Black’s Law Dictionary is popular in law school and in the practice of law. Law students and even practicing lawyers need a reliable legal dictionary that can help them understand what’s referred to as the ‘terms of art.’ The terms are a set or collection of often common phrases or words that’d carry entirely special connotations when used or applied to a legal context.
For example, using the word ‘consideration’ in ordinary speech or context is far different if you are to quote it in contract law.
Legal dictionaries are the first source or point of reference you should look at when you don’t understand the meaning of a legal term. The definitions contained in these books are derived from different sources and have been documented to provide general definitions and legal references. Several legal dictionaries are available today, but perhaps the most popular and widely cited one would be Black’s Law Dictionary.
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How Important Is Black’s Law Dictionary?
Black’s Law Dictionary is the most commonly used legal dictionary in the US. Since its first release more than a century ago, it has set the gold standard for ensuring that law students, practitioners, and judges have a common understanding of the language of the law.
Through the years, Black’s Law Dictionary has proven its merit to professionals seeking to gain convenient and quick access to definitions and in-depth meanings of law-related terms and phrases contained in judicial and statutes opinions.
It’s safe to say that when you’re trying to find out what is the difference between arbitration and litigation, a good starting point is to reach for a legal dictionary like Black’s Law Dictionary. But of course, speaking with a practicing lawyer is highly recommended if you want to understand such complicated legal jargon.
Moreover, the book also provides legal definitions of standard words in the English language that you don’t normally find in ordinary dictionaries.
As a secondary legal source, law dictionaries can help professionals locate and understand the primary sources, which refer to the actual law in different forms. Black’s Law is then considered a secondary source that may be used in restating the law. To add, secondary sources may also help in critiquing, explaining, describing, analyzing, and describing the law in a legal context.
History Of Black’s Law Dictionary
Henry Campbell Black authored the first two editions of Black’s Law Dictionary. The first edition was published in 1891, which contained definitions of legal terms and phrases as well as a pronunciation guide for many law-related words derived from Latin root words.
In essence, the wordbook included principal terms of commercial, institutional, and international law. You’ll also find a valuable collection of legal maxims in different languages.
In 1910, Black’s second edition was released. In its preface, the author wrote that his goal was to produce the country’s first comprehensive law dictionary.
He also mentioned that he relied heavily on different treatises and law dictionaries as he worked on Black’s. The second edition is now accessible online in the public domain, which should give readers and law practitioners an in-depth discernment of basic legal terms and legal theory terms.
It was in 1901 when the US Supreme Court first cited the dictionary for its definition of ‘common law,’ which was defined as the body of law that’s not derived from legislations or judicial decisions.
Aside from writing Black’s Law Dictionary, Henry Campbell Black also authored the Handbook of American Constitutional Law. Additionally, he served as the editor of The Constitutional Review from 1917 to 1927.
In 1933, Black’s third edition was printed by the same publisher that released the first two editions—West Publishing Company. After an exhaustive revision, the third edition now contains additional definitions and new citations to decided cases.
There are also many French and Latin legal terms added, essentially those that were overlooked in the previous editions. Furthermore, readers also appreciate the added meanings for criminal and pathological insanity.
Other notable editions
- Fifth edition: This edition was more popular than the first ones because of its pocket version that’s hailed as the best-selling paperback law dictionary when it was released. It features more than 19,000 legal terms and definitions. According to lawyers, judges, law students, and journalists, the book is a must-have if you’re looking for a legal dictionary with concise definitions.
- Sixth edition: The wordbook’s sixth edition provides term definitions and corresponding case citations. Practitioners and students find the feature substantially useful in furthering legal research.
- Eighth edition: Black’s eighth edition now comes with over 10,000 legal terms and phrases. Its highlight includes the entire US constitution and a unique system of case citations that are continually updated and sourced from legal encyclopedias.
- Ninth edition: Edited and published in 2009 by Bryan Garner, a world-renowned legal lexicographer, the ninth edition is considered the most comprehensive and authoritative law dictionary ever produced. Heightened accuracy is one of its notable improvements, as the terms written and added in the edition were reviewed by over 200 lawyers in the US.
- Tenth edition: The 10th edition of Black’s Law Dictionary was published by Thomson West in 2014. With more than 50,000 terms, this edition also comes with 7,500 new terms that include words and definitions like bioweapon, hacker, intrapreneur, cryptanalysis, and affluenza defense. 900 new maxims were also added to this version.
To date, the most current edition of Black’s Law Dictionary is the 11th edition, which was released by Thomson Reuters. The latest version is also recognized as the most scholarly, practical, authoritative, and comprehensive legal dictionary ever published. 3,500 new terms and definitions were added to the 11th edition, including flash rob, porch pirate, twocking, kakistocracy, and contempt of cop.
Conclusion on Black’s Law Dictionary
Law dictionaries are highly essential in providing clarity and enhancement to definitions of general and law-related terms. Such books are used as a reference by legal practitioners, law students, judges, and other associated professionals. As the complexity of law continues to evolve, it’s critical to stay updated on the latest terms and phrases used in this particular field’s practice.
For years, Black’s Law Dictionary has remained the most comprehensive, reliable, and authoritative source of legal definitions and even pronunciations of uncommon or foreign law-related terms and phrases. If you want to be familiar with this dictionary, including its history and most notable editions, you may refer to the information written above.