Voir dire.

Voir dire.

vwaar deer. Click below to hear this.

No, it doesn’t mean see-say. That sounds more like a discredited method of teaching reading. It has nothing to do with seesaw, either, though the scales of Justice do seem to seesaw back and forth at times.

The real meaning? If you’re an attorney or a student of law, you already know: it means truth-telling. But how did voir, which means to see, come to be associated with truth? Is it because our eyes don’t lie?

That’s not it either, because in fact, sometimes they do. No, this is historical.

Back in 1066, a fellow from the North of France known as Guillaume le Bâtard (he was of illegitimate birth) took a little trip across the Channel, and took over England. Lots of his buddies followed him, all speaking French, or what passed for French at the time.

To make a long story short, Guillaume le Bâtard’s nickname was changed to Guillaume le Conquérant, French became the language of choice for the upper classes, and as a result everything that went on in an English courtroom took place in French.

It was really a lot more complicated than that, but you get the picture. By the end of the 17th century, French had fallen so far out of use in England that few people could remember details like how to conjugate a verb. But some terms stuck, and one of them was voir dire, which remains in use to this day. If you get called for jury duty in the US, you will submit to voir dire, where you are sworn to answer a series of questions truthfully. Attorneys in a case may use voir dire to determine the admissibility of certain pieces of evidence.

And voir? That’s simply the Old French for true or truth, from the Latin verum, which also gave us the English words veritable, the old-fashioned verily, and related words.

And it’s all true, every word of it. I swear it!


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