Legacy Dictionaries Reloaded: Why Should We Bother? 

The closest I’ve ever come to glimpsing hell was several years ago, reading an article in the New York Times, entitled “Justices Turning More Frequently to Dictionary, and Not Just for Big Words.” The article cited the example of a certain Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. who had apparently parsed the meaning of a federal law by consulting the usual legal precedents (X vs Y) —  and no less than five dictionaries. One of the words he looked up was “of”. He discovered, lo and behold, that its meaning had something to do with belonging or possession.

Dictionaries lie at the core of the human ability to conceptualize, systematize and convey meaning. But they are hardly positivistic, objective repositories of knowledge or truth about language, let alone life.

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