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Bench Memos

NRO’s home for judicial news and analysis.

Originalism and the Meaning of Words



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It’s often cited as a good sign for originalism that judges have been referencing dictionary definitions more often in their opinions. But a modern linguistic technique known as “corpus analysis” — which entails, more or less, digitally analyzing an immense body of text to detect usage patterns — could make courts even more accurate in determining what words were understood to mean in various time periods.

Over at The Atlantic, Ben Zimmer has a piece about the meaning of the word “personal” as revealed by such an analysis, and how it affected a recent Supreme Court decision.



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