Looking for etymology of "power of attorney"
Thread poster: Levan Namoradze

Levan Namoradze  Identity Verified
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May 13, 2008

I am looking for the etymology of the term/expression "power of attorney". Could anyone refer to any source in the Internet? Thank you!
Kind regards,


Michaela Sommer  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:04
English to German
What 'Collins' says May 13, 2008

Hi Levan,

I don't know of any source in the Internet, but my Collins English Dictionary & Thesaurus says on 'attorney': from old French, from 'atourner' = to direct to, from 'tourner' = to turn. First appeared in English in the 14th century.




Levan Namoradze  Identity Verified
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Thank you! May 13, 2008

Thank you, Michaela! However, I am looking for something "deeper".icon_smile.gif


Clarisa Moraña  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:04
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Not very "deeper" May 13, 2008

But I did a search at Google books with both terms "power of attorney" and "etymology". I found, for instance:

You might take a look at it and try to do a similar browse (Google books).

Kind regards

Clarisa Moraña


Kim Metzger  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:04
German to English
A little information May 13, 2008

The concept of a power of attorney stretches back to medieval times from the Old French word "attorner" meaning, to agree to continue as a tenant when ownership of property changed. Tenants would find someone to act for them in handling these agreements and that person would become their attorney. The term attorney today has become a generic name for members of the legal profession who represent others in many types of transactions. However, in the phrase "power of attorney" the original medieval sense still controls since any competent person can act as the attorney, or agent, for another by the grant of a power of attorney.



Claudia Alvis  Identity Verified
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Oxford English Dictionary May 13, 2008

Taken from the OED:

power, n.1

5.b Law (orig. Sc.). A document, or clause in a document, giving a person legal authority to act for another, esp. in a particular capacity. Now chiefly in power of attorney n. at sense 5c(b), power of agency n. at sense 5c(a).

c1430 Acts Parl. Scotl. (1844) I. 343/2 Fyrst call the soytoure, syne rede the justice powere. 1482 in J. D. Marwick Charters Edinb. (1871) 155 Eftir the tenour of the pouir maid be the saidis provest [etc.]..to the saidis procuratouris and as at mar lenth is contenit in the samyn pouir of procuratory. 1561 in J. H. Burton Reg. Privy Council Scotl. (1877) 1st Ser. I. 172 Pretendit procuratouris..hes nocht schawin ony procuratorie or power to that effect. 1656 in J. A. Clyde Hope's Major Practicks (1937) I. 14 Any duik..being absent..may send a pouer subscribit to any of that estait [etc.]. 1706 London Gaz. No. 4209/3, A Forged Power..for receiving the said Money. 1844 J. WILLIAMS Real Property Law (1845) II. iii. 232 If the power should require a deed only, a will will not do. 1959 EARL JOWITT & C. WALSH Dict. Eng. Law II. 1379/1 A power which authorises the execution of a deed or the transfer of stock at the Bank of England must itself be conferred by deed.


5.c.(b) power of attorney n. a document or clause appointing a person to act as another's representative in legal or business matters; (also) the authority so conferred. Also in extended use. Cf. ATTORNEY n.2 2.

1716 Abstr. Charter Incorporation Amicable Soc. for Perpetual Assurance-office 7 Neither shall the Seal..be affixed to any Instrument whatsoever.., Policies and Powers of Attorney for Voting..excepted. 1747 B. FRANKLIN Let. 1 Oct. in Wks. (1887) II. 92 As he has your power of attorney..I think to put your letter to Mr. Hughes into his hands. 1794 H. WANSEY Jrnl. Excursion to U.S. (1796) 233 The person in whose name the Certificate stands..gives a Power of Attorney to the purchaser, to have it transferred in his name. 1836 F. MARRYAT Mr. Midshipman Easy III. xi. 212 A power of attorney will be all that is requisite. 1889 Harper's Mag. July 223/1 Mamma is excused with a headache, but she has left me power of attorney to ask questions about our little venture. 1959 EARL JOWITT & C. WALSH Dict. Eng. Law II. 1379/1 A power of attorney is usually a special instrument in the form of a deed poll, but it may form part of a deed containing other matter. 2000 K. CHARLES Cruel Habitations (2001) xviii. 344 After her mother's death and especially in her father's final illness..she had been given power of attorney to draw money out of the building society as needed.

a'ttorney, n.2

{dag}1. The action of appointing a legal representative, legal commission, procuration. (The phrase ‘by attorney’ perh. orig. belonged to this.)
1594 SHAKES. Rich. III, V. iii. 83, I, by Attourney, blesse thee from thy Mother. 1609 SKENE Reg. Maj. 168 For ilk actorney, and commission twa shillings. 1635 QUARLES Emblems V. vi. (1718) 270 Mine eye, by Contemplations great attorney, Transcends the crystal pavement of the skie.

Now used only in,

2. letter or warrant of attorney: a legal document by which a person appoints one or more persons to act for him as his attorney or attorneys, either generally or in a specific transaction. power of a.: the authority conferred by such a document, now used also for the document itself.
[a1432 in Rymer F{oe}dera X. 500 Habet Literas Regis de Generali Attornatu.] 1461 Paston Lett. 408 II. 37, I wold a new dede and letter of atorne were mad. 1586 J. HOOKER Girald. Irel. in Holinsh. II. 145/2 They deliuered..their letters of atturneie vnto their said agents. 1611 COTGR., Attournée, a letter of Atturney. 1750 CARTE Hist. Eng. II. 369 Letters of protection and attorney being still granted. 1753 HANWAY Trav. (1762) II. I. vii. 35 By his order..or by virtue of his power of attorney. 1858 LD. ST. LEONARDS Handy-bk. Prop. Law XXII. 175 Payments and acts by any trustee..under a power of attorney.

I couldn't find 'power of attorney' in the Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology, but here's the entry for 'power':

[< Anglo-Norman poer, poere, poeir, poir, poier, power, pouer, pouair, pouoir, povoir, poair, poayr, poiair, poiar, poar, poor, pooir, etc., and Old French poeir, poer, poier, poor, Old French, Middle French pooir, Middle French pouvoir, povoir, pouoir, poair, poir, etc. (9th cent. as podir; French pouvoir, with v developed in hiatus) ability (to do something) (9th cent.), authority (12th cent.), physical strength (12th cent.), army, armed force (13th cent.), jurisdiction, administrative area (13th cent.), right to act on another's behalf (13th cent.), domain, realm (14th cent. or earlier in Anglo-Norman), period of validity (14th cent. or earlier in Anglo-Norman), act by which one gives someone the right to act on another's behalf (1468), property which a thing possesses (c1320) < pooir, poer, poeir, poier, etc. (French pouvoir) to be able to < post-classical Latin potere (Vetus Latina), analogical alteration of classical Latin posse to be able to (see POSSE n.1). Cf. Old Occitan poder, Catalan poder (13th cent. or earlier), Spanish poder (11th cent.), Portuguese poder (13th cent.), Italian potere (12th or 13th cent.). With the French verb cf. Old Occitan poder, Catalan poder, Spanish poder, Portuguese poder, Italian potere. Norn (Shetland) puri power, is < Scots.
Variation in the first syllable in Middle English reflects that shown in Anglo-Norman and Old French; the usual modern English form power shows the regular development of Middle English (spelt ou, ow). The forms show loss of the vowel of the second syllable.
With uses in phrases cf. Anglo-Norman a mun poer, de mun poer, ove mun poer, solum mun poer, etc. (also a mes poers, etc.), Old French a mon poer, etc., to the best of my (your, etc.) ability (12th cent.), Anglo-Norman de poer a, de poer able to (14th cent. or earlier).
In sense 12d orig. translating German Potenz (see POTENCE n.1; J. Steiner 1826, in Jrnl. f. die reine u. angewandte Math. 1 164).
In sense 17 orig. translating German Mächtigkeit (G. Cantor 1878, in Jrnl. f. die reine u. angewandte Math. 84 242).]


Edit: The citation for power: DRAFT REVISION Mar. 2008; the citation for attorney: SECOND EDITION 1989.

[Edited at 2008-05-14 03:23]


Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 15:04
English to Spanish
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More May 14, 2008

Usage in other languages could help. In Spanish a "Power of Attorney" is simply called a "Poder", which as a noun is generically translated simply as "Power" with nothing added. Of course in the proper context it is understood to be a "Power" (of Attorney), but without any context the meaning is not clear. Another word for it is "Mandato" and the person granting it is the "mandante" and the person to whom it is granted is the "mandatario". Those words in other contexts can have other shades of meaning as well.

Those are words derived from Latin. It would seem that the most important component would be "power" and not "attorney", and the etymology would not seem to be too complicated; what it is is what you get.

Any special reason for asking?


Zrinka Milas
Local time: 23:04
Croatian to German
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Actor May 15, 2008

“Attorney” is one of the denotations for “actor” in Medieval Latin. Cf. Mediae Latinitatis Lexicon Minus (Leiden: Brill, 1984), p. 14.

“Actor”: “a term in Roman law,” “one who acts, or performs any action, or takes part in any affair; a doer,” “one personates a character, or acts a part; a stage-player, or dramatic performer,” Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford 1971), p. 24.

If you look up in your Latin dictionary, you will find out that the word "actor" (actor, oris, m. - from the word "ago") also means "attorney."

Affiliated to this is the Latin word "actio".



Levan Namoradze  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:04
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English to Georgian
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Thank you! May 16, 2008

Dear Colleagues,
Thank you all so much for your kind assistance and your time!
Kind regards,

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