Posner's Alternative to Reaching for the Dictionary

See this post on Language Log for how Judge Richard Posner did more than reach for the nearest dictionary in order to determine the meaning of “harboring.”

Posner’s approach comes as a breath of fresh air, given the tendency of judges to rely unduly on dictionaries. That’s something I noted in this 2011 post, and it’s at the heart of the Third Circuit’s botched analysis of an or in a 2011 case (see this article).

The following sentence from Posner’s opinion should be tattooed on every judge’s forearm:

Dictionary definitions are acontextual, whereas the meaning of sentences depends critically on context, including all sorts of background understandings.

  • Jschmitt

    This reminds me of the definition of “is” and David Wynn Miller’s “CORRECT-SENTENCE-STRUCTURE-COMMUNICATION-SYNTAX-LANGUAGE”

  • Stockmen

    Corbin would have loved Posner’s statement; Williston, not so much.