Black’s Law Dictionary

Black’s Law Dictionary

The sustained popularity of this Legal dictionary since its appearance (like Bouvier’s Law Dictionary in the XIX Century) it was attributed to the scholarship and Learning of Henry Campbell Black, and to the plan adopted by him for the compilation of a legal lexicon. Now the editor is Bryan Garner, a lexicographer.

Black’s is the last standing comprehensive American Legal dictionary intended for a wide audience. Unlike Bouvier’s and Ballantine’s, which have not been updated in decades, Black’s is supported by the West/Thomson legal publishing behemoth and benefits from the resources that publisher provides. The dictionary has been translated into (of all languages) Urdu.(89. Qanuni, Angrezi- Urdu lughat: Blaiks la’ dikshanari se makhuz (2002) (published byIslamabad: Muqtadirah-yi Qaumi Zaban).

Some authors recommend the fourth edition of Black’s because the fifth edition “leans away
from Common law toward Equity Law”.

Henry Campbell Black wrote that “The first canon of lexicography relates to substance: A dictionary must be comprehensive; the second, to form: A dictionary must be convenient.”(5 HARV. L. REv. 155, 155 (reviewing BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY (1st ed. 1891)).

A reviewer noted in 1910 that[t]he task of the compiler of a law dictionary becomes more difficult in
geometric progression year by year, as the scope, aim and study of the law are broadened to include the rapidly-increasing bulk of human knowledge; for the law reaches out and bodily assimilates many of the sciences akin to it.(Clement R. Wood, Book Note, 20 YALE L.J. 423 (1911))

The early Anderson Dictionary of Law (1889) (A Dictionary of Law consisting of Judicial Definitions and Explanations of Words, Phrases and Maxims and an Exposition of the Principles of Law: Comprising a Dictionary and Compendium of American and English Jurisprudence; William C. Anderson; T. H. Flood and Company, Law Publishers, Chicago, United States) was a significant American legal dictionary that preceded Black’s dictionary by two years. Black, in fact, acknowledged his debt to William Anderson in the preface of his first edition, and a comparison of entries reveals many instances of similar if not identical language, though both lexicographers have drawn freely from previous works.

4th Edition (1968)

In the Preface to the 4th Edition, it was addressed the usefulness of the legal dictionary to the law student, “confronted in his casebooks with reports from The Year Books , or with extracts
from Glanvil, Bracton, Littleton, or Coke, will find in this dictionary an unusually complete collection of definitions of terms used in old English, European, and feudal law.”

8th Edition (2004)

“[The eighth edition] continues the effort begun with the seventh edition: … to raise the level of scholarship through serious research and careful reassessment.”. The eighth edition contains definitions of over 40,000 terms, an increase of 17,000 terms over the seventh edition.


If words have a useful life, then so do dictionaries. Black’s began in 1891; its full title reminds us of a proud parent, christening his first-born-A Dictionary of Law Containing Definitions of the Terms and Phrases of American and English Jurisprudence, Ancient and Modem Including the Principal Terms of International, Constitutional, and Commercial law ; with a Collection of Legal Maxims and Numerous Select Titles from the Civil Law and Other Foreign Systems.

The full title of the second edition (repeated, with only slight variations, in the third) attests
to youthful exuberance-as new and exciting features are recalled, they burst forth A Law Dictionary: Containing definitions of the terms and phrases of American and English jurisprudence, ancient and modem. And including the principal terms of international, constitutional, ecclesiastical, and Commercial law , and medical jurisprudence, with a collection of legal maxims, numerous select titles from the roman, modem civil, scotch, French, Spanish and Mexican law, and other foreign systems, and a table of abbreviations.

By its fourth edition, the work had achieved a certain maturity; the titles to the
fourth, fifth, and sixth editions no longer include the litany of contents, but there is
still the need to describe what the work is-Black’s Law Dictionary: Definitions of
the Terms and Phrases of American and English Jurisprudence, Ancient and

By the seventh edition, any description on the title page has become
superfluous; having established itself and being in its prime, the dictionary, in its
seventh and eighth editions, is simply Black’s Law Dictionary.


Early editions of Black’s (perhaps as a testament to its novelty, if nothing
else) were reviewed in major Law Journals . Although reviews of the seventh
and eighth editions have appeared in a number of journals, the premier
publications of legal scholarship have not included reviews of recent editions of

Appendices of the Dictionary

The U.S. Constitution and a table of British regnal years have long been included as appendices to Black’s. In the Preface of the 1968 edition appears “The student will also find in this
volume, on page 1795, a useful Table of British Regnal Years, listing the sovereigns of England for more than 900 years, together with the date of accession to the throne, and the length of reign.”The eighth edition includes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights , a Federal Circuits map, and athirteen page bibliography.

See Also


Further Reading

  • Book Review, 5 Nw. U. L. REv. 582 (1911) (reviewing BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY (2d ed. 1910))
  • Alexander Hamilton Frey, 82 U. PA. L. REv. 886 (1934) (reviewing BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY (3d ed. 1933)).
  • Paul Hellyer, Keeping up with New Legal Times, 97 LAW LmR. J. 158, 158-59 (2005) (reviewing BLACK’s LAW DICTIONARY (8th ed. 2004))



References and Further Reading

About the Author/s and Reviewer/s

Author: international


One response to “Black’s Law Dictionary”

  1. Linda

    I have an original 1891 book. My book’s cover has the title “A DIctionary Of Law- Black,” which matches the title page. It also has “R 340 B” on the cover. The ones I have seen of the same, on the internet, has a cover that states “Black’s Law DIctionary,” which doesn’t match the title page. Do you have any idea why this would be??