In English (at least American English), we have the term "legalese", which Wikipedia defines as:

Legal writing that is very difficult for laymen to read and understand, the implication being that this abstruseness is deliberate for excluding the legally untrained and to justify high fees.

The most literal translation seems to be юридическим языком (legal language), but that seems to loose the implication of being excessively "legal" or otherwise convoluted.

While this word appears to have made it's way into the French1 and Spanish2 lexicons, I've yet to come across anything comparable in Russian.

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    крючкотворство may be used to express overly complicated legal writing, but lacks focus on law. In colloquial speech казуистика can be applied ironically to inconceivable text written by lawyer. Jun 3, 2013 at 10:55
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    Actually court papers are not that difficult to understand currently in modern Russia. Possibly this is because most people do not use lowers and appeal to the court themselves. The courts, recognizing that, usually explain their decisions in quite a plain language. The language though can be full of cross-references to certain laws etc. In 19th century it was more distinctive from the colloquial speech.
    – Anixx
    Dec 7, 2013 at 1:39

2 Answers 2


I think the closest Russian term would be канцелярит (officialese).

As defined by Большой толковый словарь:

Сухой, невыразительный, заштампованный язык (первоначально - канцелярские бумаги).

Unlike legalese, it's not intentionally obscuring, however it is also excessively used in legal and official papers and may be hardly understood by people not familiar with it.

Nora Gal defines it this way:

Это – вытеснение глагола, то есть движения, действия, причастием, деепричастием, существительным (особенно отглагольным!), а значит – застойность, неподвижность. И из всех глагольных форм пристрастие к инфинитиву.

Это – нагромождение существительных в косвенных падежах, чаще всего длинные цепи существительных в одном и том же падеже – родительном, так что уже нельзя понять, что к чему относится и о чем идет речь.

Это – обилие иностранных слов там, где их вполне можно заменить словами русскими.

Это – вытеснение активных оборотов пассивными, почти всегда более тяжелыми, громоздкими.

Это – тяжелый, путаный строй фразы, невразумительность. Несчетные придаточные предложения, вдвойне тяжеловесные и неестественные в разговорной речи.

Also, thought it's not exactly the same, in Russian we have the term крючкотворство:

Намеренное использование мелочей и различных формальностей для затягивания и запутывания судебных и административных дел.

This may be applied to abusing language as well:

Натуральный канцелярский слог середины позапрошлого века. Взамен сюжета ― уловки тогдашнего крючкотворства. Скука смертная ― причем в буквальном смысле. С. Гедройц. Арефьевский круг. Дело Сухово-Кобылина // «Звезда», 2003

  • Excellent answer! Also, interesting part: <<Это – обилие иностранных слов там, где их вполне можно заменить словами русскими.>> - it is fairly common in American legal documents to encounter Latin words too. Many of which have a very specific meaning in the legal context, but are otherwise not used on a day-to-day basis. Jun 3, 2013 at 16:09
  • Канцелярит is translated back to English as officialese or bureaucratese.
    – Artemix
    Jun 4, 2013 at 10:59
  • @Artemix: yes but this is the closest term to legalese I can think of
    – Quassnoi
    Jun 4, 2013 at 11:08

Well, I asked a lawyer and she was almost sure there is no such word in Russian. I also tried direct transcription «легализ», but she's never heard it.

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    I can only hope that Russian legal documents aren't typically so bad as some of what we encounter in America as to require such terminology! :) Jun 3, 2013 at 16:14
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    @Александр Unfortunately, it's the opposite. All Russian legal document are so bad that special terminology is not required.
    – kirelagin
    Jun 3, 2013 at 16:39
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    Sounds like the punch line from an old Soviet joke! haha Jun 3, 2013 at 17:55

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