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

A scrivener (or scribe) was a person who, before the advent of compulsory education, could read and write or who wrote letters as well as 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 notaries, court reporters, and in England and Wales, scrivener notaries.[1][2]

They were and are generally distinguished from scribes, who in the European Middle Ages mostly copied books; with the spread of printing this role largely disappeared, but scriveners were still required. Styles of handwriting used by scriveners included secretary hand, book hand and court hand.

Current role


Scriveners remain common mainly 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.

Despite the high literacy rate, in France, "public writers" (écrivains publics) are still common. Their job mainly consists of composing formal writings like curricula vitae or motivation letters for people who do not write well, as well as other things like advertisements, or ghostwriting books. In French-speaking Belgium their return dates from 1999, in an effort to curb semi-literacy and broader socio-cultural inequality; they also include services like reading out loud.[3] See the French sister article Écrivain public for more.



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'.[4]

In literature


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

Scrivener notaries


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"


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.[5]

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."[6]

In some circumstances, courts can also correct scrivener's errors found in primary legislation.[7]

See also



  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. ^ Présence et action culturelles
  4. ^ "Ysgrifennydd in English - Welsh-English Dictionary | Glosbe".
  5. ^ Doctrine of scrivener's error Archived 2017-06-20 at the Wayback Machine. Businessdictionary.com
  6. ^ Ortiz v. State, 600 So. 2d 530 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1992) https://www.courtlistener.com/opinion/1147262/ortiz-v-state/
  7. ^ 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