Home > Free Electronic Resources, Legal Research > Dictionary Fun for the Word Nerd: Everybody Researches

Dictionary Fun for the Word Nerd: Everybody Researches

If you watch legal shows on television, you would think that lawyers spend their time either arguing with other lawyers in court or chasing after attractive co-workers in the office.  Even if you are only starting out in law school, you know better than this.  While there are certainly exciting and satisfying courtroom moments, the majority of your time, particularly as a new associate, is likely to be spent in writing, reviewing documents, and RESEARCHING.  Lawyers in big firms research, solo practitioners research, corporate counsel and law clerks research.  Because legal research is such a universal theme to the practice of law, The Demon’s Advocate will be featuring at least one post per month on new or unusual ways to conduct legal research, or about legal research materials.

This post takes a new look at a familiar resource, the dictionary.  While most of you are likely to have used the print and or online versions of Black’s Law Dictionary, there are some free online legal dictionaries worth your time, as well as some interesting non-legal  dictionaries to expand your mind and your research. This post will review some of the more traditional dictionary offerings, and a future post will describe some dictionary innovations.

Law.com’s offering, known as the  Real Life Dictionary of the Law bills itself as an easy-to-read and user-friendly “guide to legal terms.”  It is unquestionably versatile, allowing you not only to browse for the word or to run a search for it, but also providing the option to search definitions for your word.  This last feature proves helpful when you can remember the general areas of the law the word falls under or other similar concepts but cannot recall the word itself. (Take from someone who has passed the age of 40, this happens.)

Have you ever tried to explain a legal term to a family member or significant other without success? If so, next time you might want to try Nolo’s Plain-English Law Dictionary.  Nolo Press has been bringing the law to the non-lawyer for years via print “how to” legal books, and now via Nolo.com.  Whether you consider them famous or infamous for their DIY approach to the law, their dictionary is a useful look at legal terms for the non-professional audience.

The Free Dictionary does have a legal option, but the feature I most enjoy is that it not only provides a definition of the word you are searching, but also has an audio pronunciation of the word.  For example, if you are a politician, and want to use the work chutzpah, but are not sure how to pronounce it, you could type the word (or a near spelling and it will offer you options), and you will get both a definition and a graphic of a speaker to click in order to hear the pronunciation.  Depending on the word, you may have both a British and an American option for pronunciation.

If this sampler of dictionaries has not sated your interest, you might want to investigate the University of Washington Gallagher Law Library’s dictionary research guide.   The guide is written by law librarians,  so the focus is on law dictionaries, including those for foreign and international law and for specialized legal  fields.  However, recognizing that law does not exist in a vacuum, it also includes some of the most popular general dictionaries as well as some basic law guides and glossaries for those not in the legal profession.  If you use this guide, do be aware that, while you have access to all free linked material mentioned, the call numbers provided are for the Gallagher library and so may refer to books not available in the PCL or that are in a slightly different location.  If you have questions about any of the titles, please contact one  of the reference librarians, staff, or students, or check the PCL catalog for information specific to our library.

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