Robbins: Commonly misused, misunderstood legal terms |

Robbins: Commonly misused, misunderstood legal terms

I probably mispronounce things, use the wrong term or generally make a fool of myself in some other way. Especially, I suppose, if I don’t quite know what I’m talking about in the first place or I’m trying to show off. In one way or another I would guess we all do this. We are darn-tootin’ sure about something but, oops, not quite.

In any event, below are a few legal terms and concepts that are so frequently mangled, they plant a burr beneath my legal saddle. One or two are just plain fun.

At the top of my list is the word “moot.” The word is not “mute.”

“Moot” means of little or no practical value, meaning, or relevance. As in, “The question is moot because this court cannot consider it.” “Mute,” on the other hand, means silent; refraining from speech or utterance. One is mute when one does not speak. A matter is moot when it is of no use.

Next on the hit parade is “quitclaim.” The word is most decidedly not “quickclaim,” although you’d hardly know it by how frequently the word is mangled. A “quitclaim deed” is a legal document by which a grantor conveys his or her present interest, if any, in a given parcel of real property to a grantee without representing, covenanting, or warranting that the title is good. “I’m not sure exactly what I have, but whatever it is, it’s yours.”

‘Quit’ vs ‘quick’

A “quickclaim deed?” Well, there’s really no such thing and to use the term is a semantic hiccup.

“Mortgagor” and “mortgagee.” People get these bassackwards all the time.

A “mortgagee” is the person or entity who extends credit secured by a mortgage; it is the mortgage lender. The “mortgagee” lends credit to the “mortgagor” and the “mortgagor” is the one who pays back the loan. To many, this seems upside down and sideways but, hey, it’s how it is.

“Trix” is not for kids. Sometimes you will see a word appended with “trix” at its tail end. Don’t be fooled, this has nothing to do with a breakfast cereal. Instead, “trix” denotes the female of the species. A male who makes a will is a testator. A female who makes one is a testatrix. Similarly, an “executor” is someone named in a will as the person who should carry out the testator’s (or testatrix’s) formal wishes — but only if he is a he. If, instead, the executor is a she, she is, instead, more formally an “executrix.”

‘Guilt vs ‘innocence’

First things first; guilt or innocence is never at issue in a civil trial, a civil matter being one (however uncivil it may sometimes appear to be) between private individuals or entities. Civil matters are private disputes (as opposed to criminal matters where the state prosecutes an alleged wrong-doer on behalf of The People) where, if one loses, one is found to be “liable” rather than guilty. If one is found to be liable, the other party (the one to whom the loser is found liable) will be awarded damages, usually in the form of money but sometimes in the form of certain conduct the court orders the liable party to perform.

Accordingly, the matter of guilt is reserved for criminal proceedings.

And here’s the second speed bump. In a criminal matter, one is never adjudged “innocent.” The best one can hope for — other than the matter simply being dismissed or some procedural windfall — is that one will be found “not guilty.” Although one may paint oneself as “innocent” or contrive to be so, or, in fact, being “innocent” of the wrongdoing he or she has been accused of, is simply not what is at stake in criminal proceedings. It is more binary than that. Like computer code, the “zero” of a criminal trial is “guilt;” the “one” is “not guilty.” “Innocence” is left to the eyes of God, cosmic karma, and the fertile fields of conscience.

If I were not mindful to the word count restraints of this column, I could go on. Many are the terms that are misconstrued, misused or mangled. It would be unreasonable to expect otherwise.

If I were to discuss with you astrophysics, nuclear medicine, carpentry or botany, no doubt my faux pas would be legion. I might mistake a “mortise” for a “dovetail” or misconstrue a “quark” for “muon” or “neutrino.” Like our old pal, “W,” I might trip over “nuclear” and pronounce it “nuc-u-lar.” No harm, no foul though, I suppose … so long as you’re not carrying the nuclear football.

At the end of the day, what makes the world go round is our separate bailiwicks of expertise. And having a little fun with others’ innocent gaffs informs that none of us should take ourselves too seriously.

Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley with the law firm of Stevens, Littman, Biddison, Tharp & Weinberg LLC. His practice areas include business and commercial transactions, real estate and development, family law, custody and divorce and civil litigation. Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at his email address,

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