November 09, 2003

It depends on what the word is copulation means...

The Curmudgeonly Clerk dissects a case in which the result hinges on a set of interlocking definitions in Webster's Third New International Dictionary, cited as such in the court's opinion. It's obvious that legal decisions always depend on the meaning of words, but (knowing nothing about the law) I wonder how often the outcome hinges on definitions quoted from specific dictionaries. And I wonder if this case would have come out differently if some other dictionary had been used?

Just in case you're not inspired to read the whole thing by the abstract socio-semantic point at issue, let me add that the crux is the definition of the word adultery, and that the case was mentioned earlier by Instapundit under the title Eatin' ain't cheatin' :-).

Posted by Mark Liberman at November 9, 2003 01:07 PM