This section is from the book "The Law Of Contracts", by William Herbert Page. Also available from Amazon: Commercial Contracts: A Practical Guide to Deals, Contracts, Agreements and Promises.
The original meaning of "parol" contract at law was one which was not under seal, whether oral or written; a simple contract as opposed to a specialty.1 It has been used in this sense in many of the earlier cases,2 and it is still used in this sense in modern law.3 The ordinary meaning of "parol" was "oral; by word of mouth." Its use in law in the sense of "simple; not under seal" has been criticised,4 and in some modern cases it is used in its popular meaning of "oral;" and not in its legal meaning.5
22 Czyhlarz, Manual of the Institutes of Roman Law, Sec. 80.
23 Salkowski, Roman Private Law (Whitfield's translation), 549.
1 "All contracts are, by the laws of England, distinguished into agreements by specialty and agreements by parol; nor is there any such third class, as some of counsel have endeavored to maintain, as contracts in writing. If they be merely written and not specialties, they are parol and a contract must be proved": Rann v. Hughes (cited in 7 T. R. 350, note a), 4 Bro. P. C. 27.
2 England. Beckham v. Brake, 9 M. & W. 92; Brown v. Adams, 1 Stew. 51, 18 Am. Dec. 3d.
Georgia. Yarborough v. West, 10 Oft. 471.
Massachusetts. Thacher v. Dinsmore, 5 Mass. 300, 4 Am. Dec. 61.
New Jersey. Perrine v. Cheeseman, 11 N. J. L. (6 Halst.) 174.
New York. Ballard v. Walker, 3 Johns. Cas. (N. Y.) 60.
Texas. Jones v. Halliday, 11 Tex. 412, 62 Am. Dec. 487.
3 Kime v. Tobyhanna Creek Ice Co., 240 Pa. St. 61, 87 Atl. 278.
4 "By a strange misuse of language both kinds of simple contract (i. e., oral and written) are frequently spoken of in English law as parol contracts, notwithstanding that the term "parol" both etymologically and in general parlance means "by word of mouth": Chitty on Contracts (16th Ed.), 6.