe firms. Finally we have an authoritative reference for all these terms and many more, written in a highly engaging style. Even if you're a shyster who couldn't indict a ham sandwich, at least now you'll know where those expressions came from."—Ben Zimmer, executive producer of and

Lawtalk is not just entertaining, but also quite educational. Lawyers, judges, and lay people interested in the workings of the legal system can learn a great deal from it,”—Peter Tiersma, Loyola Law School, Los Angeles.

“Well-researched and entertaining...a skillful mix of scholarship and readability...extensively documented with social, cultural, historic, and, of course, legal sources.”—Joan Pedzich, Library Journal

"Lawtalk is serious scholarship . . . leavened with wry wit and a snappy style of writing that keeps one turning pages both to discover more and to smile more."—JoAnn Baca, The Federal Lawyer

"Elegant, deliciously detailed, and authoritative . . . demonstrate[s] that learning can be fun."—Glenn C. Altschuler, Huffington Post

Lively and entertaining . . . fascinating . . . a gem of a book . . . well-documented and well-researched . . . Lawtalk yields a multitude of interesting and amusing tidbits.”—Donna M. Fisher, AALL Spectrum (American Association of Law Libraries)

“Insightful and entertaining”—Spartanburg Herald Journal

“Fun and well-researched.”—Howard Shapiro, Philadelphia Inquirer

"A group of distinguished professorial lawyers . . . tell us the history and meaning of lawyer talk.”—Jacob Stein, Washington Lawyer

"Very well researched and comprehensive. . .The history behind each phrase is fascinating. . .Provides an enlightening insight into the countless pieces of ‘legalese’ to which we are all exposed daily, but have had little reason to question - until now."—Law Actually blog

“[Lawtalk] would be a treasured newcomer to any bookshelf and provides an enlightening insight into the countless pieces of ‘legalese’ to which we are all exposed daily, but have had little reason to question - until now.”—Law Actually

“Insightful . . . [and] as entertaining as it is enlightening.”—John G. Browning, Southeast Texas Record

"A witty, informative collection . . . In a refreshingly candid manner, Lawtalk explores race, gender, and class issues associated with the evolution of commonly used phrases . . . Amusing, enlightening, and authoritative, this well-researched mini-reference is something readers will return to repeatedly."—Danielle Ochs-Tillotson, California Lawyer

Lawtalk stands apart from many popular works on word origins for the academic rigor underpinning its accessibility.”—Rebecca Shapiro, Dictionaries: Journal of the Dictionary Society of North America 
ISBN: 9780300172461
Publication Date: November 22, 2011
368 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
17 scattered b/w

Sales Restrictions: World excluding India
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