Body Corporate – What’s in a name?

what's in a name

Ever since I fell into this industry something hasn’t been quite right. There have been countless awkward silences just prior to answering the question: “So, what type of law do you practice Andrew?” The term “body corporate” falls disappointingly short of achieving the James Bond status I was striving for after sacrificing (what would otherwise have been) the best years of my life to tertiary study.

It’s a clunky term. It sounds like “body” is the noun and “corporate” is the adjective, so there’s an initial uneasiness that the term is the wrong way around. That feeling is exacerbated in the plural – “bodies corporate”.

So, if I was to apply that topsy-turvy approach to everyday speech I might say: Hey Frank, before we go to our body corporate meeting why don’t we go down to the centre shopping and grab some apples green? You’d be forgiven for assuming the term was derived from a language of classic antiquity or from a distant land. Spanish and Japanese languages, for example, place the noun before the adjective.

But it’s not a noun followed by an adjective – it’s just a noun. A horrible sounding noun. It’s so horrid that its mere utterance can clear my daughter from a room (on occasion, by design). “Oh no, you’re talking about “body corporate” again!”, she huffs as she retreats to a more interesting location. “Yeah, well it pays your school fees”, is my usual unconvincing retort.

Australia has a mish-mash of terminology in this field and no two States or Territories have identical terms. In recent times there’s been a welcome push to adopt “strata” as the modern term for our industry. However, as much as “strata” is convenient for describing the layered titling in a building, it too presents certain linguistic challenges that prevent it from being used as a straight replacement for “body corporate”. For example, the word “strata” is the plural of “stratum”, as one of my well-known colleagues has identified and cleverly utilised in his business name. It would be odd to refer to the single group of owners now described as the “body corporate” as the “strata” (or even as the “stratum”). There is no change proposed to any terminology in the much anticipated upgrade of our legislation. So, for the time being, we are stuck with “body corporate”.

I’ve always been fond of a good portmanteau – mixing bits of two words to create a new one, like “Microsoft” (micro computer and software) and “Brangelina” (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie). “Bodycorp” is a regular but clumsy portmanteau that is not, in my view, worthy of adoption. “BoCo”, on the other hand, has a certain appeal which, although lacking the debonair qualities of the aforementioned secret agent, would no doubt appeal to the new generation of industry professionals, particularly those who don company hoodies and (inadvertently) wear sunglasses to meetings.

Let’s hear your thoughts on modernising the antiquated term “body corporate”.

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