Thursday, 13 March 2014

Caveat - There's Just One ...

A warning sign


Noun & verb. Mid-16th century.
[Latin, 3rd person singular present subjunctive of cavere beware.]

A1 noun. A warning, a proviso;
specifically in LAW (a) a process in an ecclesiastical court to suspend proceedings;
(b) a notice to a court (especially in SCOTS LAW) or an entry in a register preventing a proceeding
(as granting of a probate) until the objector's arguments have been heard. M16

A2 noun. obsolete. A precaution. L16-L17

B1 verb trans. Enter a caveat against. rare. M17

B2 verb instrans. FENCING. Disengage. Now rare or obsolete. M17

caveatee noun (LAW) a person against whose interests caveat is entered. E20
caveator noun (LAW) a person who enters a caveat. L19

The literal Latin etymology of caveat is 'Let a person beware', and most English speakers will know this word from when someone says: "Oh, but there is one caveat before we agree to this / I sign the papers / I let you buy me a drink, etc." And immediately suspicion is raised as you wait to find out exactly what the caveat is: Will she only sign the document if there are witnesses? Will she only agree to you buying her a drink if you then go and sit at a different table? Will she only agree to such-and-such if I this-and-that? However, rather than resent the caveat and regard it as somehow underhanded and sneaky, it's exactly what the person is telling you it is - she is directly saying: "Look, before we agree to this, this is something you should be warned about, something you should be aware of, and I'm explicitly pointing this out to you by using the word caveat which literally mean 'let a person beware', and that person in this instance is you, buddy." See? That's great, isn't it? If she had used the word clause, it would have been open to all sorts of misinterpretation. But with caveat there's no room for ambiguity, misunderstandings or restraining orders. Everyone knows exactly what's what. Perfect.

Are you a serial caveatee or caveator?

Do please clause for thought and leave a comment in the box below.


  1. So 'caveat' ISN'T the plural of caviar? I'm such a dandy!

    And there was me assuming the Lord of Salisbury wouldn't invite me back to the estate because I'd jilted his daughter.

    Life is just full of these delightful little misunderstandings, isn't it, what?

    1. No, I'm afraid it's not, C. But I wouldn't worry too much about old Salad-face Salisbury (as we called him back in Oxford) - he's a cucumber sandwich short of a bowling green, if you know what I mean*.

      *caveat - I don't know what I mean

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