Chillax, it’s a Bromance with words


“Man acts as though he were the shaper and master of language, while in fact language remains the master of man.” — Martin Heidegger

“The language of the law must not be foreign to those who hear it.” — Learned Hand

The preeminent source of legal meaning in America is Black’s Law Dictionary. First published by Henry Campbell Black in 1891 through West Publishing, the book took on Black’s name after he died in 1927. The newest editions are now available online, rather than in gigantic, printed tomes, which also allows for more frequent updates and additions of new words. The text is now produced by Thomson Reuters, so it’s no surprise that it was Reuters news service that recently interviewed Bryan Garner, who has been the editor of the book for three decades.

In that interview, conducted by Reuters’ Jenna Greene, Garner notes that the 12th edition, which came out this month, contains more than 2,500 new entries. As a lawyer who prides himself on being up to date with the hippest, rad, groovy, crackerjack words of the day, I thought it would be wise to cover some of the new entries in this column.

But first, how do new terms get there? Garner notes that the company has lexicographers on staff, and they also have a team of law professors and lawyers who help sort through case decisions, law review articles, and other sources. There are also times that lawyers simply write in to them to suggest the inclusion of a new word or phrase.

My personal favorite new addition is ‘cybersmearing.’ This the act of making a series of negative comments about a person or company on the web, in social media, or in other electronic platforms. Since you’re smearing the person through technology, the new compound word is ‘cybersmearing.’ One assumes that it’s only a matter of time before people start suing for ‘cyberliber’ and ‘cyberslander.’

Sticking with the compound words, there’s also ‘crimmigration,’ a combination of criminal law and immigration. Crimmigration can be illegal immigration itself, or it can be the act of passing new laws to criminalize the crossing of a border. It can also be the practice of law in the place where those two topics meet.

Another (at least, if you count hyphens) is ‘hot-tubbing.’ No, not sitting around with your friends in warm water, and certainly not a time machine. Legal hot-tubbing is also called ‘concurrent expert testimony’ and ‘witness conferencing.’ It’s the act of having a group of expert witness all testify at the same time, as a panel, rather than in sequence, one after the other. It permits them all to respond to one another in real time.

Though the term has been in use for at least a few hundred years, Black’s has also added ‘kakistocracy.’ Combining the English suffix ‘-cracy,’ relating to a form of government and the Greek ‘kakistos’ meaning ‘worst,’ a kakistocracy is a government run by the society’s least competent or worst citizens. Depending on your political persuasion, you may apply that term to different period of recent history.

Black’s Law Dictionary has also added a series of multi-word phrases. They include ‘shadow docket’ – the unsigned, administrative and procedural orders from the U.S. Supreme Court, ‘black knight’ and ‘grey knight’ – uninvited investors who swoop into takeover situation and who are either unwanted by the company, or stepping in to help them, ‘bedbug letter’ – a standard form apology letter issued by a company, and ‘code duello’ – an established set of rules to be used by two persons who are dueling.

Glamping, chillax, bromance, ‘shotgun answer’ and ‘above the law’ are other examples of the 2,500 new additions. Perhaps I’d be better off just sticking with what’s on my bookshelf at home, a 2nd edition Black’s Law Dictionary from 1910, and a Student’s Edition Bouvier’s Law Dictionary from 1928.

David Hejmanowski is judge of the Probate/Juvenile Division of the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas, where he has served as magistrate, court administrator, and now judge, since 2003. He has written a weekly column on law and history for The Gazette since 2005.

No posts to display