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Cornell Law School and the American Society for Legal History




The language of the common law has a life and a logic of its own, resilient through eight centuries of unceasing talk. Basic terms of the lawyer's specialized vocabulary, elementary conceptual distinctions, and modes of argument, which all go to make “thinking like a lawyer” possible, have proved remarkably durable in the literature of the common law. Two fundamental distinctions—between “real” and “personal” actions and between “possessory” and “proprietary” remedies—can be traced back to their early use in treatises of the first generations of professional common law judges and in reports of courtroom dialogue from the first generations of professional advocates in common law courts. Together these distinctions give the clearest indications that the early common law professions borrowed the vocabulary and techniques of Roman and canon law. Moreover, they play an important role in the ongoing historical debate over English legal concepts of property ownership.



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