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/

  22. Jerry likes the “scilicet” theory; here’s how he expands on it:

    Citation: The scilicet was introduced in the declaration to state the place, or venue, to avoid difficulty under ancient law that a jury to try the cause must be summoned from the stated venue. Duyckinck v. Clinton Mutual Insurance Co., 23 N.J.L. 279, 1852.

    When the jury system began in England, jurors were witnesses with knowledge of the facts in the case. They were from the neighborhood where the alleged event took place. So, it was required to state the location where each factual event occurred. Later, jurors became impartial judges of the facts, not witnesses, and cases could be tried in any court with jurisdiction over the defendant.

    I’m still not convinced, but it makes a bit more sense now.

  23. AJP Crown says:

    I don’t believe that. I believe the lawyer who wrote

    I can say that in my years of legal training § has always meant “section,” and I have never seen an instance of it being used to mean “scilicet.”

    and that it started out by meaning Section. Bryan Garner has cited the LCJ, Lord Hardwicke on “Jodderrell v. Cowell”, at the King’s Bench in 1737. It doesn’t help much because although everyone’s copied it, including his “sic” after county, a) he’s spelt Jodderell wrong, and b) the Hardwicke speech or written opinion doesn’t show up: neither on the page he cites (222, perhaps from the earlier edition?) nor anywhere else I have access to (the case itself is here, on p. 343). So thank you very much Mr Garner for wasting my time. But anyway, what Hardwicke said (somewhere) in 1737 is

    The word ss., I verily believe, was not originally meant to [be the place to write the name of?] the county, but only a denotation of each section or paragraph in the record.

    And I’ll take his word for it. ss with ) is merely a crude way to approximate § for ‘Section’.

  24. David Marjanović says:

    …What, this is about §? In German, that is read as Paragraph, “one particular law”, always followed by a number. It is almost exclusively used in legal contexts, but so common there that it’s on the keyboard (Shift+3); there are derived terms like Paragraphenreiter “stickler for the law, Lawful Neutral person”. The only time I’ve seen any association to S is in the logo of Austria’s judiciary branch, and that’s less than 20 years old, probably less than 10.

    (A paragraph of profane text is called Absatz.)

  25. AJP Crown says:

    No, you have to read a bit more David. Read the post. (It’s about American legal docs that contain a meaningless ss. in the title.)

  26. David Marjanović says:

    I did, and was only confused. 🙂

  27. “Here all logic mostly disappeared and the § triumphed. The § strangled, went mad, fumed,laughed, threatened, murdered, and gave no quarter.” — The Good Soldier Švejk/ Švejk before the medical experts

  28. J.W. Brewer says:

    The “scilicet” theory is believed by Merriam-Webster, FWIW. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ss#legalDictionary

    In England and maybe some Commonwealthish countries, actual wax seals are still a thing (or at least have been a thing within my own memory as a practicing U.S. lawyer occasionally dealing with furriners). You occasionally see on old American legal forms “L.S.” for “locus sigilli” which during some intermediate phase was considered to evoke sufficient mana or mojo to make the document effective without an actual literal wax seal, but I think that’s gotten increasingly rare. But the “SS” in the initial state/county section of an affidavit remains very common even though it does not have any obvious functional value because no one wants to be the one to find out what cosmic disaster will befall the lawyer hubristic enough to omit it.

  29. J.W. Brewer says:

    Just in case the usage under discussion seems cryptic for some readers, here’s a sample form from a court website that can be filled in or otherwise adapted to generate a plain-vanilla affidavit of service for a litigation pending in state court in Queens. The “SS:” comes right after “COUNTY OF ____,” which is left blank because it is supposed to be the county where the affidavit is sworn which need not be the same as the county where it is filed. https://www.nycourts.gov/LegacyPDFS/courts/11jd/supreme/civilterm/CH-FORMS/affidavit_of_service.pdf

  30. David L says:

    no one wants to be the one to find out what cosmic disaster will befall the lawyer hubristic enough to omit it

    Is that the reason lawyers always write numbers as “three (3)” even though they can never explain why? (I have asked, on occasion). A friend once wrote directions to a party in that way: drive two (2) miles then turn left and go fifty (50) yards; our house is on the left…

  31. J.W. Brewer says:

    @David (L). I don’t do that myself, but that’s easier to explain as a deliberate redundancy in light of the ease of transposing numerals when writing longish numbers out in that fashion (i.e. if the two versions don’t match you know there’s an issue and can ask for clarification). And you can’t tell when proof-reading that 1,372 is a typo for 1,327 unless you know the context so well that you can tell that 1,372 makes no sense. It’s probably not cost-justified in most contexts (except for those that are extremely risk-averse, which many draftsmen of such documents are), but it’s not like there’s no non-opaque functional explanation. Note that for court filings that have specific page-limits or word-count-limits (which is much of what I do) there is more pressure to eliminate redundancy and thus give up mysterious inherited verbiage aimed at placating obscure cosmic forces, but in lots of other sorts of legal documents there is no such incentive to brevity.

  32. AJP Crown says:

    I did, and was only confused. 🙂

    They’re lawyers, it’s what they do (not JW, he’s very clear), just as architects only like ugly buildings and computer programmers only ever wear college hoodies.

  33. Bloix also can sometimes provide useful insights into why (and how) lawyers write in a particular way.

  34. John Cowan says:

    Huh. Never wore a college hoodie in my life. And I know programmers who have spent their entire careers in suit and tie.

    I always thought the “three (3)” was a hangover from the days when Arabic numerals were too newfangled to be sure that everyone could read them, and that “three (3)” is more readable than “iij”.

  35. David Marjanović says:

    3 can be read faster (and, depending on the font, stands out from the text), while three can’t be turned into four by a single typo, so it makes sense to have both. I’d have put them in the other order, but actually the parentheses make the figures stand out even more.

  36. Maybe “3” can be read faster than “three”, but I doubt it can be read faster than “three (3)”.

  37. David Marjanović says:

    If you want to skim a document, it would sometimes be useful. Then, if something seems off, you can read the spelled-out version to check if there’s a typo.

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