If you break the law, you could find yourself "at the mercy" of the court. As you await your punishment (hoping that the judge will in fact be merciful), you may want to ponder the history of "amerce." It begins with the Old French phrase a merci, meaning "at (one's) mercy," which in turn gave rise to the Anglo-French verb amercier (same meaning as "amerce"). Middle English speakers adopted the French word as "amercien," which was later modernized to "amerce." In addition to the legal use, "amerce" can also be used in a more general sense for the infliction of any sort of punishment, monetary or otherwise.