Could you do better than these lawyers did? Here are four more confused and misused words, along with explanations. For each, the incorrect example is from a real legal document (names have been changed).
just deserts / just desserts
Putting the defendant to death to avenge two killings that he did not commit and had no intention of committing does not contribute to the retributive end of ensuring that the criminal gets his just desserts.
This error might be simply a spelling mistake or a typographical error, but this incorrect usage is fairly common. The correct phrase for getting what you rightly deserve is just deserts with one s and has nothing to do with a post-meal treat. The word desert here is a little-used noun form of deserve.
prescribe / proscribe
Of the total offering proceeds deposited into the Escrow Account, 10% may be released to the Company prior to an offering in which investors reconfirm their investment in accordance with procedures proscribed by Rule 419.
The right word here is the past tense of prescribe, which means to require or authoritatively direct. Proscribe means to prohibit. A procedure could be proscribed by rule or prescribed by rule, but the meanings are distinct.
step foot / set foot
Most jurors will have seen PowerPoint presentations before they step foot in the courtroom.
The proper phrase here is set foot. Granted, the phrase step foot has some common-sense appeal: we takes steps with our feet. But do you step your feet? No. You take steps, and what you’re doing when you take steps is picking your foot up and setting your foot down or in.
That’s my appeal to logic. Here’s my appeal to authority—one of several I found. “The traditional expression is not step foot but set foot.” Paul Brians, Common Errors in English Usage 218 (2d ed. 2009).
tack / tact
The plaintiff believes Porterfield took the wrong tact by refusing to settle.
The correct word here is tack. Tact means sensitivity or skill in dealing with delicate situations. The correct word, tack, means a course or a change in course and is a sailing term, used here metaphorically.