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The language of the law. Part Latin, part Anglo-Saxon, all confusing.

Today’s word is EXIT.

exitNow The Legal Genealogist knows we all think we know what it means.

We’re all thinking of exit as a noun as “a way out of an enclosed place or space” or as a verb as “the act of going out or away.”1

But we ought to know by now that the language of the law is a whole ‘nother beastie, right?

And it isn’t quite so clear when we see that notation in the court dockets, and it reads “exit fi. fa,” is it?

So… in law… what’s an exit?

The word itself is Latin, and it means — as we might expect — “it goes forth.”2

But it isn’t a physical movement or departure from a space that it’s referring to.

It’s the issuance of a writ — an order3 — by the court:

This word is used in docket entries as a brief mention of the issue of process. Thus, “exit fi. fa.” denotes that a writ of fieri facias has been issued in the particular case. The “exit of a writ” is the fact of its issuance.4

So some creditor comes into court and wants an order issued telling the sheriff to go seize the goods of some debtor who hasn’t paid up on a judgment. That order is the writ of fieri facias.5 If the judge agrees, the writ is issued, and the issuance itself is its exit.

Now this isn’t to be confused with exitus, which means “children or offspring, or the rents, issues, and profits of land and tenements.”6 And that term is also used, in court documents, to mean “the issue, or the end, termination, or conclusion of the pleadings, and is so called, because an issue brings the pleadings to a close.”7

And we can’t get it mixed up with exeat either — a term you’ll usually see as part of the writ of ne exeat: an order from a court telling somebody he can’t leave the jurisdiction.8

Exit. Exitus. Exeat. Egad.


SOURCES

Image: OpenClipArt.org, user ColletonGIS

  1. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary (http://www.m-w.com : accessed 29 May 2014), “exit.”
  2. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 459, “exit.”
  3. Ibid., 1246, “writ.”
  4. Ibid., 459, “exit.”
  5. Ibid., 491, “fieri facias.”
  6. Ibid., pp, “exitus.”
  7. John Bouvier, A Law Dictionary Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States of America and of the Several States of the American Union, rev. 6th ed. (1856); HTML reprint, The Constitution Society (http://www.constitution.org/bouv/bouvier.htm : accessed 29 May 2014), “exitus.”
  8. The Free Dictionary (http://www.thefreedictionary.com : accessed 29 May 2014), “ne exeat.”
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