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

So The Legal Genealogist is off across the pond this week, looking forward greatly to The Genealogy Show which gets underway Friday at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, England.

I’m going to have great fun presenting on Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Law for Genealogists and Mr. Blackstone’s Common Law — plus sitting in on talks by other presenters and getting to see old friends and meet new ones.

But of course it makes time for the blog hard to come by. So we’ll try to sneak in a bit of alphabet soup here and there.

As in today’s entry, since we’re up to the letter M, with the term “more or less.”

2019 letter M

It’s a common phrase we all use.

“Things going okay?” someone will ask.

“More or less,” we’ll respond.

And what we all mean when we say that is to “a varying or undetermined extent or degree, somewhat, approximately.”1

But the law treats that term a bit differently — because there it has a very specific meaning.

You’ve seen it, I’m sure — we all have, in deeds where the seller is conveying to the buyer 20 acres of land “more or less.” And we’ve probably all wondered when we’ve seen that kind of phrasing in a deed, because the one thing we’ve all learned is that a deed has to have an exact legal description of the land being conveyed.2

Except that it really doesn’t have to be all that exact, if buyer and seller are in agreement, and that’s where “more or less” comes in.

Because some sellers and some buyers don’t feel compelled to get a complete survey done in every single case, and they’re willing to accept that there may be a little more than 20 acres or maybe a little less than 20 acres, and it’s still a legal transfer anyway.

So what it means in a deed is very specific: “This phrase, inserted in a conveyance of land immediately after the statement of the quantity of land conveyed, means that such statement is not to be taken as a warranty of the quantity, but only an approximate estimate, and that the tract or parcel described is to pass, without regard to an excess or deficiency in the quantity it actually contains.”3

And that’s it for today… more or less.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “2019 alphabet soup: M is for…,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 5 June 2019).


  1. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary ( : accessed 5 June 2019), “more or less.”
  2. See e.g. Kathleen J. Hopkins and Evan L. Loeffler, “Real Estate Legal Descriptions,” GPSolo eReport, American Bar Association ( : accessed 5 June 2019).
  3. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 789, “more or less.”
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