Words Invented By Law Professors

Law professors coin new words at roughly the rate of one neologism for every five articles written. Most of these words, however, either never catch on, or if they do remain in use, are strictly a legal term of art and do not enter the mainstream. I can think of two recent examples, however, of words that were first invented for use in law review articles, and have now started to become mainstream English.

The first is Copyfraud, coined in 2006 by Prof. Jason Mazzone in his article of the same name. Mazzone introduced the word to describe a pattern of widespread abuse of copyright laws:

Copyfraud, as the term is used in this Article, refers to claiming falsely a copyright in a public domain work. These false copyright claims, which are often accompanied by threatened litigation for reproducing a work without the putative “owner’s” permission, result in users seeking licenses and paying fees to reproduce works that are free for everyone to use, or altering their creative projects to excise the uncopyrighted material.

Since then, the word has evolved slightly; I see uses of “copyfraud” that apply not merely to claims of copyright in works in the public domain, but claims of copyright against uses that are either clearly not infringing or else clearly fair use. However, copyfraud still seems to remain in the neologism stage, and while in certain circles it is a common phrase, it has yet to achieve the popularity that, say, “unfriend” has.

In contrast, the term Net Neutrality, first used by Prof. Tim Wu in a 2003 law review article, is in widespread use today. It can fairly be considered to have entered the popular lexicon, and is regularly used in the mainstream media unaccompanied by an explanatory definition.

The most famous word invented by a law professor is still “genocide,” which was coined by Raphael Lemkin in 1944. Today, the word genocide is as well established as patricide or even homicide, and will almost certainly remain a part of the English language for centuries yet. The word genocide first appeared in Lemkin’s book, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, and was described as follows:

This new word, coined by the author to denote an old practice in its modern development, is made from the ancient Greek word genos (race, tribe) and the Latin cide (killing), thus corresponding in its formation to such words as tyrannicide, homocide, infanticide, etc.(1) Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings of all members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves.

I am sure there are other examples of popular words invented by law professors out there, but these seem to be the most prominent examples. If anyone else knows of another word with similar origins — either more modern creations or words of an older vintage — feel free to share them in comments.