“Ceteris Paribus”?

A reader recently asked me about use of the phrase ceteris paribus in contracts.

I was unfamiliar with this phrase—no Latin scholar I—so the first thing I did was consult Black’s Law Dictionary, which told me that ceteris paribus means “other things being equal.”

I then checked the SEC’s EDGAR system, from which I learned that of the umpteen contracts filed on EDGAR as “material contracts” since 1993, only four use the phrase ceteris paribus. Here’s an example from 2001:

In the event the Hardware or equipment being maintained under the terms and conditions of this Agreement is moved to another location within the COUNTY, ORION shall continue to maintain the equipment at the new location, ceteris paribus.

It comes as no surprise that this phrase should be such a rarity. For one thing, use of Latinisms in contracts is, as a general matter, unhelpful, as I noted in this April 2009 blog post.

Furthermore, ceteris paribus would seem to offer the same sort of nebulous wiggle room offered by unless the context otherwise requires. (See this June 2007 blog post.)

So on two levels, using ceteris paribus in a contract would seem a bad idea. Let’s hope that it’s well and truly extinct.

About the author

Ken Adams is the leading authority on how to say clearly whatever you want to say in a contract. He’s author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, and he offers online and in-person training around the world. He’s also chief content officer of LegalSifter, Inc., a company that combines artificial intelligence and expertise to assist with review of contracts.

2 thoughts on ““Ceteris Paribus”?”

  1. This is a phrase directly from Econ 101, where it is used with relish since it’s one of the few Latin-ism in the art. Typically, this phrase is used when speaking of a model, so that a modeler might explore the influence of a single variable, all other variables held constant (“other things being equal”). Wikipedia has a nice write-up of its use.

    I think your interpretation is correct; it’s an “unless” condition with too much wiggle room since the contract operates in the real world, not a model where many pesky influences have been eliminated. Still, every lawyer must pine, somewhere deep inside, for a constrainted world without any unknowns and where the phrase ceritus paribus holds sway!


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.