The New Black's

Journal of Legal Education, Vol. 55, p. 386, 2005

Loyola-LA Legal Studies Paper No. 2005-19

27 Pages Posted: 9 Sep 2005 Last revised: 29 Nov 2010

See all articles by Peter Tiersma

Peter Tiersma

Loyola Marymount University, Loyola Law School (Deceased)

Date Written: September 1, 2005


The recently-released eighth edition of the venerable Black's Law Dictionary is the second edition to be completed under the editorship of Bryan Garner. This review examines Garner's claim that the dictionary has been thoroughly rewritten in light of modern lexicographic principles.

It turns out the most recent editions of Black's do indeed represent a substantial improvement. For one thing, the newest version of the dictionary has benefited from being reviewed by a large array of legal experts. Moreover, as opposed to the previous practice of simply adding words to new editions, while retaining verbatim just about all previous entries and definitions, the seventh and eighth editions have begun to systematically revisit existing definitions, updating them where necessary and purging entries that are not really legal terminology. These points are illustrated by a close examination of the history of the word mitigation in the various editions of the dictionary, in light of the insidious impact that an earlier definition in Black's had on California death penalty law.

The scope of the new Black's appears to be quite comprehensive, including terminology from the many subdisciplines of law, and also including a great deal of historical terminology as well as recent coinages. In fact, one aspect of its coverage (an appendix of legal maxims) arguably covers more territory than is really necessary. As to the definitions themselves, they have not only been reexamined, but have been organizationally improved by distinguishing information of an encyclopedic nature from the definitions proper. They also include citations and illustrative examples. Unlike the practice in earlier editions, however, most quotations in the new Black's come from secondary sources (treatises, hornbooks, etc.) rather than from statutes and judicial opinions.

Garner and his staff will no doubt continue to improve future versions of the dictionary. So, the question for owners of previous editions is whether to upgrade now or wait for an even better dictionary to appear a few years down the road. Unlike new versions of software, which often add new features that you don't need and deprive you of old features you liked, there is no downside to buying the newest edition of Black's.

Suggested Citation

Tiersma, Peter M., The New Black's (September 1, 2005). Journal of Legal Education, Vol. 55, p. 386, 2005, Loyola-LA Legal Studies Paper No. 2005-19, Available at SSRN: or

Peter M. Tiersma (Contact Author)

Loyola Marymount University, Loyola Law School (Deceased)

United States

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