Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Noscitur a sociis Definition:

Latin: that the meaning of a word may be known from accompanying words.

Also rendered nositur a souis.

A rule of interpretation or construction of an otherwise unclear statute, contract or estate document (such as a trust or a will): that  the meaning of an unclear word may be known from accompanying words.

In London Drugs Ltd. v. Truscan Realty Ltd., the British Columbia Supreme Court, Justice Legg presiding, had to give meaning to the word "supermarket" but stated as a "food supermarket", and adopted these words:

"It is known from its associates. The meaning of a word is or may be known from the accompanying words. Under the doctrine of noscitur a sociis, the meaning of questionable words or phrases in a statute may be ascertained by reference to the meaning of words or phrases associated with it.

"The wording which accompanies the words food supermarket indicates that food supermarket in the lease means a supermarket limited to the selling of items of food."

In R v Daoust, Canada's Supreme Court  stated this:

"The  noscitur a sociis rule ... the meaning of a term may be revealed by its association with other terms where the latter may not be read in isolation.

"The noscitur a sociis rule ... allows us to determine the meaning of a term through its relation to other terms.  However, this principle is normally applied when interpreting terms in an enumeration."

Mr. Justice Denys Buckley once wrote:

"The principle of noscitur a souis does not in my judgment entitle one to overlook self-evident facts. If you meet seven men with black hair and one with red hair, you are not entitled to say that here are eight men with black hair."1

REFERENCES:

  • Fountain, Richard, The Wit of the Wig (London: Leslie Frewin Publisher, 1968), page 24 [NOTE 1]
  • London Drugs Ltd. v. Truscan Realty Ltd., 3 RPR (2d) 60 (1988)
  • R v Daoust,  2004 SCC 6

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