Habeas corpus is a legal term of art that requires a government to show justification for the imprisonment of a person. Basically, it means that we can't imprison people without cause. Because this involves holding people in prison, it makes sense that the Latin phrase literally translates into "have the body" (or, in plural, habeas corpora). This refers to the person in custody and not an actual body as proof, as some people mistakenly believe. Habeas, through Proto-Italic habeo, comes from the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction gehb, meaning "to take" (also the etymon of Modern English have, through Old English hafian and Proto-Germanic habjana, "to lift"). Corpus, as one may imagine, is the progenitor of corpse (through Old French cors) and corps (through French corps d'armee, "army body"). This is reconstructed to Proto-Indo-European krep, also meaning "body", with a brief pit stop in Proto-Italic.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.