Force majeure. It sounds like an artistic technique—a foil to deus ex machina, for instance, or the technical name for the thrilling final movement of a great symphony. In fact, it’s an obscure legal term that does indeed denote something dramatic: “an event (as war, labor strike, or extreme weather) or effect that cannot be reasonably anticipated or controlled,” as defined by Merriam Webster’s legal dictionary.

Practically speaking, says attorney Jamie Lieberman, the founder of Hashtag Legal, “it is a clause that’s written into many contracts that allows a contract to be canceled or postponed due to impossibility performance.”