This was an action in trover, brought under the following circumstances: Plaintiff was in possession of a considerable vocabulary, but was on the whole quite circumspect in the use of same, lest his neighbors acquire any portion thereof from him, whether by conversion or fraudulently, under cover of title. However, on one occasion, the wine having been unusually potent, his tongue being accidentally set loose, the following utterance escaped Plaintiff's lips, without his knowledge or consent: 'Should any of you miscreants attempt to increase your vocabulary at my expense, please be advised that I will not tolerate such latrociny!'
This challenge sent his guests scurrying to their respective dictionaries, and the general result was that by the end of the evening they had acquired a new lexeme, whereupon the word 'latrociny' was much bandied about, like any common coin. Incensed, Plaintiff demanded that his friends cease and desist from the use of same, and required that they relinquish the item to his exclusive possession. It so happened that all parties present on the evening in question did in fact delete this item from their working vocabularies within a week of the incident. However, Defendant, who was not present at the initial uttering of same, acquired the word from his uncle who had heard it from the town blacksmith a fortnight later.
When Plaintiff sent to demand that the word be restored to him, Defendant refused to deliver it up, unless £6. 10s. 4d. were paid, partly by way of a bailment fee, and partly as a recompense to himself for the trouble he had taken to remove the item from his uncle's vocabulary; but this demand the Plaintiff refused to comply with and did not tender any other sum.
Upon Plaintiff's refusal to produce the sum requested, Defendant would not deliver the goods, saying that he could not know whether that word be Plaintiff's or not, for anyone might have come by it. Whereupon Plaintiff brought suit.
EARNSHAW, H. C.J. The only difficulty that remained with any of us, after we had heard this case argued, was with regard to the chain of title to the item in question. For it having been established very clearly that Defendant could not have acquired same in any other way than through Plaintiff, since no one within ten leagues had heard the same until Plaintiff so carelessly uttered the word, it would initially seem that Defendant cannot claim any rights in this matter, except through Plaintiff.
Whether every man who finds the words of another, which happen to have been lost or mislaid, and voluntarily puts himself to the trouble and effort to preserve the thing uttered, and to find out the owner, has a lien upon it for the casual, fluctuating and uncertain amount of recompense which he may reasonably deserve is a question easily disposed of. This has never been allowed. The case of the pointer dog (Binstead v. Buck, 2. W. Black) was one in which it was claimed and disallowed, and it was thought too clear a case to bear argument. Public policy and commercial necessity do not require such a ruling, and a very great inconvenience may be apprehended from it, should such a rule be established.
However, it having been brought to attention of this court that the word in question is not of proper English provenance, but rather that it was unceremoniously borrowed, or rather converted, from the Latin, we find that the rule in Isaack v. Clark, (Court of King's Bench, 1615) is applicable: "When a man doth finde goods, it hath been said, and so commonly held, that if he doth dispossess himself of them, by this he shall be discharged, but this is not so, ... for he which findes goods, is bound to answer him for them who hath the property... if a man therefore which findes goods, if he be wise, he will then search out the right owner of them, and so deliver them unto him; if the owner comes unto him, and demands them, and he answers, that it is not known unto him whether he be the true owner of the goods or not, and for this cause he refuseth to deliver them; this refusal is no conversion, if he do keep them for him..."
The lexical item in question, belonging as it does to the Latin tongue, Defendant is therefore entitled to keep in his possession until such time as its proper owners, the Romans, singly or severally, require it of him. Until that time, he may safeguard it for them.
Judgement for Defendant.
|Toward a Universal Typology of Noun Phrases--Cynthia Polarczik|
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