WRD 104: Composition & Rhetoric II Rotating Header Image

Maybe that word doesn’t mean what you think it means

Followup to our discussion on “marriage” and the OED:

“On May 26, Justice Stephen G. Breyer made a similar point in criticizing Chief Justice Roberts for turning to a dictionary in a case about tough penalties for businesses that hire illegal workers. ‘Neither dictionary definitions nor the use of the word ‘license’ in an unrelated statute,’ Justice Breyer wrote, ‘can demonstrate what scope Congress intended the word ‘licensing’ to have as it used that word in this federal statute’.”

“That same day in another case, Justice Breyer cited the online version of the Oxford English Dictionary to help determine what Congress had intended when it used the word ‘prevent’ in a federal statute. (An article in Brigham Young University Law Review last year speculated that Justice Breyer, who attended Oxford, may turn to the O.E.D. ‘out of nostalgia for his alma mater.’) 
Justices Turning More Frequently to Dictionary, and Not Just for Big Words (NYT, June 13, 2011)

And from Slate:

image title“Opponents of gay marriage generally have relied on two authorities, the Bible and the dictionary—the divine word and the defined word. A 2006 friend-of-the-court brief filed on behalf of anti-gay-marriage organizations in a Maryland marriage case cited no fewer than seven dictionaries to make its point. And when the Iowa Supreme Court legalized gay marriage last week, it ignored the state’s plea to abide by a dictionary definition that limited marriage to “‘the legal union of a man and a woman’.”

“But in their latest editions, the dictionaries have begun to switch sides—though until recently, no one seemed to have much noticed. The American Heritage DictionaryBlack’s Law Dictionary, the Oxford English Dictionary  and Webster’s have all added same-sex unions to their definitions of marriage.”