Legal Traditions & Trivia: H.C. Black and the Lexicon Magnus

“The dictionary now offered … does not purport to be an epitome or compilation of the body of the law (but) its value is impaired if any single word that may reasonably be sought between its covers is not found there.”

Thus wrote Dr. Henry Campbell Black in the sweltering summer heat of Washington, D.C., in 1891, as a prefatory note to his novel legal work, a behemoth dictionary bearing his iconic surname. The nascent Black’s Law Dictionary had arrived.

Dr. Black was quite serious about the comprehensiveness of his work. Long before Amazon® became known for its provision of things “A to Z,” Black was on top of his lexographic game. Witness the opening entry of the Fourth Edition (Revised, 1968): “A. The first letter in the English and most other alphabets derived from the Roman or Latin alphabet, which was one of several ancient Italian alphabets derived from the Greek, which was an adaption of the Phoenician…” (Emphasis in original.)

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