How and when did it come to be called this? What are the origins of the term “criminal charges”?

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    English Language & Usage might be a better place to ask this. While questions about industry jargon are often best asked in their specific sites, this is a pretty common word and meaning.
    – Barmar
    Commented Jul 7, 2023 at 19:08

2 Answers 2


Charge comes ultimately from a Latin word meaning "cart," the same source as "car." From https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/charge#word-history

Middle English, from Anglo-French charger, from Late Latin carricare, from Latin carrus wheeled vehicle — more at CAR

The word was first used in the 13th century as a noun meaning "burden" and a verb meaning "to lay a burden upon," no doubt because carriages bear burdens. Many related senses followed, including those relating to financial burdens (how much does the service provider charge?) and other liabilities, including potential criminal liabilities.


It is just the verb that describes the act of making an allegation against a person, and as a noun, the allegation itself.

See James Fitzjames Stephen, A Digest of the Law of Criminal Procedure (1883) [print edition]:

... the overt acts charged in the indictment

Any number of accessories ... may be charged...

Each count must charge one offence and no more


See Chitty on Criminal Law (1826) [print edition]

... the charge must contain a certain description of the crime ...

The Oxford English Dictionary's entry for "charge, v." traces this usage to 1559 in the context of criminal accusations, and to around 1450 in the context of accusations more generally. This is closely related to the conception of charge as placing a burden or load upon something.


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