Legislation sometimes defines a term so that it is contradictory to its plain meaning, or contradictory to the term's meaning in another context. For example, 52 USC 30121 defines "foreign national" to exclude permanent resident aliens despite the fact that such a person does not have US nationality, and the Schengen Borders Code defines "third-country national" to exclude, among others, "third-country nationals who are members of the family of a Union citizen exercising his or her right to free movement to whom Directive 2004/38/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council applies."

As a hypothetical example, consider a definition of "grape" that excludes concord grapes.

Is there a term that describes such a definition? I am thinking of calling it a "self-contradictory" definition, but that doesn't seem quite right.


Most of your examples don't seem to be so much self-contradictory, as limited to a subset of the obvious meaning for purposes of a particular law. When a term has a specific meaning within a particular field or context, it is often called a "term of art". For example "Fair use" is a term of art in US Copyright law, and "Under color of law" is a term of art in US civil rights law. "Standing" is a term of art in most common-law jurisdictions. But a term of art is usually somewhat broadly understood, and is not limited to one particular law or section of law. I would just call such a thing a "specially defined term" or just say "Q as defined for purposes of the XYZ law".

  • Thanks. This isn't quite what I'm looking for, but it is helpful. One reason I would want such a word is to use it as an adjective to convey the confusing nature of a definition in which someone or something isn't what it seems (for the purpose of a given law), as in "by virtue of the (fill-in-the-blank) definition of "grape," concord grapes are not actually grapes for the purpose of...." It may be that there is no such word, of course.
    – phoog
    Jan 22 '19 at 23:47
  • 1
    @phoog I think there is no word at all widely known to have such a meaning, so using one wouldn't do much to avoid confusion. One could instead say "by virtue of the specific definition of "grape" used in Chapter NNN, concord grapes are not actually grapes for the purpose of...." Jan 22 '19 at 23:52
  • @phoog Given your example, I would use "restrictive" or "specific" or "exacting." You might ask on English Language & Usage.
    – mkennedy
    Jan 23 '19 at 4:04
  • @mkennedy thanks for the suggestions. I'm not sure why "exacting" would be applicable. Can you elaborate? I considered asking at ELU but the single-word-request questions I've seen there are usually met with an onslaught of mostly unhelpful answers, and I particularly wanted to keep it in the legal context. Depending on what else turns up for this question, if anything, I may ask there nonetheless.
    – phoog
    Jan 23 '19 at 16:45
  • @phoog exacting to me (american) implies something very precise. When I double-checked its meaning, some of its listed synonyms may be interesting to you: strict or rigorous.
    – mkennedy
    Jan 23 '19 at 17:38

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