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Part Latin, Part French. All Confusing. The language of the law includes abbreviations!

Back roughly a kazillion years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was a baby genealogist, I discovered that my legal education didn’t do a whole lot to prepare me for the task of reading (gasp) court records.

Old court records, to be precise.

The ones written at a time — thankfully long gone by the time I got to law school — when everybody tended to speak a language that most folks think lawyers dreamed up to keep non-lawyers from understanding what they were doing. I’ve got news for you: even most lawyers never understood it either.

And if it was bad to have to go look up obscure words and phrases from the court records in a law dictionary (just what the heck is a writ of quo warranto1 anyway???), it was worse when the court clerk who was writing the records resorted to even more obscure abbreviations.

Fi.fa.? Sci.fa.? What the –???

Fortunately, most of the abbreviations from our old records can be found in some edition of Black’s Law Dictionary, though not necessarily the oldest one. And to save us all some frustration, here are the most common ones you’ll see most often (and, so, most annoyingly):

     • B.F. = bonum factum, a good or proper act, deed, or decree.2

     • Ca. resp. = capias ad respondendum, a judicial writ used to begin an action and which directed the sheriff to take the defendant and keep him, so that he would be in court to answer the plaintiff’s claim.3

     • Ca. sa. = capias ad satisfaciendum, a judicial writ which directed the sheriff to take the defendant and keep him, so that he would be in court to satisfy damages or a debt against him.4

     • C.A.V. = curia advisari vult, the court will be advised, will consider, will deliberate.5

     • cert. = certiorari, a cvommon law writ from a higher court to a lower court to produce the record of a case.6

     • C.T.A. = cum testamento annexo, with the will annexed.7

     • D.B.E. = de bene esse, in anticipation of (used for proceedings such as a deposition or statement taken in case of future need).8

     • D.B.N. = de bonis non administratis, of the goods not administered, used in connection with an estate not fully settled.9

     • Et al. = et alii, and others.10

     • Et seq. = et sequentia, and the following.11

     • Et ux. = et uxor, and wife.12

     • Fi. fa. = fieri facias, a writ directing the sheriff to levy on goods and chattels of a judgmnent debtor.13

     • H.A. = hoc anno, this year.14

     • H.T. = hoc titulo, this title.15

     • Hab. Corp. = habeas corpus, a variety of writs intended to ensure the presence of a party before a court or judge.16

     • Hab. fa. or hab. fa. pos. = habere facias possessionem, the court process used to place a party in actual possession of land.17

     • Hab. fa. seis. = habere facias seisinam, the court process used to cause a successful party to have seisin of lands recovered.18

     • Imp. = imparlance (legal French, not Latin!), time to answer a pleading by the other side in a court case, so effectively a continuance to another day.19

     • L.S. = locus sigilli, the place of the seal.20

     • N.A. = sed non allocatur, the disagreement of the court with the arguments of counsel.21

     • N.B. = nulla bona, no goods were found, marked on a fieri facias when nothing was found by the sheriff to satisfy a debt.22

     • N.P. or Ni.Pri. = nisi prius, jury trial or a court in which a jury trial court be held.23

     • P.P. = propria persona, in his own person.24

     • Q.t. = qui tam, action brought by an informer under a statute setting a penalty for violation, and allowing a reward to the informer for bringing the action.25

     • Q. warr. = quo warranto, writ used to inquire into the right of a person to hold an office, franchise or other entitlement.26

     • Re. fa. lo. = recordari facias loquelam, a writ to remove a case from equity courts to the law courts.27

     • Sci. fa. = scire facias, writ based on the record, today an order to show cause.28

     • sc. or ss. = scilicet, to wit, that is to say, words used in introduction.29

     • vac. = vacatur, a rule or order vacating a proceeding.30


  1. A writ that was used to inquire into the right of a person to hold an office, franchise or other entitlement. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 986, “quo warranto.”
  2. Ibid., 112, “B.F.”
  3. Black’s Law Dictionary, 5th ed. (St. Paul, Minn., 1979), 188, “capias ad respondendum.”
  4. Ibid., 188-189, “capias ad satisfaciendum.”
  5. Black, A Dictionary of Law, 162, “C.A.V.”
  6. Ibid., 187-188, “certiorari.”
  7. Ibid., 162, “C.T.A.,” and 308, “cum testamento annexo.”
  8. Ibid., 315, “D.B.E.,” and 321, “de bene esse.”
  9. Ibid., 315, “D.B.N.,” and 321, “de bonis non administratis.”
  10. Ibid., 438, “et al.”
  11. Ibid., 439, “et seq.”
  12. Ibid., 439, “et ux.”
  13. Ibid., 489, “Fi. Fa.”, and 491, “fieri facias.”
  14. Ibid., 554, “H.A.”
  15. Ibid., 554, “hoc titulo.”
  16. Ibid., 554, “habeas corpus.”
  17. Ibid., 555, “habere facias possessionem.”
  18. Ibid., 555, “habere facias seisinam.”
  19. Ibid., 593, “imparlance.”
  20. Ibid., 682, L.S.
  21. Ibid., 1074, “sed non allocatur.”
  22. Ibid., 793, “N.B.”
  23. Ibid., 798, “N.P.,” and 816, “nisi prius.”
  24. Ibid., 863, “P.P.”
  25. Ibid., 970, “q.t.”, and 983, “qui tam.”
  26. Ibid., 986, “quo warranto.”
  27. Ibid., 996, “re. fa. lo.”, and 1004-1005, “recordari facias loquelam.”
  28. Ibid., 1065, “sci. fa.”, and 1065-1066, “scire facias.”
  29. Ibid., 1063, “SC.”, and 1117, “ss.”
  30. Ibid., 1209, “vacatur.”
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