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Reading a case from 1884 the other day, Moulton v. Newburyport Water Company, 137 Mass. 163, we came upon the following:

“The petitioners contended that they had the right to dispose of all the waters running in the brook, as there were no lower owners between them and tide water; or, at least, that they had the right to dispose of half of such waters as an article of merchandise. But the judge ruled that they had no ownership in the whole or any part of said waters, but only a usufruct therein.”

While attorneys may be familiar with the term, it was new to us, and so we had to look it up:

From Google:  “the right to enjoy the use and advantages of another’s property short of the destruction or waste of its substance….early 17th century: from medieval Latin usufructus, from Latin usus (et) fructus ‘use (and) enjoyment,’ from usus ‘a use’ + fructus ‘fruit.’”

Encyclopedia Britannica provides an interesting historical context: “Usufruct,  in Roman-based legal systems, the temporary right to the use and enjoyment of the property of another, without changing the character of the property. This legal concept developed in Roman law and found significant application in the determination of the property interests between a slave held under a usus fructus (Latin: “use and enjoyment”) bond and a temporary master. Any property acquired by a slave as a result of his labour legally belonged to that master.”

And finally, because at moments like this you wonder if you are the only one who has never heard the word, we turned to the following Google Trends chart of the word’s use:

Google trends chart showing peak of usufruct use in about 1750

Use of word “usufruct” in print over time

Apparently, we can rest easy knowing that usufruct has been falling out of favor for over a century.

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