Language in the law

The Language Guy discusses Language in the Law, and in particular Sandra Day O’Connor (Supreme Court justice) using a dictionary to show that ‘using or carrying a firearm’ included bartering a firearm for 2 ounces of cocaine.

bq. According to O’Connor, who wrote for the majority that upheld the conviction, this constituted “using a firearm.” O’Connor says that according to the “natural” or “ordinary” meaning of “use” Mr. Smith’s action constituted using a firearm. This is true in a mindlessly literal way. But it is not how we normally interpret “use” in a sentence like “He used a firearm to scare off the burglars.” She appeals to several dictionaries to support her position, noting that “Webster’s defines ‘to use’ as ‘[t]o convert to one’s service’ or ‘to employ’.” She goes on to say that Black’s Law Dictionary defines it as “[t]o make use of; to convert to one’s service; to employ; to avail oneself of; to utilize; to carry out a purpose or action by means of.” This use of dictionaries belies a profound misunderstanding of what a dictionary does. Dictionaries to not define words — they give synonyms for words as well as guides to usage. We might ask Justice O’Connor how it advances our understanding to say that “to use” means “to make use of”?

Here’s the case in question.

It’s lawyers and dictionaries again!

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