Online Exhibition of Legal Dictionaries

And now for something long ago and far away. “Somethings,” I should say: the Tarlton Law Library at the University of Texas has an online exhibition of old legal dictionaries that will leave you itching to look something up — again and again. The exhibit features 30 of the some 100 old (before 1800) and rare dictionaries in their collection, stemming from the common law, Roman law, and civil law systems.


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Vocabularius, for example, a small excerpt from which is pictured here, was first published in 1475 and last published early in the 17th century. Tarlton holds eight copies of the book.

There are dictionaries from English, French, German, Roman, Scottish, and Spanish jurisdictions.

Each featured dictionary is described in a page and illustrated with a photo (that can, thankfully, be enlarged by clicking on it). Short of getting my hands on these books, what I’d really like would be the image of a definition from each, isolated as such, along with a transcription and, where necessary, a translation of each; talking about a dictionary without talking about definitions sounds too much like one of the hostile definitions of lawyers you hear: a person who can think about something that’s related to something else without thinking about the thing that it’s related to.

And while I’m wishing, I’d like to see if the curators could find a single term that was defined in each of the thirty.

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