Thursday, July 28, 2011


Preface to the Ninth Edition
Since becoming editor in chief of Black’s Law Dictionary in the mid-1990s, I’ve tried with each successive edition-the seventh, the eighth, and now the ninth- to make the book more scholarly and more practical.
ANYONE WHO CARES TO PUT THIS BOOK ALONGSIDE THE SIXTH OR EARLIER EDITIONS WILL DISCOVER THAT THE BOOK HAS BEEN ALMOST ENTIRELY REWRITTEN, with an increase in precision and clarity. IT’S TRUE THAT I’VE CUT SOME DEFINITIONS THAT APPEARED IN THE SIXTH AND EARLIER EDITIONS. On a representative sample of two consecutive pages of the sixth can be found botulism, bouche (mouth), bough of a tree, bought (meaning “purchased”), bouncer (referring to a nightclub employee), bourg (a village), boulevard, bourgeois, brabant (an obscure kind of ancient coin also called a crocard), brabanter (a mercenary soldier in the Middle Ages), and brachium maris (an arm of the sea). These can hardly be counted as legal terms worthy of inclusion in a true law dictionary, and Black’s had been properly criticized for including headwords such as these.* (See David Mellinkoff, The Myth of Precision and the Law Dictionary, 31 U.C.L.A. L. Rev. 423, 440 (1983).)
Meanwhile, though, within the same span of terms, I’ve added entries for three types of boundaries (agreed boundary, land boundary, lost boundary), as well as for bounty hunter, bounty land, bounty-land warrant, boutique (a specialized law firm), box day (a day historically set aside for filing papers in Scotland’s Court of Session), box-top license (also known as a shrink-wrap license) , Boykin Act (an intellectual-property statute enacted after World War II), Boyle defense (also known as the government-contractor defense), bracket system (the tax term), Bracton (the title of one of the earliest, most important English lawbooks), and Brady Act (the federal law for background checks on handgun-purchasers). And all the other entries have been wholly revised-shortened here and amplified there to bring the book into better proportion.
Hence, in one brief span of entries, the sixth and ninth editions appear to be entirely different books. That’s true throughout the work..
But it’s not as if I’ve revised the book with any hostility toward historical material. In fact, I’ve added hundreds of Roman-Law terms that have been omitted from earlier editions and retranslated all the others on grounds that current users of the dictionary might need to look up the meanings of these historical terms. But whatever appears here, in my view, should be plausibly a law-related term—and closely related to the law.
Users ought to be reminded once again about the handy collection of legal maxims in Appendix B. It is, I believe, the most comprehensive and accurate set of translated maxims to be found anywhere in print—thanks to the erudite revisions of two civil-law experts of the first rank: Professor Tony HonorĂ© of Oxford and Professor David Walker of Glasgow.
A lexicographer must do what is practicable to improve each new edition of a dictionary. One of the notable features of this new edition is the dating of the most common term—that is, the parenthical inclusion of a date to show the term’s earliest known use in the English language. For researching these dates, I’m grateful to the distinguished and industrious lexicographer at the Yale Law Library, Fred R. Shapiro.
As a lexicographer, I’ve learned a great deal from my friends and mentors in the field—especially the late Robert W. Burchfield, editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, Burchfield had a battalion of lexicographic volunteers from around the globe to help him in his momentous work.
I have tried to do the same. Because I genuinely believe in a community of scholars—a community of learned people who understand the cultural and historical importance of having a first-rate dictionary, and are willing to play a role in producing it—I have called on volunteers to help in the production of this vast and complex dictionary. It has been rewarding to have so many lawyers, judges, and scholars answer the call. Take a moment, if you will, and scan the masthead on pages VI-IX. Consider that each of these contributors personally edited 30 to 50 pages of single-spaced manuscript—some more than that. They suggested improved wordings and solved editorial difficulties they encountered. Consider the geographical variety of the panellists, and ponder the years of specialist knowledge they brought to their work. Look at the panel of academic contributors and notice that they are distinguished scholars of the highest order, many of them household names among lawyers. They exerted themselves not just for the betterment of the law as a whole. For this is the law dictionary that the profession has relied on for over a century. Everyone who cares about the law owes our contributors a debt of thanks.
Bryan A. Garner
Law Prose, Inc.
Dallas, Texas
April 2009.

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