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February 24, 2012

DEODAND (Lat. Deo dandum, that which is to be given to God), in English law, was a personal chattel (any animal or thing) which, on account of its having caused the death of a human being, was forfeited to the king for pious uses. Blackstone, while tracing in the custom an expiatory design, alludes to analogous Jewish and Greek laws, which required that what occasions a man’s death should be destroyed. In such usages the notion of the punishment of an animal or thing, or of its being morally affected from having caused the death of a man, seems to be implied. The forfeiture of the offending instrument in no way depends on the guilt of the owner. This imputation of guilt to inanimate objects or to the lower animals is not inconsistent with what we know of the ideas of uncivilized races.

— from the 1911 Eleventh Edition of The Encyclopedia Britannica


This term seems designed to be used in a chilling tale or Borgesian fable. I have thought about trying to write “The Deodand” myself but I think I would need a room with a fireplace, many leather-bound books, and a lot of oak to do it in. That and a gift for narrative and a will towards the task. Lacking these things I have only a vague stirring in my imagination, which I now leave to yours.

The deodand was only eliminated from English law in 1846.

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