I know legal terminology tends to the arcane, but this is ridiculous. Apparently in the heading of affidavits there is a line that simply says “ss” between the names of state and county, thus:


And nobody knows what it means. There are, of course, several theories. One is that it means “subsections”; this seems to me shot down by the fact that there are no subsection numbers next to it. Another is that it means scilicet ‘namely’; aside from the fact that the normal abbreviation is sc, ‘namely’ makes no sense here. The explanation that Margaret Marks, from whom I take this item, tentatively prefers (and I’m glad to hear it, because I, a legal ignoramus, like it too) is

what Bryan Garner says in Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage: that it was entered once in error and then copied again and again over the centuries. Garner… says it comes from a flourish in the Year Books (unofficial law reports from 1282 to 1537).

The law is not only a ass, it is a sloppy and forgetful ass.


  1. I couldn’t resist and invoked my super Google powers and found an interesting, but small thread on this at http://lawlibrary.ucdavis.edu/LAWLIB/April99/0200.html. You have to look around a bit, from the main page.

  2. dungbeattle says:

    )ss: from under a cactus:
    it’s where one should put the state seal, unfortunately which state? just a thought.

  3. Good to see some discussion here!
    @Shelley: I did mention that thread in my entry. Maybe you Googled but didn’t read my entry?!
    @dungbeattle: The problem with seals is that they don’t appear at the top of a document, but at the bottom, beside the signature(s).

  4. Both sublime AND ridiculous! Knowing this about The Law just makes me feel good all over. Anarchy now!

  5. According to my father, a law professor, “It’s the preamble to an affidavit, which is a sworn statement made under penalties of perjury before a notary or an officer of the court of that state. The party signing the document has Stated and Sworn in said county whatever is written in the document.”
    Though there are plenty of fun and archaic legal phrases, outside of Latin, such as “in consideration of a peppercorn together with other good and valuable consideration.” Now, they’ve replaced “peppercorn” with “dollar” in contracts. Personally, I would stick with the peppercorn.

  6. @ Mark: thanks, that’s convincing. At least, it’s convincing for affidavits. I believe the ss. appears not only on affidavits.
    Incidentally, the funny thing about a peppercorn is that peppercorns have sometimes been quite valuable.

  7. As rent for Blenheim Palace, the duke of Marlborough pays the crown each year one (copy of the) French royal standard. This was described by the tour guide as a “peppercorn” rent.

  8. I detect a smacking of condesention, MM. I assure you, it’s not a theory, the “ss” as it appears in affidavits, declerations, certifications, and certain jurats does mean “sworn statement.”
    Let us not assassinate the law further, sirs. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency sirs, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?
    I apologize for the diatribe, I think I was Joesph Welch in a prior life.

  9. Methinks you do protest too much. If it’s “not a theory,” how come there’s so much confusion and so many other theories? Your saying it “does mean ‘sworn statement'” doesn’t make it so. I agree with MM (who doesn’t seem at all condescending to me) that it seems convincing, but it’s not as obviously correct as you imply.

  10. If you reference the thread I included in your essay, specifically, you must be using invisible type, because I don’t see it. Some of the conjecture, yes; but not the thread. I thought some of the conjecture was funny, which is why I added it.
    Perhaps we read English differently. I don’t believe one must have a linguistics background to read English. Though perhaps Linguistics people, such as yourself, believe the rest of us lack the rudiments of language, and thus should be dismissed out of hand, and discouraged from communicating here again.
    Point taken.

  11. Shelley, MM does include that link in her post, but LanguageHat does not include it in his. Perhaps this is where the confusion lies.
    The charge that linguists believe others to be linguistically deficient is unsupportable.

  12. Shelley: Don’t go away mad! Nobody was saying any such thing. MM was just pointing out that she’d linked to the thread in her post, but she had a bunch of links, so you may well have missed it. In any event, I thank you for the reminder, because I delved further into it and found yet another suggestion:
    ” situs sigillium ” or ” sanctus sigillium “; either
    the supposed SITE of the seal of the writer or the
    Sacred Seal attesting to the fact that the document is
    made as a sworn document under oath, with the Fear of the Lord for perjury.
    I’d be very distressed if you never commented again!

  13. I am obviously sounding very snotty here! But I must protest at being called Sir.
    @Shelley: I didn’t claim to be a linguist. I have never studied linguistics, much to my regret. I did link to that thread and I read it before I posted, because in fact someone else on a mailing list had mentioned it. It doesn’t matter, though, I’m sure the link was easy to overlook and the way I jumped on you was not much use to anyone.
    @Mark: I don’t think I used the term ‘theory’, but I’m not 100% convinced. It may be impossible to say this without seeming condescending.
    @hat: thanks very much for explaining things. I had forgotten this discussion might be going on still, because nothing developed on my site.
    I know L.S. as locus sigilli. The problem with seal/sigillum is the location of the ss. in this header.
    If you look up ss. in Google you can see a lot of documents that aren’t sworn but have ss. on them. Take my first hit: http://www.in.gov/idoi/pdf/MaxicareLiq.pdf
    It’s an order of liquidation, and no-one has sworn anything. It’s just part of the court heading. That’s why I like Garner’s explanation that it is meaningless and has been copied by accident. Mark, how does your father explain ss. when there is no swearing and no affidavit?

  14. Sorry, what I looked up was not
    ss. county
    I did that because I suspect ss. alone would not be a good search.

  15. @anton: interesting. I also found by googling ‘a 99-year lease…for a peppercorn rent of one red rose’ and elsewhere ‘a peppercorn if demanded’.

  16. My apologies, LH. I thought you were the person responding to what I wrote by the nature of the comment made — it sounded like something the weblog owner would say. A misunderstanding.
    As for what I said about linguists being unsupportable — probably is.

  17. I’m helping out on the translation of a US Affidavit – always good to see a familiar site come up on Google for a new problem. Many thanks.

  18. And I’m always glad to see old entries turn up in new contexts and get new comments!

  19. Whew,
    I thought I was really stupid! Almost through with law school and I still don’t know what SS means. Anyone check with Blackstone?

  20. I’m pretty sure if the answer were in Blackstone it wouldn’t be such a mystery.

  21. I am a Colorado notary, notary training instructor, and notary historian. I wrote a blog article on this topic of ss at http://abclegaldocs.com/blog-Colorado-Notary/scilicet-ss-meaning-notary-certificate/

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