At least since John Cowell's Interpreter was adjudged by the Committee on Grievances of the House of Commons in 1610 to be "very unadvised, and undiscreet, tending to the disreputation of the honour and power of the common laws" have law dictionaries been objects of occasional controversy. Yet legal dictionaries, as well as dictionaries more generally, have remained a constant resource in American law for those seeking to give meaning to the words of both statutes and constitutional provisions. They have appeared in the pages of the reports since the beginning of the republic; a majority of the justices of the Supreme Court, at one time or another, have turned to them; they have not been simply the refuge of the lesser sorts who have ascended the highest bench, but have been relied upon by those justices generally held in greatest esteem; and their use has never been the preserve of any particular methodology or jurisprudential view.

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