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From French chancellerie, from Late Latin cancellaria, from Latin cancellarius, from Latin cancellus (lattice) (English chancel), from Latin cancelli (grating, bars), from the lattice-work that separated a section of a church or court.[1][2]

See related chancellor and chancellery, and the more distantly related incarcerate (put behind bars), from carcer (prison).

The adverbial form is an allusion to the condition of a person involved in the chancery court.



chancery (countable and uncountable, plural chanceries)

  1. (historical) In England, formerly, the highest court of judicature next to the Parliament, exercising jurisdiction at law, but chiefly in equity; but under the jurisdiction act of 1873 it became the chancery division of the High Court of Justice, and now exercises jurisdiction only in equity.
  2. In the United States, a court of equity; equity; proceeding in equity.
  3. The type of building that houses a diplomatic mission or embassy.
  4. The type of building that houses the offices and administration of a diocese; the offices of a diocese.
  5. (historical) In the Middle Ages, a government office that produced and notarized official documents.
  6. (boxing, slang) The position of a boxer's head when under his adversary's arm.
    • 1846 October 1 – 1848 April 1, Charles Dickens, Dombey and Son, London: Bradbury and Evans, [], published 1848, →OCLC:
      The Chicken himself attributed this punishment to his having had the misfortune to get into Chancery early in the proceedings, when he was severely fibbed by the Larkey one, and heavily grassed.
  7. (slang, archaic) Any awkward predicament.
  8. (writing) Short for chancery hand.

Usage notes[edit]

A court of chancery, so far as it is a court of equity, in the English and American sense, may be generally, if not precisely, described as one having jurisdiction in cases of rights, recognized and protected by the municipal or county jurisprudence, where a plain, adequate, and complete remedy can not be had in the courts of common law. In some of the American States, jurisdiction at law and in equity centers in the same tribunal. The courts of the United States also have jurisdiction both at law and in equity, and in all such cases they exercise their jurisdiction, as courts of law, or as courts of equity, as the subject of adjudication may require. In others of the American States, the courts that administer equity are distinct tribunals, having their appropriate judicial officers, and it is to the latter that the appellation courts of chancery is usually applied; but, in American law, the terms equity and court of equity are more frequently employed than the corresponding terms chancery and court of chancery.


chancery (not comparable)

  1. (boxing) With the head of an antagonist under one's arm, so that one can pommel it with the other fist at will.
    • 1823 May 14, “Sporting Intelligence”, in The Literary Humbug[1], number 1, page 15, Between Peter Crawley and Dick Acton:
      [Round] 9. This was a scientific round on both sides; Acton got away well; and also parried some tremendous blows. The latter, however, received a chancery nobber; but he contended every inch of ground till he went down.
    • 1852, William Makepeace Thackeray, “The Fight at Slaughter House”, in Men's Wives, page 17:
      15th round. Chancery. Fibbing. Biggs makes dreadful work with his left. Break away. Rally. Biggs down. Betting still six to four on the gown-boy.
  2. (figurative) In an awkward situation; wholly under the power of someone else.


See also[edit]

English Wikipedia has an article on:


  1. ^ Douglas Harper (2001–2023), “chancery”, in Online Etymology Dictionary.
  2. ^ Douglas Harper (2001–2023), “chancel”, in Online Etymology Dictionary.

Part or all of this entry has been imported from the 1913 edition of Webster’s Dictionary, which is now free of copyright and hence in the public domain. The imported definitions may be significantly out of date, and any more recent senses may be completely missing.
(See the entry for “chancery”, in Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, Springfield, Mass.: G. & C. Merriam, 1913, →OCLC.)