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Dr. Goodword
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Postby Dr. Goodword » Fri Aug 16, 2013 10:34 pm

• plaintiff •

Pronunciation: playn-tif • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: A complainant, a person who brings a suit to a court of law.

Notes: Today's Good Word is a lexical orphan of sorts: it has no direct relatives, words that are derived from it. However, it comes from the same French word as plaintive "grieving, mournful", and we see its root in complaint. The Word History will show how these words fit together.

In Play: This word can only be narrowly used, in the legal sense: "The plaintiff in this case, Your Honor, claims that she hired the defendant to wash her toy poodle, and that the defendant, having washed the dog, then placed the pup in her microwave oven to dry it." The defendant then sued the plaintiff for destruction of her microwave when the dog exploded.

Word History: Plaintiff goes back to the era following the Norman Conquest when English courts were conducted in French. The English legal dialect is still peppered with French expressions as a result of that period: voir dire "examination of witnesses", oyez "hear ye" are just two examples. Middle English borrowed the word from the Old French adjective plaintif "aggrieved, lamenting". The plaintiff is the aggrieved party in a legal proceeding. French plaintif came from the noun plainte "complaint, grievance", which goes back to Latin planctus "lament", the past participle of plangere "to beat one's breast, to lament". This comes from a time when women beat their breasts when they mourned. In fact, breast-beating remains in English as a phrase that means overreacting to a bad situation. (The contributor of today's Good Word, Joanne Verhulst in the Netherlands, mentioned that the equivalent of plaintiff in Dutch is aanklager "accuser".)
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Re: Plaintiff

Postby MTC » Sat Aug 17, 2013 3:48 am

There are two Plaintiffs, panel. Only one is "real." Which one do you choose? Mr. Cerf?

Whoops, 1950s time warp! Sorry!

But back to "Plaintiff," a word any lawyer worth his salt would hit out of the park, (a temptation I'll resist) what interests me is the Dutch version, "accuser." That's a word reserved for
criminal law in English Common Law systems like the U.S. The People or the State "accuse" a criminal defendant of a crime. Holland, however, follows the Civil Law, and that may have something to do with it. Perhaps the lady who suggested "Plaintiff" will educate us...

P.S. Perry resides in the only state in the U.S. under the Civil Law, Louisiana. Maybe he knows.

Perry Lassiter
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Re: Plaintiff

Postby Perry Lassiter » Sat Aug 17, 2013 12:09 pm

I always heard it was the French common law. I'll try to remember to ask one of my lawyer friends. Meanwhile, wasn't it Walt Kelly whose Pogo characters would occasionally shout "J'accuse" while pointing their furry fingers at someone?

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Re: Plaintiff

Postby Slava » Sat Aug 17, 2013 1:28 pm

I do know that "J'accuse" was used in Doonesbury. When Zonker is arrested for possession of marijuana, the police dog points at him and say it.
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