With the publication of A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage in 1987, when he was still in his twenties, Bryan Garner instantly established himself as a thoughtful, confident, and outspoken authority on legal language and usage. With this third edition, renamed Garner's Dictionary of Legal Usage and easily twice the size of the original (considering not only the page count but also the larger page size and smaller print), Garner caps a phenomenally productive quarter century of work that has made him the first name in contemporary American legal lexicography and placed him in the first rank of writers on English usage generally. That work has included, among many other publications and accomplishments, writing the book that is now called Garner's Modern American Usage (published in three increasingly voluminous editions from 1998 to 2009) and orchestrating the total revamping of Black's Law Dictionary, of which Garner was made editor in chief in 1995 and which he transformed, over the course of three editions (the seventh, eighth, and ninth, published from 1999 to 2009), from a hoary tome dutifully purchased by generations of law students, but then almost never consulted, into a modern resource for lawyers and lexicographers alike. Garner's Dictionary of Legal Usage, Third Edition (to which all page number citations below refer unless otherwise identified) can thus be viewed as the culmination of a trilogy—indeed, a trilogy of trilogies—of interrelated works.1
This book—which I will refer to as GDLU3—contains thousands upon thousands of entries discussing, by my calculation, upwards of ten thousand words, phrases, and variant forms that are either specific to or commonly found in legal writing, from a and an to zygnomic and mesonomic (terms coined in a 1927 book on legal philosophy and seldom, if ever, used since). These are interspersed with hundreds of essays on topics from "Absolute Constructions" to "Zeugma and Syllepsis." These enlightening essays—like one on "Negatives" that among other things explains how a double negative like not unreasonable can have a crucially [End Page 251] different legal significance from the seemingly synonymous term without the not un- (p. 600)—are conveniently catalogued in the front matter under the headings "Style," "Grammar and Usage," "Legal Lexicology and Special Conventions," "Word Formation, Inflection, Spelling, and Pronunciation," and "Punctuation and Typography." The back matter includes a select bibliography helpfully organized into twenty categories such as "Usage Guides," "Legal Writing Style," and "Plain English"; an index of periodicals cited; and a much more interesting select index of writers cited. Being cited in the book is not necessarily an honor: Garner scrupulously documents his entries with thousands of real-life examples from legal sources, about equally divided between favored and disfavored wording. Often the negative examples demonstrate only too well the confusion that can result from uninformed or ill-chosen usage.
The primary goal of the book is to help lawyers write more clearly. It is a goal likely to be applauded even by descriptivists inclined to regard usage manuals in general with suspicion. Garner does this partly by explaining the fine points of general English usage, partly by elucidating traditional legal language that often is confusing even to lawyers (for example, expounding upon dependent relative revocation [a phrase from the law of wills having nothing to do with dependent relatives; p. 266] or distinguishing supplemental pleading from amended pleading [a distinction that depends upon whether the added material could have been included in the original pleading; p. 868]), and partly by urging reforms in the direction of simplicity and directness in legal writing.
But by explicating legal language and usage as it exists and suggesting ways to clarify it, this book performs a particular service for nonlawyers, and especially for general lexicographers. Most legal language is just ordinary language used in specialized ways, and one of the functions of this book is to highlight those special uses and differentiate legal meanings from ordinary meanings. For example, on a single page (p. 447...