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06-01-1999, 02:36 PM
My understanding matches Torq's first guess.

<<< You've got an item or tool which is commonly associated with an illegal activity, therefore the presumption is that you had an intention to perform that illegal activity. >>> --- would be an explanation of the phrase "Where there's smoke, there's fire."

06-01-1999, 03:23 PM
I don't know the origin of the saying, but I have found a few clues.

All of us have heard the old saying "Possession is nine-tenths of the law."

There is no statute or supreme court case which states that such principles guide our judges in any particular case.
http://www.mrdivorce.com/pg2.htm


The above confirms that this maxim did not originate in the United States courts.

The following:
"Possession is nine-tenths of literature," my cousin Tom once said, tongue firmly holding title to cheek. I've learned since that he was only satirizing a maxim of real estate.
http://www.seattlesquare.com/pandemonium/featurestext/Dunces.htm


The above suggests some connection to real estate. I'd look into feudal times, etc. for the answer since it doesn't appear to be linked to the United States from the first quote.
I'll continue searching... if I find it I'll post another response.

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"[He] beat his fist down upon the table and hurt his hand and became so
further enraged... that he beat his fist down upon the table even harder and
hurt his hand some more." -- Joseph Heller's Catch-22

06-01-1999, 03:44 PM
Well, in Jewish Rabbinic tort law, there is a general principle that "Whoever is taking away from the other, it's his responsibility to prove his ownership", i.e., whoever is in possession of the object or money in dispute does not have the burden of proving his right to hold onto it...it's the other litigant who must prove he doesn't. That sounds like it might have been a foundation for this phrase, although I don't know where the exact phrase originates.

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Chaim Mattis Keller
ckeller@schicktech.com

06-01-1999, 03:46 PM
Actually, I believe the original saying is "Possession is nine points of the law." In other words, it's very important, but not 90% of it.

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www.sff.net/people/rothman (http://www.sff.net/people/rothman)

06-01-1999, 05:06 PM
Chuck helped me out with the "nine points" as opposed to "nine tenths." I think that I may have found the answer.

The Wychwoods Local History Society offers information about its British society. In one of their pamphlets published in 1994 (which you can buy), they mention feudal society and how "possesssion is nine points of the law."
I'm not going to bother spending money to actually find out if I'm right, but if you're really interested, check out:

http://www.djbeard.demon.co.uk/students/sj/webpage.htm

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"[He] beat his fist down upon the table and hurt his hand and became so
further enraged... that he beat his fist down upon the table even harder and
hurt his hand some more." -- Joseph Heller's Catch-22

06-01-1999, 05:17 PM
Disregard my previous post. This time I actually discovered the correct answer.

The concept has feudal origins with William the Conqueror, as is seen in the following quote taken from this site.
http://www.snowcrest.net/siskfarm/Prescrip.html

Through William the Conqueror, Saxon manorial land holding became overlain with the feudal concept of "sovereign title and dominion" - the superior absolute exclusive right of use (ownership) of the country's land and resources perpetually vested in the monarch in the manner of the Roman pater familias . Direct grants of land made by the monarch to others were held in conditional "fee" title (feud or fief.) These were further subinfeudated to others. "Possessory" title or equitable title was later employed to alienate or sell use without feudal obligations, leaving a naked "fee" title and feudal obligations in the original grantee. Eventually, this created a situation somewhat similar to the tenants of the ager publicus where sovereign title, "fee" title and actual possession were mired in complexities. "Ejectment" eventually became the common mode of transference of interest in lands under English Law.

The principles of possessory ownership survived, as explained in Roger Bernhardt's Real Property in a Nut Shell, Third Edition, West Publishing, c1993; and came to play a fundamental role in the acquisition of property in America's western lands:

"Even though a possessor does not own the property and is subject to ejectment by the owner, nevertheless as against the rest of the world the possessor is entitled to maintain that possession... If a stranger appears and dispossesses him, he may bring ejectment against the stranger to be restored to possession. And it is no defense for the stranger to show that the former possessor was not in fact the owner (unless the stranger can also show that he himself is the owner or claims through the owner.)" [at page 3.]

From this doctrine arose the maxim "possession is nine points of the law."


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"[He] beat his fist down upon the table and hurt his hand and became so
further enraged... that he beat his fist down upon the table even harder and
hurt his hand some more." -- Joseph Heller's Catch-22

06-02-1999, 01:06 AM
Though I am certain this phrase is wrong, where did it come from? Possession is 9/10's of the law. Thought this would have been in Cecil's classics, yet I found no matches upon a search. Anyone?

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"Valenton del mundo!"

06-02-1999, 01:50 AM
Though usually I've heard the phrase in situations where the implication is "It's in my hands, therefore I own it," I think what it really means is "You've got an item or tool which is commonly associated with an illegal activity, therefore the presumption is that you had an intention to perform that illegal activity."

06-02-1999, 09:58 PM
Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable says the origin is "possession is nine points of the law", meaning every advantage that a person can have short of actual right. The "nine points" are cited as:
(1) a good deal of money
(2) a good deal of patience
(3) a good cause
(4) a good lawyer
(5) a good counsel
(6) good witnesses
(7) a good jury
(8) a good judge
(9) good luck

This would imply that the phrase was originally sarcastic -- possession weighing more than actual right of ownership.

06-03-1999, 04:54 PM
This would imply that the phrase was originally sarcastic.

CKDextHavn, looking at my source for the origin, it would appear that the "9 points" philosophy existed as early as the era of William the Conqueror. Does your source mention the time around which the actual phrase was coined?

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"[He] beat his fist down upon the table and hurt his hand and became so
further enraged... that he beat his fist down upon the table even harder and
hurt his hand some more." -- Joseph Heller's Catch-22

06-08-1999, 02:34 PM
I've always interpreted the phrase to have a pragmatic rather than legalistic meaning. To rephrase the saying more prosaicly: Possession is very important when it comes to disputes over ownership. It's so difficult to force someone to disgorge property that they possess, even illegally possess, that we might say that possession is ninety percent of ownership.

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President of the Vernon Dent fan club.