An Odd Bit of Legalese:

In today's Ninth Circuit decision in U.S. v. Chapman:

The government misrelies upon United States v. Cadet, 727 F.2d 1453 (9th Cir. 1984), and United States v. Gatto, 763 F.2d 1040 (9th Cir. 1985), to argue that ....

A quick NEXIS search through the NEWS;CURNWS and NEWS;ARCNWS files for "misrely," "misrelies," or "misrelied" found zero mainstream publications using the term. (It did come up with one law review article.) Neither the OED nor the dictionaries available through gave any definitions for "misrely." Google search likewise yielded very few examples; "misrely" produced only 158 items (not the number Google indicated at first, but the number one sees when one gets to the end of the Google results) — nearly all were either misspellings of "miserly," word lists, or junk. Likewise for "misrelied" (95 items) and "misrelies" (89 items).

But a Westlaw caselaw search found 30 cases, one from 1939 and the rest from 1973 or more recently, using the term or its variants. A search through law review articles found 9 items, though one was a quote of a case. That's not a lot of hits, but it suggests that the word is in some regular use: By way of comparison, eminently normal (again, not very common, but normal) words such as "enigmatically" (147 uses in caselaw), "pessimistically" (32 uses in caselaw), or "defeatist" (100 uses) are within an order of magnitude of this frequency (though I acknowledge that for "misrely" I looked at three grammatical forms of the term and not just one).

So this strikes me as an unusual example — a term that in Nexis-available sources is used exclusively by lawyers, that appears in its various forms on nearly 40 occasions in published legal work, and yet doesn't seem inherently tied to legal concepts. Why would the word have emerged among lawyers but not among others?

"Misrely" implies one could "correctly rely" but failed to do so. There isn't much of a sense of "correct reliance" outside of law. In casual conversation, you won't expect someone to rely on someone or something and then suggest they did so the wrong way.
5.6.2008 6:25pm
Steve H (mail):
How many of the "misrely"s were really "miserly" misspelled?
5.6.2008 6:30pm
Anderson (mail):
Don't misunderestimate "misrely."
5.6.2008 6:35pm
John (mail):
Actually, I think misrely is a pretty good word to denote the use of some precedent that doesn't support one's position. It's a word that really would have a hard time finding a place in ordinary English. I do not think, for example, that we would find Blutarsky saying to Flounder, "you misrelied on us."
5.6.2008 6:49pm
Misrely regrets she's unable to lunch today, Madam,..
5.6.2008 6:51pm
Just Saying:
Isn't "conclusory" quite similar?
5.6.2008 6:53pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Just Saying: Yes, but my sense is that "conclusory" has at least made its way in some measure into the nonlawyer world -- not so for "misrely."
5.6.2008 7:08pm
Blue (mail):
Perhaps it is a word used by some sub-tribe of the legal community, passed on from Judge to Clerk to Judge like some totem.
5.6.2008 7:10pm
Harriet Miers's Law Partner:
I've heard the word before and use it myself occasionally in speech. I've always regarded it as a contraction of "misplaced reliance.
5.6.2008 7:43pm
Jim Anderson (www):
A psychological explanation: perhaps in day-to-day speech, when people talk of unreliable sources, they tend to blame the source, not their own fallible trust.
5.6.2008 8:09pm
Dave2L (mail) (www):
Lawyers have the concept (call it a fiction, if you will) that a case stands for something independent of the meaning people give it. This gives rise to the concept of "misrelying", which is stating that a case stands for something that it actually does not (because a case stands for something objective, not subjective) but not because the party was mistaken in reading it or reporting on it, but because they were mistaken in understanding it.

You wouldn't have this problem with other types of text. For example, if a physicist "relied" on a physics text for a defintion of a light year, if he said something other than what the text said, he is wrong (thus he did not "misrely", he was simply "mistaken"), and if the text itself was wrong, he did not "misrely" but rather the text was mistaken.

Misrely implies that one can have a view different from a text that is not mistaken in the sense of understanding it, but mistaken in the sense of what it means.
5.6.2008 10:30pm
Anderson (mail):
Misrely regrets she's unable to lunch today, Madam,..

Wins the thread.
5.6.2008 10:50pm
I've used the word several times. I am not a lawyer, nor do I associate ( in RL ) with lawyers.
5.6.2008 11:41pm
Lawyers strive for brevity. "Misrely" is one word and seven letters, while "incorrectly rely" is two words and fifteen letters.

Of course, this begs the question, what else could the opinion have said in as few words to convey the same idea?
5.6.2008 11:52pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
A lawyer's arguments are based on precedent -- snatch away the precedent-support and the whole argument tumbles. I'd say misrely is short for "mistakenly relies on."

"Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock; 25 and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And every one who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand; 27 and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it."
5.7.2008 2:12am
Duffy Pratt (mail):
I guess when lawyers write stuff like "give, bestow, and bequeath" they are striving but failing.

Also, the normal phrase I see here is not "incorrectly rely." Instead, I often find myself gagging at "misplaces its reliance on..."
5.7.2008 2:22am
It's just a way to give active voice to the actions of a party that relies on a flawed interpretation of precedent.
5.7.2008 3:15am
Paul Karl Lukacs (mail) (www):
"I mislike little magics in this realm."

-- Dream of the Endless
5.7.2008 4:55am
John M. Perkins (mail):
Yet, none of us didn't know immediately what the judge meant.
5.7.2008 5:54pm
"Misrelies"? Wasn't that that Dick Dale song they used in Pulp Fiction?
5.7.2008 6:47pm
Wondering Willy:
Misrely is a relatively nice-sounding way of saying a judge was wrong, which is taboo. That's the reason for the word: it's a pure euphemism.
5.7.2008 7:38pm