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Telling a problem to a public scrivener. Istanbul, 1878.
A historical reenactment of a 15th-century scrivener recording the will of a man-at-arms

A scrivener (or scribe) was a person who could read and write or who wrote letters to court and legal documents. Scriveners were people who made their living by writing or copying written material. This usually indicated secretarial and administrative duties such as dictation and keeping business, judicial, and historical records for kings, nobles, temples, and cities. Scriveners later developed into public servants, accountants, lawyers and petition writers, and in England and Wales, scrivener notaries.[1][2]

Current role[edit]

Public letter writer in Mexico, 1828, by Claudio Linati

Scriveners remain common in countries where literacy rates remain low, for example India; they read letters for illiterate customers, as well as write letters or fill out forms for a fee. Many now use portable typewriters to prepare letters for their clients. In areas with very high literacy rates, they are far less common; however, social services organizations, libraries, and the like sometimes offer assistance to service users with low literacy skills to help them fill out forms, draft official correspondence, and the like.


The word comes from Middle English scriveiner, an alteration of obsolete scrivein, from Anglo-French escrivein, ultimately from Vulgar Latin *scriban-, scriba, itself an alteration of Latin scriba (scribe).

In Japan, the word "scrivener" is used as the standard translation of shoshi (書士), in referring to legal professions such as judicial scriveners and administrative scriveners.

In the Irish language, a scríbhneoir is a writer, or a person who writes. Similarly, in Welsh, ysgrifennu is 'to write', ysgrifennwr is 'writer' and ysgrifennydd is 'secretary, scribe'.[3]

In literature[edit]

A famous work of fiction featuring scriveners is the short story "Bartleby, the Scrivener" by Herman Melville, first published in 1853.

Scrivener notaries[edit]

In England and Wales, a scrivener notary is a notary who is fluent in multiple languages.

Scrivener notary tasks generally include authentication and drafting of legal documents for use in international contexts.

Doctrine of "scrivener's error"[edit]

The doctrine of a "scrivener's error" is the legal principle that a map-drafting or typographical error in a written contract may be corrected by oral evidence if the evidence is clear, convincing, and precise. If such correction (called scrivener's amendment) affects property rights then it must be approved by those affected by it.[4]

It is a mistake made while copying or transmitting legal documents, as distinguished from a judgment error, which is an error made in the exercise of judgment or discretion, or a technical error, which is an error in interpreting a law, regulation, or principle. There is a considerable body of case law concerning the proper treatment of a scrivener's error. For example, where the parties to a contract make an oral agreement that, when reduced to a writing, is mis-transcribed, the aggrieved party is entitled to reformation so that the writing corresponds to the oral agreement.

A scrivener's error can be grounds for an appellate court to remand a decision back to the trial court. For example, in Ortiz v. State of Florida, Ortiz had been convicted of possession of less than 20g of marijuana, a misdemeanor. However, Ortiz was mistakenly adjudicated guilty of a felony for the count of marijuana possession. The appellate court held that "we must remand the case to the trial court to correct a scrivener's error."[5]

In some circumstances, courts can also correct scrivener's errors found in primary legislation.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The life and letters of Sir George Savile, Bart., first Marquis of Halifax. Longmans, Green, and Co. 1898. p. 490. Scrivener definition.
  2. ^ "The Society of Scrivener Notaries". The Society of Scrivener Notaries. Retrieved 2020-10-20.
  3. ^ "Ysgrifennydd in English - Welsh-English Dictionary | Glosbe".
  4. ^ Doctrine of scrivener's error.
  5. ^ Ortiz v. State, 600 So. 2d 530 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1992)
  6. ^ David M Sollors, War on Error: The Scrivener's Error Doctrine and Textual Criticism: Confronting Errors in Statutes and Literary Texts, Santa Clara Law Review, 2009