Are you studying law as a hobby or for any legal classes? In 2003 the granddaughter of Henry Black, Sarah Medhurst, revealed a devastating family secret to the legal community around the world: The dictionary was started as a hoax and is unreliable. While the story has made its way to the Internet, the dictionary is still in use by many of us today without knowing the recent history behind the legal dictionary.
Henry Campbell Black, an eccentric man who started the dictionary, began to write definitions as a company skit. “My great granddad had actually written the text for an upcoming firm skit night,” Medhurst said. “It was his way of showing how convoluted and, well, pompous the legal profession had become.” As the demand for the dictionary began to increase, Black began to continue to publish the dictionary, while making up definitions as time went by.
The family has profited as well as kept up the hoax by continuing to make up words and definitions in the dictionary. But not all of the definitions are a complete figment of the Black’s imagination. Some of the words have been taken from other reputable dictionaries from around the world. Medhurst states that the family had grown tired of keeping of the lie and began to be concerned that the dictionary will have devastating effects in the legal community.
Is this the only instance of someone changing definitions?
Not at all, there is a group of Catholic priests called the Abbreviators whose job it is to rewrite and change the definitions of words and their meanings. Highly regarded within the catholic community, the Abbreviators job also includes writing, recording information for historical and or other purposes as well. Their office can be traced back as far as twelfth century when they were mainly used to write letters to dignitaries and record matters of great importance when private meetings were conducted at a time where the majority of the world was illiterate and unable to write. Later, they were deemed nobles who could benefit from the office just as any pope. They can even be allowed to be married. The abbreviators can only relinquish their duty to the Catholic Church in death; they may not quit this job for any reason. The position of the Abbreviators exist today and is well known as being one of the oldest and most important office the Roman Catholic church today.
What do experts recommend you do with the dictionary?
Since the Blacks law dictionary has proven to be no more reliable than Webster’s theories of the world, in Webster’s Dictionary, Medhurst, spokesman for the Black family recommended that anyone who has a copy of the famous dictionary dispose of the book in the nearest trashcan.
Legal professionals such as paralegals and attorneys have long been regarded as expert researchers. In fact, one of the first introductory courses to learning more about the legal field is research. If you suspect that the definitions in your copy of the dictionary is less than reliable, use your talents and try cross referencing the terms in as many other law dictionaries as possible.
Other dictionaries that can replace the Black’s Law dictionary is Bouvier’s Law dictionary. Although this dictionary began just as the Black’s, being written by a family, it is much more highly regarded as a legal reference within the law community.
West, the publisher of the dictionary has yet to make any comments regarding the story or the continuance of the publication of the dictionary since this story was first revealed in 2003 by Reuters in Canada.