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Dictionaries - English, Law, and Others

Finding general English language, legal, and other dictionaries in Stanford Libraries.


The purpose of the guide is to provide information on how find current and historical dictionaries, including common English language dictionaries, legal dictionaries, specialized dictionaries, and other foreign language dictionaries.

Using Dictionaries

Judges and lawyers commonly use dictionary definitions to assist with legal analysis. Points to consider when using dictionaries:

  • Timeframe: When using a dictionary for statutory or contract analysis, utilize the edition of the dictionary that is most appropriate to the applicable timeframe. E.g. for a statute written in the early 1990s, a 1996 edition of a dictionary would be more relevant than a 21st century edition.  
    • Note: Different dictionaries take different approaches to updating. A particular edition of a dictionary may be republished in later years with addenda for new or changed material. Be sure to check how the dictionary you are using is updated. 
  • Context: Words may have different meanings in different contexts (e.g. plain English vs. law vs. medical, or UK English vs. US English). Ensure that that dictionary used matches the context.  
  • Audience: Some judges may have preferred dictionaries and editions. It can be useful to look up the judge's past opinions to see if particular dictionaries are cited more often than others. 
  • Multiple definitions: Make sure to read the full entry for any prefatory information and alternate definitions. Consulting multiple dictionaries can be helpful in bolstering the accuracy of your interpretation. 

For more information about how dictionaries are used in the legal field, see the "Other Related Materials" page of this guide. 

How to Find Dictionaries

Stanford Libraries Catalog: Searchworks

Searchworks is the online catalog for all Stanford Libraries. It includes both a general search bar and an advanced search function.

  • Search bar
    • Useful if the only information you have is a title
    • You can use the drop-down menu to specify "Title" as the search field

Screenshot of Searchworks header showing a drop-down menu with the "Title" option selected and "Oxford English Dictionary" typed into the search bar


  • Advanced search
    • Useful if you have detailed information about a specific edition (e.g. publication year)
    • Add "Dictionaries" to the subject field to narrow down results

Screenshot of the Searchworks Advanced Search page with "Oxford English Dictionary" typed in the Title field and "dictionaries" typed in the Subject field


Tips for Using Searchworks

  • If you're unsure of the title or unable to find the result, try running the search with keywords under "All Fields"
  • Different editions of the same dictionary will be listed as separate search results.
  • The same book may be listed multiple times if more than one Stanford Library has it:

Screenshot of Searchworks results page showing 3 different entries for the same edition of the Oxford English Dictionary for the Green Library, Law Library, and Medical Library.

  • Use the "Check availability" dropdown to find information about where the book is located.
    • If a books is located in SAL1&2 or SAL3, you can click the "request" button to arrange pickup at the campus library of your choice or request scans of selected pages. 
    • Make sure to check for the specific location of the book within each library (e.g. 1st Floor, 2nd Floor, Basement)
    • Books located in the Law Library's "Reference" section are in the ground floor Reference office. You will need to request access at the Borrowing Services Desk.


Requesting Non-Stanford Materials: Interlibrary Loan (ILL)

If the dictionary you are looking for is not available at Stanford, you can submit an Interlibrary Loan request. We will try to obtain the book or scans of selected pages of the book from another institution. 

  • When making an ILL request, provide as much information as possible to ensure that we find and provide the correct edition (e.g. Full title, publication year, edition number, etc.). 
  • For law journal members, please see this ILL guide for more information about processing law journal ILL requests. 
  • You can also request a scan (instead of obtaining the physical book) by selecting "copy" instead of "loan." 

Scanning Resources

The Law Library has scanners available for use without cost. One is located on the ground floor behind the Borrowing Services Desk and the another is located in the 2nd Floor Teaming Room (same room as the Course Reserves). Copying will require payment.

When scanning, remember to include:

  • the front and back covers
  • the title page 
  • any other pages with copyright and publication information.

This will help you keep track of the version of the dictionary you are using.

Dictionaries located in storage facilities (SAL1&2, SAL3) can be directly requested for scans in Searchworks. 

For Interlibrary Loans, you can also request a scan (instead of obtaining the physical book) by selecting "copy" instead of "loan."