"The dictionary definition of a term is frequently the mere air of the music which the accused has attempted to execute with variations. Frequently, too, the variations are so luxuriant and ingenious that the air is much disguised, and to hum it over from the bench is but little assistance to the jury in following the real performance.
"It is somewhat easier for an offender to baffle the dictionary than the penal code, for the former is perplexed with verbal niceties and shades of meaning, while the later grasps in a broad, practical way at the substantial transactions of men."
Oh, c'mon Justice Beckley of the Supreme Court of Georgia in Minors v Georgia (1879 Ga. 318) - stop spoiling all the fun!
Ain't no-one gonna mess with dem dar legal words 'round dese here parts.
In Mickle v MIles (1 Grant 328), the Pennsylvania Court used these words:
"Legal definitions are, for the most part, inductive generalizations derived from judicial experience."
The law is almost always complex, often esoteric, eccentric and remote. From time to time, there are movements to simplify the law, usually under the byword of "plain language". However, the task is daunting and likely impracticable given the depth and breadth the law has taken.
At the same time, ignorance of the meaning of a legal word can have grave or very expensive consequences.
"The chief virtue of dictionary definition is that it fixes the outer limits of ordinary meaning. It offers a more or less complete characterization of the conventional ways in which a word or expression is used by literate and informed persons within a linguistic community. It thus indicates the possible range of meanings that the word or expression is capable of bearing. This is valuable information because, generally speaking, the courts prefer meanings that are plausible, that is, meanings that the words are reasonably capable of bearing."1
Duhaime's Legal Dictionary is designed to offer one-stop shopping to all of us who occasionally need to know what a certain legal word means, because our rights stand to be affected by a reference to it, or because of employment or academic research requirements.
We humbly agree with this description by the faculty of law, Cornell University:
"Duhaime's Law Dictionary is researched and written by Canadian barrister and solicitor Lloyd Duhaime. A hyperlinked alphabetical index leads the user to a list of legal terms and their definitions that begin with the letter the user has selected. Legal terms used within a definition are defined through hyperlinks. Multiple definitions of a single term are provided when appropriate. Many definitions are coupled with examples further clarifying the meaning of the term. The alphabetical links are on every page searched, so that other terms may be searched without returning to the homepage. The dictionary includes common Latin legal words and phrases as well as English terms. Duhaime has created a site which both layman and attorney will find easy to search and understand."
In Trimble v Hill (5 AC 345), the Privy Council held:
"It is of the utmost importance that ... where English law prevails, interpretation should be, as nearly as possible, the same."
We fully concur.
Fully cognizant of the responsibility and privilege of being a leading legal information provider on the Internet, and the credibility my professional qualifications brings to this site, we want to earn that privilege with every word I write here and always be nothing less than the best legal dictionary on the Internet, bar none.
As a lawyer, I write to my professional standards; I want each definition to be lawyer-ready and assume that the meanest, grumpiest, nastiest lawyer and judge is looking over my shoulder at every word (and Edward Coke and John Bouvier and Tribonian, all of whom I'll have to answer to one day). This has to be the lawyer's go-to place if she/he's in Court and the judge throws a Rule against perpetuities out there.
Still, all definitions are easy to read and all have been painstakingly researched and written in plain language. In most cases, the definition contains samples of the word used in a law or how it may have been described or used in a law book or a case. Where available or known to the author, links are provided allowing the reader to go directly to the cited case.
We are humbled by the response to the Duhaime Law Dictionary since it was launched in 1995. Hundreds of other web sites link to it including universities, government departments and libraries and it has been cited in numerous law journals (see Duhaime.org Judicially Cited & Lloyd Duhaime's Reported Cases). It has also received judicial recognition, approval and sanction.
• Lloyd Duhaime, August 6, 2012
"Duhaime's Law Dictionary: Created and maintained by a solicitor of British Columbia with the express purpose of giving the law back to the people, this dictionary offers clear, concise definitions of many legal terms that anyone who finds themselves engaged with issues of civil or criminal justice is likely to need to know. While some of the terms are clearly applicable to the system of justice in which solicitor Duhaime practices, the vast majority are generic to Western law." [University of Wisconsin, 2012].
See also Duhaime's Legal Citations.
- NOTE 1: R. Sullivan, R., Driedger on the Construction of Statutes, 3rd ed. (Toronto: Butterworths, 1994)