noun Law.

  1. fraud by a master or crew at the expense of the owners of the ship or its cargo.
  2. the offense of frequently exciting and stirring up lawsuits and quarrels.
  3. the purchase or sale of ecclesiastical preferments or of offices of state.


  1. criminal law (formerly) the vexatious stirring up of quarrels or bringing of lawsuits
  2. maritime law a fraudulent practice committed by the master or crew of a ship to the prejudice of the owner or charterer
  3. Scots law the crime committed by a judge in accepting a bribe
  4. the purchase or sale of public or Church offices

early 15c., “sale of ecclesiastical or state offices,” from Old French baraterie “deceit, guile, trickery,” from barat “malpractice, fraud, deceit, trickery,” of unknown origin, perhaps from Celtic. In marine law, “wrongful conduct by a ship’s crew or officer, resulting in loss to owners,” from 1620s. Meaning “offense of habitually starting legal suits” is from 1640s. Sense somewhat confused with that of Middle English baratri “combat, fighting” (c.1400), from Old Norse baratta “fight, contest strife.” This was an active word in Middle English, with forms such as baraten “to disturb the peace” (mid-15c.); baratour “inciter to riot, bully” (late 14c., mid-13c. as a surname). Barataria Bay, Louisiana, U.S., is from Spanish baratear “to cheat, deceive,” cognate of the French word; the bay so called in reference to the difficulty of its entry passages.

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