Use of dictionaries

Merrick Tyler v Main Roads [2015] WASCA 82

Despite what many people may think, dictionaries are not decisive on the meaning of statutory words and are to be treated with caution (at [40]).  They are a ‘reasonably authoritative source’ for the range of available meanings, but ‘they do not speak with one voice’ and they say nothing about context8.  The High Court regularly tells us not to make a fortress out of a dictionary9.

iTip – yes, you absolutely should and must consult the dictionaries, but just avoid the trap of thinking that whatever Macquarie says must be the tax law answer.  The meaning of statutory words is always a question of interpretation.           

This case is from Episode 2 of interpretationNOW!


House of Peace Pty Ltd v Bankstown City Council [2000] NSWCA 44 (at [28]), Pearce & Geddes (at [3.30]).

9 Thiess v Collector of Customs [2014] HCA 12 (at [23]), for example.