When you start to type in the word “imminent,” Google’s dropdown menu appears and fourth (at least when last checked) on that list was the search, “imminent domain.” That’s funny, you might think, I always thought it was spelled “eminent domain.” Interestingly enough, when speaking with vendors, clients, and dare I say even a few law firms who do not specialize in the field, they confuse the two as well. Let’s break down and compare the meanings of imminent domain vs eminent domain.
Imminent according to Dictionary.com means “likely to occur at any moment; impending” or “projecting or leaning forward; overhanging.” Its origin is Latin, with in- meaning upon or towards, and minere meaning to project. It states it is, in fact, often confused with eminent as well as immanent. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary expands on imminent by saying “ready to take place; happening soon; often used of something bad or dangerous seen as menacingly near.”
On the flip side, eminent means “famous and respected within a particular sphere or profession” and “used to emphasize the presence of a positive quality.” Merriam-Webster reads, “exhibiting eminence especially in standing above others in some quality or position; standing out so as to be readily perceived or noted; jutting out.” Synonyms include prominent, conspicuous, and projecting.
Domain comes from the Old French word demeine, meaning belonging to a lord, whose spelling modernized into the French domaine. Merriam-Webster makes a distinction in the meaning depending upon application; the first category is law and reads, “complete and absolute ownership of land; land so owned.” It also provides more generalized definitions such as, “a territory of which dominion is exercised,” “a region distinctively marked by some physical feature,” and “a sphere of knowledge, influence, or activity.” The meaning of territory or space explains how it came to be used in the modern sense, such as the domain name of a website.
Merriam-Webster provides insight in its synonyms section as to why they are confused and how to distinguish between the two. They do, in fact, share the same Latin root: minere. The difference is in the prefixes. The difference between im- (meaning, upon) and e- (meaning out from) is slight but still distinct, with imminent having this “overhanging” meaning, giving sense to a “looming threat.” It makes me think of the synonym impending, as in impending doom or imminent threat.
But we want the correct legal term, right? The legal term, eminent domain, refers to the government’s ability or power to take private property. The Fifth Amendment in the U.S. Constitution states, “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” It is also the right of the state of Illinois provided for in the Illinois Constitution, Article I Section 15. The actual term eminent domain comes from the Latin term dominium eminens, which originated in a legal treatise called “De Jure Belli et Pacis,” which translates to ‘On the Law of War and Peace’ written in 1625. It defines eminent domain as supreme lordship; in other words, the citizens and by extension their property are subject to the laws of the state and the state may take the property so long as it is for public use and must compensate the owner for his or her loss. Although it was termed at that time, the practice of eminent domain has been in use since as early as the Medieval times.
Now you know the correct term of this legal niche, eminent domain, which is the constitutional power by which a government or government agency can take your private land for public use. So, although your eminent domain matter may be imminent, be glad that you have the legal right to protect the just compensation amount owed to you.
“Domain.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster. Accessed 25 Jan. 2021.
“Domain name.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster. Accessed 25 Jan. 2021.
“Dominium Eminens Law and Legal Definition.” Legal Definitions, USLegal. Accessed 25 Jan 2021.
“Eminent.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster. Accessed 25 Jan. 2021.
“Eminent domain.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster. Accessed 25 Jan. 2021.
“Imminent.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster. Accessed 25 Jan. 2021.