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Q&A

How did "join issue" mean ‘jointly submit a disputed matter to the decision of the court’?

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Kindly see the embolded phrase below. Etymonline is written too abstrusely.

issue [13]

The words issue and exit are closely related etymologically. Both go back ultimately to the Latin verb exīre ‘go out’. Its past participle exitus became in Vulgar Latin exūtus, whose feminine form exūta was used as a noun meaning ‘going out, exit’. This passed into Old French as eissue, later issue, and thence into English. The original literal sense of the word still survives in English, particularly in relation to the outflow of liquid, but has been overtaken in frequency by various metaphorical extensions denoting a ‘giving out’ – such as the ‘issue’ of a book or magazine. The sense ‘point of discussion or consideration’ probably comes from a medieval legal expression join issue, which originally meant ‘jointly submit a disputed matter to the decision of the court’, and hence ‘argue about something’.

Word Origins (2005 2e) by John Ayto. p 292 Right column.

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The oldest occurrence of "join issue" I can find is from 1624, i.e., not medieval. In fact most records of legal proceedings by that time were still in Latin - so I am far from saying that the phrase couldn't be older by a few centuries like your source suggests.

Courts like to address conflicts only after both parties have issued their positions on the conflict. If one party takes action (requests a ruling) against another, the court is likely to order the other party to "join issue", i.e., to issue a position on each claim brought forward by the first party, while setting a deadline for that to happen. The verb "join" does not imply that both sides would agree with each other on every fact of the case, because then they would have no conflict for the court to try; it rather implies that they the extent of their agreement and disagreement was made clear: they will be contradicting each other on the same issues.

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