Illuminate Legal Terminology™
Law Explorers

Legal research, legal writing, and legal translation are the lights that illuminate the dark, unknown regions in the universe of law.


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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Sir Isaac Newton[1] is famous for, among other things, his exposition of the law[2] of universal gravitation,[3] to which many of us refer as the “law of gravity.”  His Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica has been called “probably the most important single work ever published in the physical sciences.”[4]

In the preface to his book, Newton requested “that the defects in a subject so difficult be not so much reprehended as kindly supplied, and investigated by new endeavours of my readers.”[5]  More than two centuries later, physicist Albert Einstein contributed a theory of general relativity that explained deviations from Newton’s theory of gravity.[6]

You do not need to be an Einstein[7] to contribute to the global discussion[8] about language, legal terminology, and legal systems.  Centuries before Newton’s time, the Forum Romanum[9] served not only as a place for the administration of justice[10] but also as a public place in which the citizenry participated in the discussion of questions of general interest.[11]

Those functions continue in the senses of the English noun “forum”:

  • “A place of or meeting for public discussion.”[12]
  • “A court, a tribunal ([literally] & [figuratively]).”[13]
  • “An online discussion group.  Devoted to a specific subject, . . . a forum is a website comprising written exchanges among members.”[14]

The Law Explorers® Forum provides an entrance[15] to what promises to be a constructive and cumulative dialogue:

  • Contribute your voice as both a student and a teacher.[16]
  • Participate in “the interplay of ideas and the exchange of views with which the law is concerned.”[17]
  • Suggest books in print or resources on the World Wide Web[18] with which we can cultivate and test[19] our knowledge of legal systems and the language and terminology of law.

Remember that the most important thing to know is to “know how to learn”![20]

[1] Sir Isaac Newton was an English mathematician and physicist who lived from 1642 to 1727.  John Daintith and Elizabeth Martin, eds., A Dictionary of Science, 6th ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), s.v. “Newton, Sir Isaac.”  The word “sir” is frequently “[u]sed as a form of respectful or polite address,” but in this context, it is used in the sense “the distinctive honorific title for a knight.”  Shorter Oxford English Dictionary: On Historical Principles, 6th ed., s.v. “sir.”  Newton was knighted in 1705.  Magnus Magnusson, Chambers Biographical Dictionary, with the assistance of Rosemary Goring, 5th ed. (Edinburgh: Chambers, [1993]), s.v. “Newton, Sir Isaac.”

[2] “In science,” as opposed to the legal domain, “a law is a descriptive principle of nature that holds in all circumstances covered by the wording of the law.”  Daintith and Martin, A Dictionary of Science, s.v. “laws, theories, and hypotheses.”  The identification of statements as laws of science has been criticized, however, because “the term ‘law’ is used by scientists with no consistent meaning.  It is not one of the technical terms defined by any science, and the scope of its application has varied.”  R.S. Walters, “Laws of Science and Lawlike Statements,” in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Paul Edwards (New York: Macmillan, 1972), 4:410 (double quotation marks changed to single).  For example, Newton’s discovery has been called both a law and a theory:

Familiar terminology is not always a reliable guide to [the distinction between experimental laws and theories], for although we may speak of the “law” of conservation of energy, this so-called law has many of the chief characteristics of theories, and on the other hand Newton’s “theory” of gravitation may be held to be in all important respects an experimental law.

Mary Hesse, “Laws and Theories,” in Edwards, The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 4:404.

[3] Michael Sprackling, “Gravitation, Law of Universal,” in Dictionary of Theories, ed. Jennifer Bothamley (Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 2002), 237.

[4] Stephen Hawking, The Illustrated a Brief History of Time: Updated and Expanded Edition (New York: Bantam Books, 2007), 7.  Physicist Stephen Hawking "was appointed Lucasian professor of mathematics in 1979," more than three centuries after Newton received the same appointment at Cambridge University.  Magnusson, Chambers Biographical Dictionary, s.v.v. "Hawking, Stephen William," “Newton, Sir Isaac.”

[5] “I heartily beg that what I have here done may be read with candour; and that the defects in a subject so difficult be not so much reprehended as kindly supplied, and investigated by new endeavours of my readers.”  Isaac Newton, preface to The Principia, trans. Andrew Motte, Great Minds Series (Amherst: Prometheus Books, 1995), 5.

[6] Hawking explained that, in the general theory of relativity, “Einstein made the revolutionary suggestion that gravity is not a force like other forces, but is a consequence of the fact that space-time is not flat, as had been previously assumed: it is curved, or ‘warped,’ by the distribution of mass and energy in it.”  Hawking, The Illustrated a Brief History of Time, 40 (double quotation marks changed to single).  Although “the orbits of the planets predicted by general relativity are almost exactly the same as those predicted by the Newtonian theory of gravity,” Hawking noted, the orbits of the planets around the sun agree with the predictions of Einstein’s theory in instances where they deviate from the predictions of Newton’s theory.  Hawking, The Illustrated a Brief History of Time, 40, 42.

[7] The surname or family name of Albert Einstein serves as an example of an eponym, or “a personal name used as a common noun or used to form a common noun.”  Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. “eponym.”  It is sometimes “used as a synonym for a genius,” and the name of “a man-made radioactive element” was formed from it.  Robert Hendrickson, The Dictionary of Eponyms: Names That Became Words (New York: Dorset Press, 1988), s.v. “Einstein, Einsteinium.”

[8] As one scientist noted, “[d]iscussing a problem with colleagues or with lay persons may be helpful in one of several ways”; the potential benefits include useful suggestions, new ideas, exposure of errors, refreshment, stimulation, and encouragement in addition to “escape from an established habit of thought which has proved fruitless, that is to say, from conditioned thinking.”  W.I.B. Beveridge, The Art of Scientific Investigation, [3rd ed.] (New York: Vintage Books, n.d.), 84-85.

[9] “According to the tradition of the Romans themselves the city was founded in the year 753 BCE . . . and modern archaeologists and historians believe that this is quite close to the truth.  A small settlement seems to have grown up in the eighth century BCE which included just that spot which was to become the centre of Rome throughout antiquity, the Forum Romanum ‘the Roman square’.”  Tore Janson, A Natural History of Latin, trans. Merethe Damsgård Sørensen and Nigel Vincent (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 6.

[10] “En la antigua Roma, plaza donde se trataban los asuntos públicos, incluidos los de comercio y de orden económico, y se administraba justicia.”  Fernando Iriarte M., ed., Diccionario jurídico básico, with the assistance of Arturo Alvarado M. and Sandra Milena Gallo Martinez, Centro de Investigaciones Simón Rodríguez ([Bogotá]: Ediciones Esquilo, n.d.), s.v. “foro.”

[11] “En Roma, plaza pública en la que se ventilaban las cuestiones de interés general, con la intervención de la ciudadanía.”  Rafael de Pina and Rafael de Pina Vara, Diccionario de Derecho, rev. Juan Pablo de Pina García, 35th ed. (México: Porrúa, 2006), “foro.”

[12] Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. “forum".

[13] Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. “forum".

[14] Jonathon Keats, Control + Alt + Delete: A Dictionary of Cyberslang (Guilford: Lyons Press, 2007), s.v. “forum.”

[15] The nouns “entrance” and “door” are mutual synonyms.  Jerome Irving Rodale, ed., The Synonym Finder, rev. Laurence Urdang and Nancy LaRoche, with the assistance of Faye C. Allen et al. (Emmaus: Rodale Press, 1978), s.v.v. “door,” “entrance.”  Both “door” and “forum” are products of the Indo-European root dhwer, of which dhwor- and dhur- were related forms.  Calvert Watkins, ed., The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots, 3rd ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011), s.v. “dhwer-.”

[16] “A teacher learns more by teaching others.  To teach is to learn.”  John S. Rohsenow, ed., ABC Dictionary of Chinese Proverbs, ABC Chinese Dictionary Series (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2003), 67.

[17] “The law school, the proving ground for legal learning and practice, cannot be effective in isolation from the individuals and institutions with which the law interacts.  Few students and no one who has practiced law would choose to study in an academic vacuum, removed from the interplay of ideas and the exchange of views with which the law is concerned.”  Sweatt v. Painter, 339 U.S. 629, 634 (1950).

[18] What is the difference between the World Wide Web and the Internet?  The World Wide Web (also known as WWW or Web) is a computer-based information service that is accessed through the Internet.  Daintith and Martin, A Dictionary of Science, s.v. “World Wide Web.”  The Internet (or Net) is “[t]he global network that links most of the world’s computer networks.”  Daintith and Martin, A Dictionary of Science, s.v. “Internet.”

[19] The senses of the English verb “test” include “evaluate . . . by experiment or critical examination.”  Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. “test . . . verb².”  The sense “achieve or receive a specified rating, result, score, etc., in a test” originated in North America during the twentieth century.  Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. “test . . . verb².”

[20] Author Henry Adams reflected on his own experience in education:

[M]ost keen judges incline to think that barely one man in a hundred owns a mind capable of reacting to any purpose on the forces that surround him, and fully half of these react wrongly.  The object of education for that mind should be the teaching itself how to react with vigor and economy.  No doubt the world at large will always lag so far behind the active mind as to make a soft cushion of inertia to drop upon, as it did for Henry Adams; but education should try to lessen the obstacles, diminish the friction, invigorate the energy, and should train minds to react, not at haphazard, but by choice, on the lines of force that attract their world.  What one knows is, in youth, of little moment; they know enough who know how to learn.

Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 264.


Title of page Participation
Address of page
Geographic areas Rome; England
Languages Latin; English; Spanish
Terms and phrases forum; law; law of gravity; theory of general relativity; language; legal terminology; legal system; dialogue; science; law school; World Wide Web; Internet
Proverbs, maxims, and canons to teach is to learn
Metaphors, metonyms, and other figurative expressions Einstein
Events Sweatt v. Painter
Publications Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica; A Brief History of Time; The Art of Scientific Investigation; A Natural History of Latin
Authors Stephen Hawking; Calvert Watkins; Henry Adams
Individuals Isaac Newton; Albert Einstein
Organizations Cambridge University