It’s rare for me to discover that I’ve been completely wrong about the meaning of a reasonably common word or phrase, so I was shell-shocked just now when I read this definition of the verb compound: “Law forbear from prosecuting (a felony) in exchange for money or other consideration.” But… but… I always had a vague idea that it meant ‘worsen, aggravate’! So I googled around and discovered that I was so far from being alone in my misapprehension that the definition I just quoted seems to be out of date. Bryan A. Garner, in A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage, defines it as “to forbear from prosecuting for consideration, or to cause (a prosecutor) so to forbear” and says:
The word has been sloppily extended because “nonlawyers have misapprehended the meaning of to compound a felony …. [The word] is now widely abused to mean: to make worse, aggravate, multiply, increase.” Philip Howard, New Words for Old 19 (1977). Examples of this looseness of diction abound now even in legal writing. [...] It is not quite true, then, at least in the US, that “to write ‘he compounded the offence’ (when what is meant is that he did something to aggravate the offence) is to vex every lawyer who reads the sentence, and to provoke numbers of them to litigious correspondence in defence of their jargon.” Philip Howard, New Words for Old 20 (1977). Nevertheless, we may justifiably lament the fact that generations of young lawyers will not understand the phrase to compound a felony when they see it in the older lawbooks.
So I ask the Varied Reader: were you aware of this? And if you are a lawyer, or familiar with legal usage, how widespread is the new (“sloppy”) extension of meaning—sporadic, frequent, or general?