‘Barratry’ is a polysemic term: it means deceit, bribe, simony, and fraud of the shipmaster. This article seeks to trace the origins of the word and to explore its different meanings, focusing especially on the influence that older meanings had on the development of more recent ones. This operation is of particular importance to understand the meaning of barratry that would appear for last – that of fraud of the shipmaster. By the time civil lawyers started dealing with maritime barratry, they were already well familiar with the other meanings of the term. This probably favoured the adaptation process, but it also left a deep mark on its outcome: the weight of those other meanings of the same term had a significant influence on the qualification of maritime barratry, an influence otherwise difficult to explain.