March 2015 Bar Bulletin
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Black's Law Dictionary (10th ed.) - It's Not Your Father's Oldsmobile


I recently reread a blog published on Dewey B Strategic titled "Black's Law Dictionary 10th Edition: Making Everything Old New Again. Why Legal Dictionaries Still Matter" - The author, Jean O'Grady, is a law librarian in Washington, D.C.

Her blog reminds me of a book I read several years ago by Simon Winchester called The Professor and the Madman. This book tells the story of two men who were major forces behind the creation of The Oxford English Dictionary. Each entry in the OED was scrupulously researched, looking for the first and best uses of the word, with citation to the authoritative source.

Noted legal writing maven Bryan A. Garner, editor in chief of Black's Law Dictionary, 10th ed., has been the editor in chief since the seventh edition published in 1999. Since then, he has worked diligently toward creating a primary lexicographic resource. With the 10th edition, he has done so.

The early editions of Black's Law Dictionary often took the definitions directly from court opinions in which the discussion was "typically context-specific, often statute-specific in a way that makes the comment of local interest only." The terms cited West Key Number System and included entries that were grammatically incorrect. I recall the 4th edition containing citations to case law for each term in the dictionary.

Garner's methodology for the 10th edition parallels the OED. Garner and his researchers and writers search for illustrative quotations in which scholars comment usefully on a term, its history, its nuances and ambiguities, or the distinctions between it and its near allies, for the seminal remark (the locus classicus), for an understanding of the term, and for dates of earliest uses in English for nearly all the terms. Case law and legal scholarly works are consulted. All entries are thoroughly researched, reviewed and revised.

Garner is also author of Garner's Dictionary of Legal Usage, 3rd ed., by Oxford University Press. Dictionary of Legal Usage is a companion work to Black's Law Dictionary. Where the dictionary contains illustrative quotations, the Dictionary of Legal Usage contains the history of the terminology, as well as directions for their correct and effective use.

Though it sounds a little quirky, both texts are worth picking up and occasionally reading a page or two.


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