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The so called postal acceptance rule has had a long but by no means uneventful history. Its genesis is probably to be found in Adams v Lindsell (1818) 1 B and Ald 681; 106 ER 250 but it was not until Household Fire and Carriage Accident Insurance Co (Ltd) v Grant (1879) 4 Ex D 216 that the rule was itself finally accepted. It had, however, already been applied in Australia: Tooth v Fleming (1859) Legge 1152. Even in quite recent cases in the United States, the rule was still being called "the rule in Adams v Lindsell". But once more firmly established ( Henthorn v Fraser [1892] 2 Ch 27), the rule became an important exception to the central principle that acceptance of an offer was not effective until actually communicated to the offeror. Moreover, although the postal system of the late nineteenth century was by all accounts sufficiently reliable and prompt to justify such a gloss on the fundamental principle, the application of the exception was limited to cases in which by reason of general usage or the particular relations between the parties or the terms of the offer itself, the acceptance of an offer by posting was authorised. Further, the letter of acceptance had to be pre paid and properly posted in order to attract the operation of the rule that, in the case in which use of the post was specified or contemplated, acceptance was complete upon posting.

Is the above the same as "explanation of the fundamental principle?"

  • In my opinion, we have insufficient context to be sure what this gloss and this fundamental principle mean. A few sentences before and after or the citation of the source of this text would be helpful. – Damkerng T. May 12 '16 at 13:59
  • @DamkerngT.: More context would be nice, but Peter's answer shows it's not really necessary. – Nathan Tuggy May 12 '16 at 18:40
  • @NathanTuggy Actually I disagree with Peter's answer, even though I agree with the general idea about the passage in his answer. I'm guessing that the OP's passage is about the "posting rule" in a context of "contract law", and that "fundamental principle" is about the "acceptance" or maybe the "offer" (i.e., offer and acceptance must be communicated), and the "gloss" is perhaps about either the idea of 'meeting of minds' or perhaps the idea that the post office acted as agent for one or both of the parties, but I'm not really sure (it could be "fiction of continuing assent" as well.) – Damkerng T. May 13 '16 at 0:29
  • Full paragraph added. – Lee May 14 '16 at 4:21
  • Please tell us what this quote is from. – snailboat May 14 '16 at 8:20
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Your question:

Is the above [a gloss on the fundamental principle] the same as "explanation of the fundamental principle?"

Yes, that's more or less correct. (Personally, I would prefer to think of this gloss as "a description" rather than "an explanation", but I don't think it's that different as long as you understand it.) This gloss is used in sense 2 "a short explanation of what something means", particularly, 2a "the way in which someone understands or explains something".


From the previous sentence, ... the rule became an important exception to the central principle that acceptance of an offer was not effective until actually communicated to the offeror, and in our sentence, ... the postal system of the late nineteenth century was by all accounts sufficiently reliable and prompt to justify such a gloss on the fundamental principle, ..., we can understand this noun phrase like this:

"a gloss on the fundamental principle" is a gloss. It's a description.

It's a gloss on what (or a description of what)? It's a gloss on (or description of) the fundamental principle (the central principle mentioned in the previous sentence). It glosses "the central principle" as "acceptance of an offer was not effective until actually communicated to the offeror". In other words, this gloss describes "the central principle" as such.

(To sum it up, because the postal system (of the late nineteenth century) had two important qualities, that is, it was sufficiently reliable and prompt (in other words, we were able to trust that the postal system would deliver our documents and our documents would arrive at their destinations in reasonable time), the idea "acceptance was complete upon posting", even though it seemed to break the principle (being glossed that way), was justified.)

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In your passage

the fundamental principle

is implied to be a face-to-face meeting or nonpostal arrangement when agreeing to a transaction.

However since the postal system

was by all accounts sufficiently reliable and prompt

in certain circumstances transactions by post were allowed

The gloss or glossing over means to cover over or make an exception to the fundamental principle (of meeting face-to-face)

  • I have to disagree slightly with your answer. To gloss over is to mask or deal with too lightly, but this is the noun a gloss, which means "an explanation" or "an interpretation". – stangdon Feb 12 '16 at 16:53
  • What is then your meaning of the fundamental principle? – Peter Feb 12 '16 at 17:02
  • It's a little unclear without the entire paragraph, but I think Lee is basically correct in interpreting it to mean something like "an interpretation of the fundamental principle". I have no idea what the fundamental principle here is, though; it was presumably explained in a preceding sentence. – stangdon Feb 12 '16 at 17:07
  • Wow, I never even knew that definition of 'gloss'. Judging by the one linked, it's not just an explanation, but an incorrect, or insufficient explanation. I think we'd really need to see some of the text before the excerpt to really see what they're getting at. – Tofystedeth May 12 '16 at 13:55

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