Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Dictionaries Are So Hot Right Now

Spring appellate brief writing assignments mean that dictionaries are in high demand around the library. But what dictionaries are the best to cite in a legal writing project? Which dictionaries are the most commonly consulted by courts? And what are your options for locating the full text in the library or online?
Specialized Legal Dictionaries
If you need the definition of a legal term, you'll want to begin with a law dictionary, rather than a basic English dictionary. There are three well-known U.S. legal dictionaries, and the current edition of each is electronically available on one of the major legal research services.
  • Black's Law Dictionary is the most-cited legal dictionary in U.S. case law, by a wide margin. Currently in its tenth edition (2014), the latest version of Black's can be consulted in the Reference and Reserve collection on Level 3 of the library; as well as online in Westlaw. Previous editions of Black's can be found in the Superseded Reference area of the library, on level 1, at the call number Superseded Ref KF156 .B53.
  • Ballentine's Law Dictionary, with Pronunciations is another popular legal dictionary, which may be useful for defining historical legal terms. Last published in its 3rd edition in 1969, courts do still cite to this dictionary occasionally, though not as frequently as the regularly-updated Black's. The last edition is available in the Reference collection of the library on level 3, as well as full-text online in Lexis Advance or campus-wide in LexisNexis Academic (Search by Subject or Topic > Legal Reference > Advanced Options). Past editions from 1930 and 1948 are available in Superseded Reference KF156 .B191 and .B35, respectively.
  • Barron's Law Dictionary is less-frequently cited by courts, but may be useful for comparative or alternative legal definitions. The most recent edition (6th ed. 2010) can be found in Reference on level 3, or consulted online in Bloomberg Law by typing the term to be defined into the GO bar. Selected past editions can be found in Level 1 at the call number Superseded Reference KF156 .G53.
English dictionaries
If you plan to discuss the "plain meaning" of a word or phrase, a more general English dictionary will be the most useful source.
  • Webster's Third New International Dictionary is commonly cited by courts as a source for the ordinary meaning of a word. The 1993 edition of this dictionary can be found on the stand near the windows of the Reading Room (and yes, much to the amusement of Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett, it does reside under the Leisure Reading sign). Earlier editions are available in Superseded Reference on level 1.
  • The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is another popular dictionary used by courts. OED definitions illustrate usage throughout history, providing examples of quotations from literature to show the evolution of words over time. The 2d ed. 1989 OED is available in the library's Reference collection on level 3, and is also accessible electronically with a Duke NetID.
  • To locate additional dictionaries, use the Duke Libraries Catalog subject heading "English language – Dictionaries". You can filter to see results only within the Goodson Law Library, or limit to particular time periods.
For help with finding or using dictionaries in your legal research, be sure to Ask a Librarian.