Dictionary Detour

In yesterday’s Internet Law class we discussed trespass to chattels, a centuries-old tort claim that courts have applied to cases involving unauthorized access to another’s computer system. (See, e.g., eBay v Bidder’s Edge; Intel v Hamidi) I mentioned that last spring’s class had a spirited debate about the correct pronunciation of “chattel.” Many class members wanted to pronounce it “sha-TELL.” I insisted that it rhymes with “rattle” and found support from the audio pronunciation feature of the Visual Thesaurus website. I said yesterday that using the word chattel is, like using the word estoppel, a dead give way that the user is a lawyer. (Those who complete crossword puzzles regularly know both words but, like most knowledge acquired through familiarity with crossword puzzles, are not likely to use them in normal conversation.) That led to a question about the origin of chattel which I turned back on the class. (“Like stepping on a garden rake,” see My Name is Earl, “Larceny of the Kitty Cat”)

Someone stepped up. The etymology of chattel and estop, courtesy of Jesse Rodgers:

Chattel, circa 1225, from the Old French “chatel” meaning ‘property or goods’. See “cattle”, which is the Norman-Picard form of the same word. Cattle, circa 1250, from the Anglo-French “catel” meaning property. From Modern Latin “captale” meaning property or stock. Also “capitalis” meaning principal, or chief (from caput, “head”). Original sense of the word was of moveable property, especially livestock but not limited to “cows” until 1555.
Estop: 1531, from the Anglo-French “estopper” to stop, bar or hinder (especially in a legal sense, by one’s declaration or prior act), from Old French “estoupe”, and then from Latin “stuppa” meaning a ‘tow’ used as a plug (stopping a flow of something?)
From the Online Etymology Dictionary www.etymonline.com

Thanks Jesse.

One thought on “Dictionary Detour”

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