TERM, an English word which has various meanings, all arising from its etymology (Lat. terminus), and the idea of limiting or defining.
A term of years, in English law, is the time during which an interest in an estate for life or for years is enjoyed, also the interest itself, because such an interest must determine at a definite time. If the interest be for life, it is an estate of freehold; if for years, only a personal interest in real estate, and so personalty, even though the length of the term for instance, iooo years may far exceed in duration any possible life estate. A term of years is of two kinds the first that created by an ordinary lease reserving a rent, as of a house or a building lease; the second that created by a settlement or a will, usually without rent reserved, for the purpose of securing payment of money, such as portions to younger children, by the owner of the land. Both kinds have been considerably affected by the Conveyancing Acts of 1881 and 1882, which enable a mortgagor or mortgagee in possession to make certain leases. Before 1845 provision was always made in conveyances for keeping on foot a term to attend the inheritance, as it was called that is, for assigning the remainder of a term to trustees for the protection of the owner of the property against rentcharges or other incumbrances created subsequently to the term, although the term had been satisfied that is, the purpose for which the term has been created had been fulfilled. By the Assignment of Satisfied Terms Act 1845 the assignment of satisfied terms was rendered unnecessary. The Conveyancing Acts 1 88 1 and 1882 give power to enlarge the unexpired residue of a long term in certain cases into the fee simple.
Terms, in the sense of a limited and certain period of time during which the law courts are open, used to affect only what were called in England the superior courts that is, the king's bench, common pleas and exchequer. They were originally the leisure seasons of the year which were not occupied by great feasts or fasts of the Church or by agriculture. Their origin is no doubt to be traced back to the legislation of the early Christian emperors, the principle being adopted in England through the influence of ecclesiastical judges. Terms were regulated by many acts of parliament, the effect of which was to confine to a comparatively short period the time during which the courts could sit in banco that is, for the decision of questions of law as distinguished from the decision of questions of fact. There were four terms, Hilary, Easter, Trinity and Michaelmas, the average duration of each being about three weeks. All legislation on the subject previous to 1873 is now merely of historical interest, for by the Judicature Act of that year terms were abolished so far as related to the administration of justice and sittings substituted. The previous subdivisions of the legal year were, however, retained, the dates of commencement and termination being somewhat changed. The Michaelmas sittings of the high court and court of appeal are now held from the 24th of October to the zist of December, the Hilary sittings from the 1ith of January to the Wednesday before Easter, the Easter sittings from the Tuesday after Easter week to the Friday before Whitsunday, and the Trinity sittings from the Tuesday after Whitsun week to the 12th of August, all dates inclusive. The old terms, with their duration as fixed by statute, are now kept alive only for the purpose of reference in all cases in which they are used as a measure of time. In the United States the terms or sittings of the court* are not limited to any fixed period of time, but vary according to the judges available and the amount of judicial business which is likely to come before the courts. The dining-terms at the Inns of Court also correspond in point of time with the old terms and not with the sittings.
In universities and schools the word term is used for the period during which instruction is given to the students or pupils. University and school terms differ from law terms and from each other both in period and duration. At the university of Cambridge the academic year is divided into three terms, Michaelmas, Lent and Easter; while at the university of Oxford there are four terms in the year, Michaelmas, Hilary, Easter and Trinity. School years now generally consist of three terms, divided by Christmas, Easter and Summer holidays, the old half-years having gradually been abolished. In higher educational institutions in the United States the university or college year is generally divided into three terms called either the Fall, Winter and Spring terms, or much less frequently the first, second and third terms. In some institutions, however, the so-called semester system has been adopted, the year being divided into two terms, so far as instruction is concerned, though even in these cases vacations at Christmas time and in the early spring divide the year into three parts, which are sometimes, though not in the usual or proper sense, called terms.
In Scotland terms are the days at which rent or interest is payable. They are either legal or conventional: the legal are Whitsunday and Martinmas; the conventional are fixed by agreement between the parties. Terms as times of court sittings were defined by 6 Anne c. 53, which fixed four termsMartinmas, Candlemas, Whitsuntide and Lammas for the now obsolete court of exchequer, to which the winter and summer sittings of the court of session now correspond.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)