I'll just hijack this post to point out that the plural of attorney general is attorneys general, not attorney generals like most non-lawyers and journalists think. Okay, on to our feature presentation: the etymology of attorney. The word was borrowed in the middle of the thirteenth century with the looser definition of "one appointed to act in place of another". This was a term in English Common Law for a while, until it took on a pejorative sense and in 1873 the term was officially replaced with barrister so as to lose the negative connotations. It was too late for the Americans, however, who had already picked up the term by then. Anyway, attorney comes from the Old French verb atorner, meaning "to assign", as in a lawyer is "assigned" to represent someone. Here we can break off the prefix a-, meaning "to", and we're left with tourner, "turn". Tourner comes from Latin tornare, which carries the more specific meaning of "to turn with a lathe" and is a conjugation of tornus, simply meaning "lathe". This in turn comes from Greek tornos, which meant "drafting compass" (that thing used to make circles), from Proto-Indo-European tere, "to turn".
Adam Aleksic is a 220-month-old, 2800-ounce high school senior with disturbing interests in etymology, vexillology, geography, board games, limericks, and law. Adam will be studying linguistics at Harvard College in the fall.
The Etymology Nerd