• barrister •
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: An attorney in the British legal system licensed to argue cases in higher courts, as opposed to a solicitor, who may only prepare cases for a barrister and argue in certain lower courts.
Notes: People have attempted to build a family around today's word over the years, but none seem to have succeeded. In the mid 19th century the adjective barristerial and the noun barristership appeared in print, but no one seems to remember them any more.
In Play: Despite our best intentions, the best known barrister probably remains Horace Rumpole, the cheroot-smoking, cheap-claret-drinking creation of the British TV series written by Sir John Mortimer. Rumpole of the Bailey, as played by the late Leo McKern, is known for his cagey manipulation of the British legal system and his office colleagues, and for his forthrightness in such quotes as, "Crime doesn't pay, but it's a living."
Word History: Today's Good Word is probably a blend of two words, bar (originally barre when freshly borrowed from French) and obsolete legister, an extension of legist "a specialist at law". The root, bar, now refers to a rail and to the practice of law, as in to practice before the bar. The bar in this case originally referred to the railing in the British courtroom that separates the judge, the lawyers, the accused, and witnesses from the rest of the court (audience). To practice before the bar, then, originally meant to practice in front of this railing. (Today's word was the suggestion of Norman Rich of Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, who recently returned from a grand cruise around the British Isles with a new bag of interesting words.)
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