From the Selangor Times Issue 20, 15-17 April 2011. Ask Lord Bobo is a weekly column by LoyarBurok where all your profound, abstruse, erudite, hermetic, recondite, sagacious, and other thesaurus-described queries are answered!
This week, His Supreme Eminenceness spouts Latin and calls for a Royal Commission of Inquiry!
Can I know why is Latin often quoted and used in law? I only know of one: Liberavi Animam Meam! Cunning Linguist, via email
The average Malaysian probably only ever knows the meanings of a maximum of two Latin phrases, if any.
The first would be a school motto, which would have been drilled into his head for the better part of the first two decades of his life. The second would be the motto of his chosen football club. But in fact, many Malaysians use a great variety of Latin phrases without knowing their actual meanings; phrases like alma mater, bona fide, carpe diem, de facto, ex gratia, id est (ie), in vitro, inter alia, ipso facto, prima facie, and quid pro quo. There are also many, many English words which in fact originated from Latin.
So, you see, Latin isn’t just used by lawyers. However, it is true that lawyers do tend to indulge in some of the more obscure and pompous sounding of these Latin phrases.
There are generally two theories about this.
According to a LoyarBurok theorist, Latin is used simply because it is cool to use a technical language nobody speaks anymore. This cunningly allows lawyers to avail themselves of Latin when they are compelled to give an opinion about an issue of law they don’t know much about. For example, “If company X nukes country Y, what is their scope of liability?” An appropriate response could be, “De Bono Umbra Stupent.” It is meaningless but sounds rather thoughtful and authoritative. That brief respite would enable the lawyer to come up with a better explanation with which to explain the Latin. Qui nescit dissimulare nescit vivere! It’s all really quite res ipsa loquitor.
An extension of this theory is that people — particularly men — who use Latin often imagine that it makes them sound like some Latin heart-throb like Enrique Iglesias (or his dad Julio, depending on age, and whatever tickles your fancy bits). And lets admit — using an exotic language does make one sound smarter, does it not? This is the same reason Lord Bobo always advises young footballers (and His Supreme Eminenceness is afforded the opportunity to speak to these young uns more often than you’d think) to consider choosing sexier names before launching their careers. Someone called Jim Johnson or Fred Smith has a far better chance at being hailed in the headlines with a name like Jimozinho or Fredildo. Er, okay, these things sometimes require a bit of tweaking.
The other theory generally held by people with very thick glasses, bow ties and unkempt hair would require approximately 400 pages (not including footnotes) to explain. The short version is that the law often applied in Commonwealth countries such as Canada, Australia, Singapore, and our very own Malaysia, is that of common law, ie judge-made law on a case-by-case basis which originated sometime in 12th century England, which was about the time Roman Law was re-discovered and exerted a powerful influence in Europe. Some of the first common law scholars and early common law judges were accustomed with Roman law, so its influence, though waning as the centuries went by, was still pervasive because it formed some of the very foundations of common law. Since Classical Latin was the official language of Rome, naturally the concepts of Roman law were expressed in Latin. When these concepts were then introduced to the common law, its description in Latin was similarly imported. Quod erat demonstratum.
However, it should be mentioned that Latin is not often used in Malaysian courts. Lawyers and litigants have enough to contend with as a result of poor English, hardly-passable Bahasa, and made-up Manglish for the most part, with a further mix of several Chinese language dialects, a smattering of Indian dialects, and a spate of other languages due to the large number of migrant workers from various countries charged. So, whomsoever that uses Latin must accept that they are a lusus naturae if not a complete membrum virile for doing so. Since English is the lingua franca of the world, tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis. Dominus illuminatio mea!
Dear Lord Bobo, if my car is stolen, can I call for a Royal Commission? @abbyshahrin, via Twitter
One would think not. Then again, that “think” part is arguably irrelevant when it comes to goings-on in Malaysia.
It has recently been suggested that a Royal Commission can be called to look into a certain video footage of hotel room shenanigans to find out whether there was an act of prostitution involved, because, after all, we need to find out if a law was broken! We are slightly reluctant to name the source of this flawless logic, having seen a widely-used photo of him looking particularly tough, complete with muscly-finger-wagging action — though we have been reliably informed that he was in fact not making some forceful point of law, but was rather insisting that he had specifically mentioned he wanted five types of kuih to nibble on during the interview.
As for a Royal Commission being called to look into the theft of your car, it depends.
If the theft was allegedly carried out by a senior opposition politician, then yes.
If the theft supposedly took place in the presence of a senior opposition politician, then probably.
If there is a chance that the theft took place in the parking lot of a building in which a senior opposition politician was having dinner, then possibly.
In short, if you can somehow link the theft to a senior opposition politician member, you’ve got a chance.
Have a question for Lord Bobo? Call on His Supreme Eminenceness by emailing [email protected], stating your full name, and a pseudonym (if you want), or tweeting your questions by mentioning @LoyarBurok and using the hashtag #asklordbobo. The first 100 questions published will receive monkey-riffic LoyarBurok merchandise courtesy of Selangor Times. What the hell are you waiting for? Hear This, and Tremblingly Obey (although trembling is optional if you are somewhere very warm)! Liberavi Animam Meam! I Have Freed My Spirit!