[Latin] Prima Finally


Academic Latin Pronunciation: Pree-mah fa-key-eh

Legal Latin Pronunciation: Pry-mah fey-sha

(And yes, I took a linguistics class, but it’s much easier to get my point across with more literal “sounding” letters.)

The New College Latin and English Dictionary says….

  • prima, -orum: npl first part, beginning; first principles or elements
  • faci-es, -ei: f face; look, facial expression; appearance; make, form, shape, outline; nature, character; pretense, pretext;




Prima facie can mean a number of things, but at the heart of it, it’s pretty simple. Even wikipedia denotes prima facie as meaning “at first sight”. That’s arguably how the term was used, but more as a colloquialism than a literal translation. Literally, you could use the term when speaking about the first half of a double take, but that’s not what we’re going for.


So at the heart of the language, there are two very distinct concepts being combined to make the legal term of art. Legal, as opposed to the “we want to use latin and sound smart” use. (You know, ’cause Omnis sanus melior in latina.)


In the case of legal latin – “Prima” refers to the primary or first elements presented in a case. “Facies” is better understood as “outline” “nature” or “character” of the case itself. So the term of art, therefore, is used to denote the first elements which outline the nature of the case. And if that is all that you need for an explanation of the case itself, then the case is made. Having “prima facie” evidence (adjective form) means that you have all of the elements needed to present a case.


In sum: A copyright registration is prima facie evidence for a dispute over ownership of a copyright – the fact that you have a registration means that you provided all evidence to the appropriate authority to claim the piece as yours, so you are presumed to have all evidence necessary to win your dispute. Therefore, rebutting this kind of evidence is very hard to do, and requires much more work and can be more expensive. (Read: If someone else steals and improperly registers your material, there’s going to be a law suit involved to get it corrected. And they’re going to have better evidence than you. So register early and often, folks!)


Dicta: This phrase “prima facie” is, of course, distinguished from the concept of “Res Ipsa Loquitor” which relates to a similar concept for the evidence of negligence, but that’s a whole other post.)


Now was that so hard, class?

Any questions?

Okay, homework is reading chapters 1-3 of Cicero’s De Legibus  for next time.



Vestra Magistra, Esq.



Filed under Legal Latin

2 responses to “[Latin] Prima Finally

  1. Aw, this was a really good post. Taking the time and actual effort to create a really good article… but what can I say… I procrastinate a lot and never manage to get anything done.

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