Where does the term "law suit" for a legal case come from? It seems to perhaps only be used to refer to civil cases, however. Also, is it a purely American (USA) term or does it also find use elsewhere?

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    The term you're probably looking for is "etymology", which is the study of the origin of words. A Google search for "lawsuit etymology" seems to provide the answer. The "lawsuit" Wikipedia page also has an etymology section.
    – NotThatGuy
    Feb 17 at 13:31
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    Since you're a user with 2000+ rep, can you tell us why you didn't search for the answer outside of SE first; or if you did and failed to find an answer, what you searched? Feb 18 at 16:27

1 Answer 1


The historical root is Old French sieute, sivre meaning "follow, pursue". You pursue your defendant in court. This is an ordinary legal term in post-Norman England. The root is also invoked every time the government prosecutes a person for a crime. The expression "law suit" is more modern, being a rearrangement of "suit at law". An early attestation in the legal sense is (1325) Statutes of Realm (Rawl. B.520) (2011) v. 6

Ant ȝif a ne cometh noȝt, þanne a sullen ben iiuged ase for ateint, ant sullen ȝelde duble, þoru þe siwte of þe king, to hoem þat habbeth ihaued þene harm.

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    Is that 1325 quote intelligible to you? And is it typical to use the word lawsuit for a criminal case as well as civil ones? Feb 16 at 19:11
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    Not really: a quasi-etymological reading is "And if he cometh nought, then he shall be judged tainted, and shall yield double, through the suit of the king, to whom that he has harmed", but I also grok a bit of Norwegian and German. These days, lawsuits are civil suits, not criminal. I even struggle with interpreting old-style Modern English judgments.
    – user6726
    Feb 16 at 19:26
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    @Seekinganswers This question might fit on English Language & Usage where I'm a mod, although etymologies can be looked up easily enough. You might find questions there about the progression from Old English to Early/Late Middle English to Early Modern English and Modern English. I would tentatively assign the quote here to Early Middle English. Feb 17 at 14:05
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    @Seekinganswers it's easy enough to understand for people who had to do a lot of Shakespeare and Chaucer in high school, which I think is pretty common in English speaking countries outside the US. Once you know the basics, like that þ is the old letter Thorn, which just stands for 'th' and ȝ is Yogh, which is just the 'gh' sound, it becomes way easier.
    – Eugene
    Feb 17 at 19:03
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    You mean like a pursuit? Feb 17 at 23:11

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