Dictionaries in Our Court

Last week Simon linked to the piece in the New York Times which described the remarkable trend in the USSC towards resorting to dictionaries to determine legal meaning.

The US doctrinal literature has quite a history in a trilogy of articles by Judge Samuel A. Thumma & Jeffrey L. Kirchmeier, The Lexicon Has Become a Fortress: The United States Supreme Court’s Use of Dictionaries, 47 Buff. L. Rev. 227 (1999); Appendix A, Appendix B, The Lexicon Remains a Fortress: An Update, 5 Green Bag 51 (2001), and Scaling the Lexicon Fortress: The United States Supreme Court’s Use of Dictionaries in the Twenty-First Century 94 Marquette L. Rev, (2010)

Undertaking a similar exercise on the Supreme Court of Canada would take a month or so, so perhaps some advance results might be of interest.

Our court far prefers the Oxford English Dictionary and Blacks Law Dictionary over their Canadian equivalents.
Indeed it’s remarkable how relatively infrequently the court refers to Daphne Dukelow’s Dictionary of Canadian Law.

Here are the rough results:

Oxford English Dictionary 154
Blacks Law Dictionary 70
Websters Dictionary 34
Jowitt’s Dictionary of English law 30
Le grand Robert de la langue française 24
Stroud’s judicial dictionary of words and phrases 14
Oxford Canadian Dictionary 13
Concise law dictionary by P.G. Osborn 12
Cornu, Vocabulaire juridique 10
Reid, Dictionnaire de droit québécois et canadien 9
Dukelow, Dictionary of Canadian Law 8
Le grand Larousse 6
Mozley & Whiteley’s Law dictionary 5
Dalloz, Dictionnaire général et raisonné de législation, de doctrine et de jurisprudence 4

Law libraries can’t have too many dictionaries.


  1. What about the Yogis dictionaries?

  2. While it was late when I was doing the count on CANLII, I did run the search on Yogis’ work both by title and by author – and it didn’t generate the sort of results that I would have expected. In fact, zero.

    That’s not to say that his work isn’t valued by lower courts:

    Courts of Appeal – 12 cases (NS-3, BC-3, Newf+L-2, FCA-2, Québec-1, NB-1)

    Trial courts 21

    Tribunals 12

    And yes, I am aware of the coverage differentials between Canlii, Westlaw, and Lexis. This isn’t terribly scientific.

  3. My firm had the advantage of being located in downtown Ottawa. When we needed to cite a reference to a dictionary for the Federal Court we would send an articling student down to the SCC library to photocopy the definition from their dictionaries.