Martial Law vs. Marshall Law – Which Spelling Is Correct?

Pretty much every prepper has heard of martial law, and most of us are afraid of it. Martial law is used around the world on a regular basis by governments that want to keep a tight rein over any situation that might set off their citizens.

man on top of tank

Luckily it hasn’t been used too much here in the United States, but that time might be getting closer every day, sadly.

And speaking of martial law, what’s the correct spelling, or phrasing? Is it martial law or marshall law?

Martial law is the correct spelling and phrasing of the term that refers to the imposition of military governance and law enforcement over civilian populations and affairs. Marshall is the spelling for the masculine name, or a rare variant spelling of marshal.

Glad we got that cleared up. English has many homophones, and perhaps none can be more confusing, or get misused more often, than martial, Marshall and marshal.

In any case, if you’re talking about the government cracking down on civilians by using the military, you’re talking about martial law.

I’ll tell you more about these terms and any possible confusion below…

'Marshall Law' or 'Martial Law'?

What is Martial Law, Anyway?

Martial law is a term that refers to the imposition of military governance, and law enforcement, over civilian legal processes.

Basically, for a given length of time or indefinitely depending on the situation, the usual rule of law and your typical rights and civil liberties are suspended!

It’s a serious business to say the least, especially in a constitutional republic like the United States.

Martial law is rarely declared in the US, but it occurs more or less frequently around the world and throughout history.

Martial law can technically be declared at the whim of the government, but is it really only used in times of extremis particularly severe regional or national disasters, times of war, uprising and things like that.

It is worth pointing out that in the United States there is no constitutional right that allows the government to declare martial law, but it is a doctrine or practice that is indulged in during times of necessity.

Martial is an Adjective Referring to War

It is worth pointing out that the “martial” part of martial law is an adjective that refers to war, or things pertaining to war.

The word is actually derived from the root Latin word for Mars, as in the god of war. The same one that the planet is named after, FYI.

So for instance, you might say that a belligerent and skilled warrior society is a martial people. We’ve all heard the term martial arts, meaning arts that are developed or used for war. Skills, practices and techniques for warfare are said to be martial skills.

The harsh discipline inherent in military and paramilitary groups is martial discipline, or marital pride.

Is Martial the Same as Marshall?

No. Martial and Marshall are not interchangeable. As mentioned above, martial refers to anything to do with the military or war-making, but Marshall, with two Ls, is a masculine name.

Marshal Usually Refers to the Law Enforcement Agents

And then you have the other marshal! Confused yet? Don’t be. Marshal, one L, is a title or position that typically refers to a law enforcement agent, either at the local, state or federal level.

Everyone has heard of the US Marshals, for instance. But the term, throughout history, has been used to refer to various offices of rank, be they trustworthy members of a king’s court in medieval times, or even a military rank, usually one actually above generals.

Law enforcement marshals are typically granted extraordinary powers to pursue, detain and extradite as necessary whereas the military rank of marshal is a general officer that is above all other general officer ranks.

Most notably, in many countries that utilize marshal as a rank the baton is the traditional symbol of that rank.

Marshal may also refer to an honorary leader, for instance, the marshal of the banquet, the marshal of the parade, the marshal of the gala, or the marshal of the proceedings.

And remember: two L’s signifies a name. If it is a title or a rank it has one l! Don’t make this embarrassing faux pas!

Marshall is Sometimes a Variant Spelling of Marshal

Time to make matters even more complicated! Historically, and in various countries today, you will sometimes see marshal, the ranking or title, spelled with two l’s, the way we typically spell the masculine name I’ve already talked about at length.

Why is this? I don’t know. Referring to the name or title, the English language picked up this one from ancient French, which was a term for a stable servant, stable keeper, servant or horse keeper. This term was further influenced from Dutch and old High German.

To say that these words, and the associated words, have a long convoluted and confusing history is an understatement.

Luckily, you won’t need to use any of them when referring to martial law. Just think martial arts and you won’t forget how to spell it.

Marshal Also Means to Gather or Assemble, or to Ready

Another meaning for marshal, with one L, is to assemble or gather together, or else to make ready. You’ve probably heard the term “marshal your forces” or “marshal your strength”. That’s what it means!

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