[lg policy] Webster's lays down the law

Ann Anderson Evans annevans123 at GMAIL.COM
Thu Jun 16 03:59:09 UTC 2011


I have created an exercise for classes based on this article, which can be
found at www.linguisticsintheclassroom.com.  It consists of definitions of
three words the justices looked up (*common law, justice, attorney)*, with
the definitions of each word from three dictionaries.  Students can be given
the definitions and asked to compare them.  Which definition should the
justices use?  Which dictionary is "right?"

The definitions differ in many ways, some including spiritual or poetic
overtones, some more extensive than others, some relying on history as a
guide.  The justices' reliance on a dictionary is an example of proscriptive
thinking, as if a rule or a static definition could replace thinking
something through.

People misunderstand the purpose of dictionaries.  They can only be used
with the addition of the reader's own brain and sensibility.

Ann

On Wed, Jun 15, 2011 at 10:09 PM, Dennis Baron <debaron at illinois.edu> wrote:

> There's a new post on the Web of Language: http://t.co/pCtFkzn
>
> Webster's lays down the law.
>
> The Supreme Court is using dictionaries to interpret the Constitution. Both
> conservative justices, who believe the Constitution means today exactly what
> the Framers meant in the 18th century, and liberal ones, who see the
> Constitution as a living, breathing document changing with the times, are
> turning to dictionaries more than ever to interpret our laws: a new report<http://epublications.marquette.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=5051&context=mulr>
>  shows that the justices have looked up almost 300 words or phrases in the
> past decade. According to the *New York Times<http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/14/us/14bar.html?ref=adamliptak>
> , *last week alone Chief Justice Roberts consulted five dictionaries.
>
> Even though judicial dictionary look-ups are on the rise, the Court has
> never commented on how or why dictionary definitions play a role in
> Constitutional decisions. That’s further complicated by the fact that
> dictionaries aren’t designed to be legal authorities, or even authorities on
> language, though many people, including the justices of the Supreme Court,
> think of them that way. What dictionaries are, instead, are records of how
> some speakers and writers have used words. Dictionaries don’t include all
> the words there are, and except for an occasional usage note, they don’t
> tell us what to do with the words they do record. Although we often say,
> “The dictionary says…,” there are many dictionaries, and they don’t always
> agree.
>
> Read all about it on The Web of Language http://t.co/pCtFkzn
>
> <http://t.co/pCtFkzn>
> ____________________
> Dennis Baron
> Professor of English and Linguistics
> Department of English
> University of Illinois
> 608 S. Wright St.
> Urbana, IL 61801
>
> office: 217-244-0568
> fax: 217-333-4321
>
> http://www.illinois.edu/goto/debaron <http://illinois.edu/goto/debaron>
>
> read the Web of Language:
> http://www.illinois.edu/goto/weboflanguage<http://illinois.edu/goto/weboflanguage>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
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-- 
*Ann Anderson Evans*
*Writer and Adjunct Professor, Montclair State University*
*(201) 792-6892 or (973) 495-0338
*
*www.linguisticsintheclassroom.com*
*www.annandersonevans.com*
The Abortion Decision:  Balancing Self, Family, Church, and State
on Kindle ebooks:
https://kindle.amazon.com/work/abortion-decision-balancing-family-ebook/B005274Y3A/B005274Y3A
*
*
*
*
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