The Most Commonly Confused Legal Terms Explained: Part Two

In part one of our series on the most commonly confused legal terms, we looked at several sets of confusing words and abbreviations. This time we will focus more on strictly legal terms, but those that confuse people in the same way. We helped sort out words like “imply” and “infer” in part one. In part two, we’ll work with words like “eminent” and “imminent.” 

Most of us know the word “imminent” already. If someone is in imminent danger, it means that danger is immediate and precautions should be taken now. The word “eminent” is normally used to show someone’s high status or rank. 

Two more words you might need to know are “mean” and “median.” Sure, we all learned them in grade school mathematics. Do you remember what they mean? First, imagine the numerals “1” to “21” recorded in a line. Add them all (1+2+3+4, etc.) and divide by the total number of numerals (21) and you have the mean — or average of the numbers. The median is different. It’s the numeral that falls directly in the center when there is an equal number of numerals directly preceding and after it. 

Many people are confused by the word “capital.” Our United States “Capitol” (spelled with an “O”) is where members of our legislative branch meet to discuss passage of laws. A state capital, though, is the seat of the state’s government. In legal contracts, however, capital is usually money. Very rarely do the other definitions apply, so make sure you’re careful with context.

You’ll often see words like “alternate” in legal writing. For example, if a will’s executor is deceased and cannot perform the designated function, then an alternate might be decided. A good synonym is “substitute.” Many people confuse it with the word “alternative,” which refers to a single choice out of several options, but not specifically a second choice or substitute for the first option.