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.

About the author

Ken Adams is the leading authority on how to say clearly whatever you want to say in a contract. He’s author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, and he offers online and in-person training around the world. He’s also chief content officer of LegalSifter, Inc., a company that combines artificial intelligence and expertise to assist with review of contracts.

2 thoughts on “Posner’s Alternative to Reaching for the Dictionary”

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


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