Bouvier's Law Dictionary and Concise Encyclopedia, 1914

Bouvier’s Law Dictionary and Concise Encyclopedia

Bouvier’s Law Dictionary and Concise Encyclopedia (3d revision), 8th ed., West
Publishing Company, 1914, 3 volumes; reprinted in 1984 by William S. Hein & Co., Inc.

Acording to Morris L. Cohen et Al. (“How to Find the Law”, 412, 9th ed. 1989), “For almost a hundred years, the numerous editions of John Bouvier‘s A Law Dictionary were most popular among American lawyers.” The 1914 edition “is out of date in some respects. It is a particularly scholarly work, however, and many of its definitions are encyclopedic in nature. It is still very useful for many historical terms (J. Myron Jacobstein et al., Fundamentals of Legal Research 456, 7th ed. 1998). A footnote adds that it was first published in 1839 and that the final edition was Bouvier’s Law Dictionary and Concise Encyclopedia, 3d rev. (8th ed.) by F. Rawle (West, 3 vols., 1914).

Isadore G. Mudge, in his “Guide to Reference Books”(6th ed. 1936) said that the 1914 edition of Bouvier’s was “the standard American law dictionary” . For and Ervin H. Pollack (“Legal Research and Materials”, 1950), it is “perhaps the most scholarly [of legal dictionaries] in its tratment, providing besides definitions articles on many of the Legal topics .”

A concise encyclopedia of Anglo-American law, its outstanding feature was its emphasis on
the American elements in the law.

Citing Legal Dictionaries in the U.S. Supreme Court

Until the 1940s, the Bouvier’s Law Dictionary were the most cited. In the 1940s and 1950s, Black’s and Bouvier’s were each cited five times. The citation score was ten to five Black’s in
the 1960s and 1970s; Black’s showed a commanding ninety-four to nine lead in
the 1980s and 1990s.

For a thorough study of the Supreme Court’s citation of dictionaries, see Samuel A. Thumma & Jeffrey L. Kirchmeier, The Lexicon Has Become a Fortress: The United States Supreme Court ‘s Use of Dictionaries, 47 BUFF. L. REV. 227 (1999). Appendix C lists dictionaries and the cases that cited them through the 1997-1998 term. According to the authors’ list, various editions of Black’s have been cited in some 134 cases, while various editions of Bouvier’s have been cited in only thirty-six.

Scholars have noted the increasing resort to dictionaries by the Supreme Court. See, e.g.:

  • Thomas W. Merrill, Textualism and the Future of the Chevron Doctrine, 72 WASH. U. L.Q. 351,355-57 (1994) (dictionaries cited in 1 percent of statutory interpretation cases in the 1981 term, 13 percent in the 1988 term, and 33 percent in the 1992 term);
  • Jane S. Schacter, The Confounding Common law Originalism in Recent Supreme Court Statutory Interpretation: Implications for the Legislative History Debate and Beyond, 51 STAN. L. REV. 1, 18 (1998) (dictionary cited in 18 percent of majority opinions in statutory interpretation cases in 1996 term);
  • Note, Looking It Up: Dictionaries and Statutory Interpretation, 107 HARV. L. REV. 1437, 1438-40 (1994) (“Although the Court has consulted dictionaries almost since its inception, it rarely did so more than a handful of times per Term before the 1980s. . . . By contrast, in the six Terms between 1987 and 1992, the Court never cited dictionaries fewer than fifteen times, with a high point of thirty-two references during the 1992 Term.” )
  • Ellen Aprill discusses lexicographic principles and uses them to critique judges’ use of (and failure to use) dictionaries. Ellen P. Aprill, The Law of the Word: Dictionary Shopping in the Supreme Court, 30 ARIZ. ST. L.J. 275 (1998).


About Bouvier’s Law Dictionary, 1856

The first edition was the first American law dictionary to be published. Long
recognized as a leading authority.

See Also



References and Further Reading

About the Author/s and Reviewer/s

Author: international

Mentioned in these Entries

A Concise Encyclopedia of the United Nations, Bouvier’s Law Dictionary and Institutes of American Law, Common law, Dictionary of International and Comparative Law, Illustrated Bible Dictionary and the Law, International Law: A Dictionary, John Bouvier, Law Dictionaries, Legal Research, Legal dictionary, Legal topics, List of Legal Dictionaries, Mozley and Whiteley’s Law Dictionary, Parry and Grant Encyclopaedic Dictionary of International Law, The American and English Encyclopedia of Law, United States Supreme Court.



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