Book Review: Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage, Third Edition

By Bryan A. Garner | Oxford University Press | $42.84 | 991 pages | 2011

I am nutty enough to enjoy reading dictionaries. Three are at my left hand: the one I’m reviewing and Black’s (edited by Garner) and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate. A fourth is within left arm’s reach: the compact OED.

Why do smart appellate judges write “pled guilty?” I see that sin constantly in my weekly stack of slip opinions. Professor Garner gently suggests that pleaded guilty should be used.

He corrects the most frequently misspelled evidence law word “inadmissable” to “inadmissible,” and he agrees with Wigmore and me that “res gestae” is useless and confusing.

Because I’m an old fogey, I especially like the author’s opinion about commas in a series:

The question whether to include the serial comma has sparked many arguments in law offices and judges’ chambers. It is easily answered in favor of including the final comma, for its omission may cause ambiguities, whereas its inclusion never will.

Buy Bryan Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage. It will make you a better writer, a better speaker, and a better lawyer.


DONALD F. PAINE is a past president of the Tennessee Bar Association and is of counsel to the Knoxville firm of Paine, Tarwater, and Bickers LLP. He lectures for the Tennessee Law Institute, BAR/BRI Bar Review, and the Tennessee Judicial Conference.