Of Words and Contracts: Arbitration and Lexicology - Dispute Resolution Journal - Vol. 60, No. 2
David A. Dilts is an arbitrator and mediator, and a professor of economics at the School of Business and Management Sciences at Indiana-Purdue University-Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Originally from Dispute Resolution Journal
A look at how dictionaries, which do not always agree on the meaning of words, can affect the outcome when labor arbitrators use them to interpret contract language.
When we think of words, we often only think of a single meaning. But words can have many meanings and applications. Not surprisingly, even the term “lexicology” has a number of different meanings, depending on which dictionary you consult. The Concise Oxford English Dictionary (OED), 10th edition, defines it as “the study of the form, meaning, and behaviour of words”1; Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition, defines it as “a branch of linguistics concerned with the signification and application of words”2; and the American Heritage College Dictionary, 4th edition, similarly defines it as “the branch of linguistics that deals with the lexical component of language.”3 Depending on the particular application of the word “lexicology,” one definition may not be a perfect substitute for another. In other words, these definitions could be said to be ambiguous.
The importance of lexicology to our modern society is not widely recognized. Its importance is rarely associated with much outside of the realms of academia and publishing. It is generally associated with dictionary editors and libraries, certainly not with any grand adventures.
The Professor and the Madman4 is a wonderful tale of the creation of the OED and Dr. William Chester Minor, a hapless contributor to that endeavor. Dr. Minor, an American army officer, was incarcerated in the Broadmoor Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Great Britain for the murder of one of the Queen’s subjects. Ironically, during his stay in Broadmoor, he found the time to read, research, and write many entries for the first edition of this path-breaking dictionary. Of greater importance is the parallel tale of how the dictionary was conceived and brought to life by its editor, James Murray. In essence, The Professor and the Madman is an adventure in lexicology, an art that is at the core of the interpretation and application of language.