[Ads-l] Problems with OED Entry for "Federal Case"

Shapiro, Fred fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Thu Jun 25 13:08:08 UTC 2015

The June release of new entries for the OED includes one for the term "federal case."  Usually the OED uses me as a consultant on entries for U.S. legal terms, but they did not do so for this one.  There are a number of problems with the entry.

The OED defines "federal case" as "a criminal case that falls under the jurisdiction of a federal court."  I see no reason why the definition should be limited to criminal cases; civil cases are often referred to as "federal cases" if they are in the federal courts.

The first use for "federal court" is dated 1824, but the term appears earlier:

1792 _Reports of Cases Ruled and Adjudged in the Several Courts of the United States_ (1798) 2: 168 (Lexis)  It has been contended by the plaintiffs' counsel, that here all parties affirm the same thing, to wit, that the sloop was a prize, and that question cannot now possibly arise; which is said to distinguish it from the federal cases cited.

The first use for the colloquial phrase "to make a federal case out of" is dated 1950, but Barry Popik has traced this back to 1945:


Fred Shapiro

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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