Interpretation Of Latin Legal Terms

habeas corpus

Carpe Diem defined

As a student of law, I always wonder as to why there is so much of Latin in legal writing when the language is almost never used in courts. A born inquisitionist, I was curious to know the raison d’etre behind such usage which I was able to achieve with a little research into the history of the language and the legal system and some legal writings on the same question. The Latin proverbs or Maxims then became unconditional fascination for me that I just got addicted to using them in writings legal and otherwise. This article deals with the popular phrase in Latin, carpe diem, meaning ‘seize the day.’

What does the phrase mean?

This famous phrase is adopted from the work of Horace called “Odes” which is a collection of poems and wherein the phrase appeared for first time. The usage dates back to such ancient times as early 65BC-8BC. The line that incorporated the phrase reads thus:

“Carpe diem quam minimum credula postero” meaning, “seize the day and place no trust in tomorrow.” Here the verb Carpe is used in the imperative mood and the noun Diem in the accusative case from grammatical point of view. The word however was used by Horace only to mean enjoyment or fulfillment and that’s how we have arrived at the current translation of Seize for the word.

What is Habeas Corpus?

A similar legal term being Habeas corpus, also borrowed from Latin, denotes an action that safeguards a person from unlawful detention by an agency or authority. Hitherto the phrase means the same and belongs to the Neo Latin genre against Classical Latin taught in high schools or colleges and grammatically important for two reasons.

First off, habeas corpus in its literal translation means, “You (shall) have the body.” The word “shall” appears as a parenthetical expression because the word habeas comes as first-person singular, present, active, subjunctive version of the word “habeo,” meaning “have.”

A literal translation of habeas corpus found in many legal textbooks is “you (shall) have the body.” Notice

habeas corpus

Carpe Diem Explained

that “shall” is in quotes; this is because “habeas” is the first-person singular, present, active, subjunctive form of the word “habeo” (habere, habui, habitum) meaning “have.” Secondly, the inclusion of ‘a’ after the ‘e’ in the word habeas is indicative that the second-conjugation verb is in the subjunctive mood against what it is (habes) in the indicative mood and eventually to mean “may you have” or “let you have” as the case may be.

Now you may understand how relevant when the phrase is used from the legal perspective to mean to produce a person in detention. Stay tuned for more interpretations!