Thursday, February 9, 2012

Celebrating a New Legal Dictionary

Sheppard"The world of law is a world of words."  So says Stephen Michael Shepard, a professor at the University of Arkansas School of Law in Fayetteville, who served as the general editor of a new edition of the Bouvier Law Dictionary, recently published by Wolters Kluwer.

The new work brings back to life the American law dictionary first published in 1839 by John Bouvier.  I'm not a Bouvier scholar by any means, but I can at least let you read part of the wikipedia entry about John Bouvier so that you can appreciate the importance of this law dictionary: 

John Bouvier (1787–1851) was born in Codogno, France, but came to the United States at an early age. He became a U.S. citizen in 1812, was admitted to the bar in 1818, and began practicing law in Philadelphia. During his years of practice and study, he noticed the lack of a solid American law dictionary. He decided to fill this need, and worked on a new law dictionary incessantly for 10 years. One of his main goals was to distinguish American law from its Englishantecedent. He finally presented it for publication in 1839. Like many of his generation, Bouvier used his preface to justify his work, stating the irrelevance of English legal dictionaries to the American legal system of the United States. He wanted to create a totally new law dictionary that would address the American legal system, so he derived his definitions almost wholly from customs, court decisions, and statutes of the United States.

So that's the book that Professor Sheppard has now updated.  The Bouvier Law Dictionary was the one used by Daniel Webster, Abraham Lincoln, John Marshall, Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes, and all of the other great early American jurists and lawyers.

This new edition of the Bouvier Law Dictionary was well received at the annual meeting of the Association of American Law Schools, where Professor Sheppard kindly signed a copy for me.  Actually the new dictionary is being published in three versions, a desk edition, the compact paperback version, and an electronic version.

John Bouvier drew on material for his first dictionary from all of the sources that influenced American law.  This new edition of the Bouvier Law Dictionary "is an entirely new book, with new definitions for every term, based on quotations and entries from tens of thousands of new cases, books, and statutes, as well as on Bouvier's final text and other classic materials."  (Preface, at page ix).  I had to laugh at Professor Sheppard's acknowledgment page, where he thanked his student research assistants by saying that his "sincere thanks go to each of you, and I remind all of you who haven't returned some of my books that is never too late to do so."

The dictionary entries are easy to read and often provide a little more information about particular legal terms than you might find in other dictionaries.  We will still use our other law dictionaries, but we now have a second source that we'll also consult.

The ISBN Number for the Compact Paperback Edition of the Bouvier Law Dictionary is 978-0-7355-6852-5.

Mark E. Wojcik (mew)

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/legalwriting/2012/02/bouvier.html

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