• estoppel •
e-stah-pêl • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A rule of evidence which precludes (estops) a person from denying the truth of some statement previously made by himself (equitable estoppel). 2. A rule of evidence that precludes failure to take legal action until the other party is prejudiced by the delay (estoppel by laches). 3. A rule of evidence that bars or estops a party from litigating an issue that has been settled in another case (collateral estoppel).
Notes: Today's legally good word seems to be the noun from the verb to estop, though English has never created nouns from verbs with a suffix -el or -le. There is another noun, estoppage, which is used to refer to the principle itself, the principle of estoppage.
In Play: Here is the situation. Your neighbor, Kenny Dewitt, bought an atrocious painting by an unknown local artist by the name of, say, Art Major. To prevent his wife's leaving him, Kenny gives it to you. 10 years later, Major is exhibiting in all the NYC galleries and Kenny's wife is now threatening to leave on the grounds of spousal stupidity. Kenny wants his painting back. Simply say, "Ken, you can't do it; I'm protected by estoppel." His reply, I predict, will be, "Huh?" Be ready with this: "By the principle of estoppage, you can't change the terms of a deal later on when the change would disadvantage the other party." The court will back you up.
Word History: This section of our good words is usually devoted to discussing the origin of words. Today's word seems to have come from nowhere, neither from English nor any other language. It is clearly based on English stop, but English has never had a noun suffix -el or a prefix e-. Could it have come from Old French estouppail, as several dictionaries suggest? Well, that word meant "a bung or cork" and is widely attested in English as stopple "stopper". The speculations that it started either as a drunken prank in a law fraternity or the result of the speech impediment of some judge are just as convincing. (Today's is yet another of the lawyerly wonderwords used every day by Bruce Spicer, Esquire, of Harrisburg, PA.)