Concise Law Dictionary

Osborn´s Concise Law Dictionary in Europe


Since 1927, the easy to read and popular Osborn´s Concise Law Dictionary (1) has provided English students and practitioners a succint guide to the special language of the law, which serves as well as a source of reference. His strenght has been traditionally the concise way (the 7th edition had 390 pages while the 6th Revised edition had 403 pages) in which the law is summarised and presented over a wide fiel. The editors should work with a lack of space. In most of the editions, it included roman law terms and maxims (from the first edition) and, specially, an useful list of Law Reports together with their abbreviations (from 1983), which received the help of Don Raistrick, librarian of the Supreme Court Library.

The last edition were made in 2009, being the 11th edition. From the first edition, the publisher always had been Sweet & Maxwell.

List of Editions

As a popular legal dictionary, it had been published often (and also with several impresions of several editions) across the years.

  • 1st Edition: 1927
  • 2nd. Edition: 1937
  • 3rd. Edition: 1947
  • 4th. Edition: 1954
  • 5th. Edition: 1964
  • 6th. Edition: 1976
  • 7th. Edition: 1983
  • 8th. Editon: 1993
  • 11th. Edition: 2009

The fourth edition had 6 impressions, while the fith and the seventh editions had 3 impressions each one.

1st Edition

The title was “Concise Law Dictionary for Students and Practitioners with Summaries of the Leading Cases And a Translation of Roman Law Terms and Latin Maxims” and his editor was P. G. OSBORN, of University College, London, of Oray’s Inn, Barrister-at-Law and of the Inland Revenue Department, helpe by his brother Harold Osborn.

Preface to the 1st Edition

“This book is an attempt to provicre a concise law dictionary for the use of the practitioner and the
student, in which the words and phrases, the rules and doctrines of the law of England, are defined and explained. Matter of mere antiquarian interest has been excluded, and space has been found to give on subjects of importance fuller notes than are usually attempted. For instance, in addition to the ordinary definition of an infant, I have endeavoured to state concisely his liability in contract and tort, with a reference to the cases.

To assist the student in his reading, the more important terms of the Roman Law have been included.

To write a law book without cases is like building a house without foundations. This Dictionary is unique in my experience in. giving a summary of the leading cases in all the important branches of the law. The principle laid down or exemplified by the case is stated together, where necessary, with a brief statement of the facts, and the decision. References to the cases are made throughout under the proper headings. The student has to become familiar with a good many cases,
and these notes, in a convenient form for reference, should prove of assistance. As the titles are arranged in strict alphabetical order, no references are of course given to pages.

In the Preface, Osborn wrote ” Any imperfections which may appear I very much regret, but
the sacrifice of many leisure hours will not have been in vain if I am able to help the student along his interesting but intricate way.”

7th (1983)

This edition of the Sweet & Maxwell dictionary had a new editor, Roger Bird, registrar of the Yeovil & Weymouth Country Courts, which preserved the essential features of earlier editions. Roger tried to bring the contents of the early edition (of 1976) up to date (for example, the changes o fthe Administration of Justice Act 1982) while retaining as much as possible the work of his predecessors. From page 351 it includes an excellent and useful list of law reports and their abbreviations, to be used as a summary of the main short citations for law journals, convering 38 pages.

11th Edition

The editor of the 11th edition of this legal dictionary is Mick Woodley. The work was published in February 2009. The articles of the dictionary are clearly cross-referenced. Therefore, if part of the explanation is further defined, the user is quickly aware.

Use of the Dictionary in the European Encyclopedia of Law

In some entries of the European Encyclopedia of Law, we have used, temporally, a non-copyrighted edition of this popular Dictionary. This work may have occasional imperfections such as missing words or errant marks, etc. that were either part of the original book, or were introduced by the scanning process. We believe this work is valuable despite the imperfections. We appreciate your understanding of the imperfections in the preservation process, and hope you enjoy this important legal dictionary.


1. Not should be confused with “P Ramanatha Aiyar’s Concise Law Dictionary”, an Indian compact single volume law dictionary.