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his is a long article.  Over 9,000 words.  It rambles in places.  I chase down rabbit trails

Black’s Law Dictionary: Almost Every Word has Multiple Definitions [courtesy Google Images]

Black’s Law Dictionary: Almost Every Word has Multiple Definitions
[courtesy Google Images]

to the right and to the left.  It includes some solid information and also some humorous anecdotes.  It’s undisciplined and in need of at least two more proof-readings. 

Nevertheless, I’ve been fooling around with this article for about two weeks, and I have to draw the line somewhere.  I have other fish to fry.  More, I believe the ideas expressed in this article may be so fundamental and so potentially powerful, that I’ve got to publish now—even if the text is not as clear as I might otherwise hope.

I think the implications of “Read is Guessing” are important.  This may be one of the most important concepts I’ve ever presented.  I hope you’ll take time to read and consider this article.


In the past five years, I’ve posted 23 articles that deal with “definitions” on this blog.  You can find a list of those articles here. Definitions aren’t simply useful or even important to the law, they are the essence of the law.

You can’t have law without words.  You can’t have words without definitions.  Definitions are the “sub-atomic particles” of meaning that turn a mere sound or collection of letters into a “word”.  If you want to detonate the legal equivalent of an “atomic bomb” in the courts, start tinkering with definitions.

As I pointed out in A.D. 2011, “Definitions are the Law of the Law”.

As former President Bill Clinton once observed concerning the meaning of a particular law, “It all depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is.”  In other words, if you want to know what a law says . . . if you want to know what a law is . . . you must first grasp the definitions of even the most trivial and innocuous words used to declare that law.

Multiple Definitions

Knowing the definitions of a word is complicated by the fact that if you view a decent dictionary, you’ll see at least 95% of all words have two or more definitions.

A classic illustration of this multiplicity was the definition of the term “United States” provided by the Supreme Court in the Hooven & Allison Co. v Evatt case of A.D. 1945.  The Supreme Court declared that there were three possible definitions for the term “United States”.  The Supreme Court did not declare there were only three possible definitions and left the door open for other definitions.  The Supreme Court did declare that it would never again answer questions about the meaning of the term “United States”.  (I wonder if there’s any other subject in all of American history that the Supreme Court has addressed once and then declared that it would never again consider.)

It’s interesting that, according to Black’s Law Dictionary, the Supreme Court’s declaration of three definitions for “United States” held true from Black’s 4th Edition (A.D. 1968) through Black’s 6th (A.D. 1990).

However, in Black’s 7th Edition (A.D. 1999), the definition of “United States” changed when that term disappeared from Black’s 7th at the same time that the term “United States of America” was added as a defined term for the first time.  The term “United States of America” had only a single definition, and that definitions was completely different from the three previous definitions for “United States” provided in the Hooven & Allison case.

In Black’s 8th (A.D. 2004) “United States of America” remained and “United States” remained “disappeared”.

In Black’s 9th (A.D. 2009), the terms “United States” reappeared as synonymous with “United States of America”.

These chameleon-like changes in the meaning of “United States” seem almost incomprehensible since we might reasonably suppose that the meaning of the term “United States” would’ve been established with the Constitution of the United States when it was first ratified by the people in A.D. 1788.

I.e., what’s the meaning of the term “England”?  What’s the meaning of the terms “Canada” or “Mexico”?   You’d suppose that those terms would mean the same thing today they meant a century ago, or even earlier.  You’d suppose that those terms would fixed and as unalterable as a cornerstone for church.

The same supposition should apply to the term “United States”.  If there’s one word in all of American history whose meaning should be fixed and singular, it should be “United States”.   And yet, in my lifetime, that word has been completely redefined at least three times.  It’s had (at least) three definitions for 44 years; no definition at all for 10 years; and a completely new, single definition for the past five years.

You can’t view the repeated changes in meaning of the term “United States” over the past 69 years, without recognizing that enormous significance of definitions and the fact that the government routinely changes definitions in order to secretly change the law.   What has the term “United States Code” meant in a world where the meaning of the term “United States” has repeatedly changed over the past 69-years?

If you think the bastards in Washington DC aren’t changing the definitions of words in order to change the meaning of established laws and thereby secretly expand their power or reduce their liabilities, you be dumb.

“The Power to Define Offenses”

If you’d like more evidence of the power of definitions, consider Section 1.04 (Territorial Jurisdiction) of the Texas Penal Code.   Subsection (d) declares:

“(d) This state includes the land and water and the air space above the land and water over which this state has power to define offenses.”

According to the Supreme Court Case of Texas vs White (A.D. 1869), each State of the perpetual Union includes: 1) fixed territory; 2) state government; and 3) the “people” of the particular State.   But if the State is invaded and loses some of its territory, it is still a State of the Union.  If the government of the State of the Union is destroyed or captured, the “State” still exists.  So long as there are any “people of the State,” the State still exists.

It’s true that Section 1.04(d) of the Texas Penal Code (above) does not precisely define “this state”.  It tells us what “this state includes,” but it does not tell us what “this state means”.

Still, it’s interesting that while “The State of Texas” includes a fixed territory, State government, and the People of The State of Texas, the seeming definition of “this state” includes no “people” but does include a “territory” composed of land, water, and air.

It’s even more interesting that, unlike the fixed territory established by the borders of “The State of Texas,” the territorial limits of “this state” do not necessarily end at the Rio Grande to the south or Red River to the north.  Instead, the territorial jurisdiction of “this state” extends to any place (even on the Moon or Mars) where “this state has power to define offense.”

“this state” exists anywhere and everywhere where “this state” can “define offenses”.  If you accept the definitions or any subject that are provided by “this state,” you are subject to its territorial jurisdiction—even if you’re on the Moon.

Conversely, it appears that if you embrace definitions that are not provided by “this state,” you may not be subject to the territorial jurisdiction of “this state”.

Think about that.

Whether you are or are not subject to the territorial jurisdiction of “this state” will depend on whichever dictionary you rely on.  It’s like something out of Alice In Wonderland.

(Incidentally, I was first alerted to a code in the Oregon state codes back about A.D. 2000.  At the time, the whole hypothesis that there was both an entity named “The United States of America” (as created and defined in the Articles of Confederation) and another entity name “United States” seemed mind-boggling.  Today, that same hypothesis seems almost too obvious to be denied.

In any case, I’ve seen the text in the Texas Penal Code 1.04(d) that offers a glimpse into the nature of “this state” and also in the Oregon codes (I no longer recall where) that offered an almost identical description.  I suspect that you can find a similar description of “this state” in the code sections of every other “state of the United States”.   Hard to tell where the description of “this state” might be found, but if you start by looking for “Territorial Jurisdiction” or “Territory” in your state codes you’ll probably find a comparable text.

One other point:  note that “this state” appears to be a “territory” or is “territorial” in nature.  This is consistent with the suspicion that “this state” can be reasonably described as a “territory” or a “territorial state” that is “of the United States”.)

“The United States of America” vs “United States”

I believe that “this state” signifies an administrative state or territory “of the United States” that is quite different from “The State of Texas”—a member-State of the perpetual Union styled “The United States of America”.

If you’re “in this state,” you are presumed to be a subject or perhaps even an animal with virtually no meaningful rights.  You are not one of the “people”.  “This state” may include some citizens, inhabitants, occupants, animals, persons or even residents—but I doubt that it includes any “people”.  If you can effectively and persistently define yourself as one of the “people” of your State of the Union, I think you may have created a high hurdle for “this state” to overcome before they can lawfully claim personal jurisdiction over you.

If you’re within “The State of Texas,” you have God-given, unalienable Rights and are therefore a “sovereign”.

In “this state” you have servitude.  Within “The State,” you have liberty.  The difference in the “plane” in which you are presumed to act and be held accountable appears to be determined primarily by the definitions you use or accept.

According to Section 1.04(d) of the Texas Penal Code, one of the primary attributes of “this state” is its “power to define offenses.”  From that, it seems reasonable to infer that if we could effectively challenge, refute or perhaps merely refuse to consent to the definitions used by the officers or employees of “this state,” we might not be subject to the “territorial jurisdiction” of “this state”.

Thus, your access to Liberty might depend on your ability to understand, use and even master, “defintions”.

Notice and Right of Inquiry

As I’ve written in 25 previous articles dealing with my hypothesis concerning the concept of notice, notice is one of two components (the other is “opportunity to be heard”) that comprise procedural due process.  There’s not much that the courts “of this state” are absolutely obligated to give us other than procedural due process.

“Procedural due process” is dangerous because the second component (“opportunity to be heard”) appears to be an administrative proceeding that recognizes very few of your supposed rights.   The “opportunity to be heard” can be more aptly described as an “opportunity to be found guilty” because you will be found guilty in that “opportunity” about 98% of the time.

I believe that, if you’re smart, you’ll try to avoid the “opportunity to be heard”.

I believe that “opportunity” can be avoided by an astute response to the gov-co’s preliminary notice.

So far as I can see, virtually every conflict with the de facto government begins with a notice.  That notice is usually written on paper, but might also include a gold-fringed flat in a courtroom or on a police officer’s uniform.  Notice might even include the flashing lights on a cop car or ambulance that give notice that some “emergency” (and consequent suspension of law) is taking place.

In this article, I’m only going to write about the notices that we receive from gov-co that are written on paper.

By law, notices need not provide a complete list of all relevant facts and relevant law.  They need only provide sufficient information to put the recipient “on inquiry”.  I.e., a notice creates your right to ask questions about the facts and law that are relevant to the allegations of the particular notice.

I’m convinced that whenever “this state” sends you a Notice, you can respond by: 1) making statements (which proves you’ve had sufficient notice); 2) go silent (which proves you’ve had sufficient notice); or 3) ask questions about the Notice (which proves that you have not yet received sufficient notice).

Virtually everyone responds to governmental notices by either making statements or going silent.  Either response will be presumed to be evidence that the recipient has received sufficient notice and (under procedural due process) can therefore now be taken to the “opportunity to be heard” where the recipient will be found guilty about 98% of the time.

However, if you don’t want the “opportunity to be heard/found guilty,” you should not respond to governmental notices with statements or silence.  You should respond with questions.

So far as I can see, so long as you have questions about any of the notices sent you by “this state,” you have not received “sufficient notice” and cannot be lawfully taken to the “opportunity to be heard/sentenced”.   Once you ask some question, if the entity that sent the notice doesn’t answer them, you will have been denied procedural due process and the court will lose jurisdiction over the matter.

If all of this speculation is roughly correct, it implies that if you can ask questions about government notices that are so insightful and astute that government can’t or won’t answer them, the gov-co may be estopped from proceeding against you.  I.e., if they can’t answer all of your questions, they can’t provide sufficient notice and therefore can’t proceed to the “opportunity to be heard/sentenced”.

Multiplication, That’s the Name of the Game

Let’s suppose I wrote a two-word sentence such as “I do.”

Let’s suppose there were two possible definitions for the word “I” and three possible definitions for the word “do”.

To calculate how many possible meanings there might be for that two-word sentence, we multiply the number of possible definitions for the word “I” (2) times the number of possible definitions for the word “do” (3) and discover that the product is 6.  2 x 3 = 6.

In theory, we might have six possible meanings for the two-word sentence “I do”.  Which of those six meanings it the one intended by the writer or speaker?  Which of those six possible meanings is the one presumed by the reader/hearer?

What happens if the writer/speaker who wrote/said “I do” intended that sentence to mean its second possible meaning, but the reader/hearer “understood” that sentence to carry possible meaning #4?  Certainly, there’d be confusion and “failure to communicate”.

In fact, if we stopped to analyze and list all the possible meanings for our two-word sentence, the amount of time needed to ascertain that the writer and the reader, the speaker and the hearer, had a common and agreed to meaning for even a two-word sentence would make normal communication practically impossible.

We might get around this problem if the writer/speaker expressly asked the reader/hearer, “Do you understand?”   If the reader/hearer said “Yes, I understand,” we might have something like an oral contract whereby the reader/hearer decided to dispense with all the questions that he might ask about which precise meaning was intended in the sentence used by the writer/speaker—and simply agreed/contracted to accept whatever meaning was intended by the writer/speaker—regardless of whether the reader/hearer truly understood the precise, intended meaning or not.

If we could squeeze six possible meanings out of a 2-word sentence, how many possible meanings could we squeeze out of a 10-word sentence, or a 100-word paragraph?

Let’s Pretend

So, let’s suppose that you’re being threatened by the gov-co with being taxed, fined or imprisoned “in this state”.  Those threats would come to you in the form of a notice.

That notice would be composed of words.  Virtually all of those words would have multiple definitions.

Although you might think you understand the meaning of that notice, given the multiplicity of definitions for each of most words used in that notice, it might be almost impossible to accurately discern the true meaning of even one sentence of that Notice.

For example, let’s suppose that the first sentence in the gov-co’s notice was comprised of just five words.  If we look up the meanings of those five words in a decent dictionary, we might discover that the first word has three possible definitions; the second word has two; the third has one; the fourth has four; and the fifth has three.

You might presume that that sentence contains only one possible meaning.  But, technically, based on the multiplicity of definitions for each word, you’d be wrong.

In fact, that particular five-word sentence could have 72 different meanings.

We could find the total number of possible meanings by multiplying the number of possible definitions for each word used in that sentence (3 x 2 x 1 x 4 x 3 = 72).

Of course, many (probably most) of those 72 possible meanings for our five-word sentence would be irrational, nonsensical, or outright incomprehensible.  Even so, it’s virtually certain that several of the possible meanings would be rational, sensible and comprehensible.

What happens if, out of the list of 72 possible meanings for the five-word sentence, gov-co used that sentence for the purpose of communicating the idea expressed by possible meaning #33.  What if you read that same sentence to communicate the idea conveyed by possible meaning #14 (out of the 72 potential meanings)?   Was there a meeting of the minds if government intended to the sentence to mean #33 but you read it to mean #14?  Could there be a contract?  An agreement?  Even an “understanding”?

What happens if gov-co knowingly exploits the multiplicity of definitions of words to send you a five-word sentence that they know you will almost certainly read as possible meaning #14, while the government actually means #33 when the send it?  What happens if you agree to “understand” the sentence as meaning #14 (which is harmless to you) but government accepts your agreement and/or “understanding” in relation to meaning #33 (which might land you in prison)?

Complex and confusing questions—no?

In fact, when you consider the implications of having multiple definitions for words, the fact that we can communicate at all seems both mysterious and miraculous.

Reading is Guessing

Back in the 1960s, Marshall McLuhan (a Canadian college English professor) wrote the Gutenberg Galaxy (A.D. 1962) and Understanding Media (A.D. 1964).  Those two books precipitated a “great leap forward” in our understanding of communication “media”—books, radio, movies, TV, etc.

Wikipedia describes McLuhan in part as follows:

Herbert Marshall McLuhan, (July 21, 1911 – December 31, 1980) was a Canadian philosopher of communication theory and a public intellectual. His work is viewed as one of the cornerstones of the study of media theory, as well as having practical applications in the advertising and television industries.

“McLuhan is known for coining the expressions “the medium is the message” and the “global village,” and for predicting the World Wide Web almost thirty years before it was invented.  Although he was a fixture in media discourse in the late 1960s, his influence began to wane in the early 1970s.  In the years after his death, he continued to be a controversial figure in academic circles.  With the arrival of the internet, however, interest in his work and perspective has renewed.”

Although some of his ideas remain “controversial,” Marshal McLuhan was a giant in the sparsely populated word of “communication theory” and is arguably an “authority” on the subject.

“Communication theory” includes the subject of definitions.

Back in the 1960s, I knew that that McLuhan’s books were communicating important and revolutionary ideas.  I tried to read at least one of his books, but I lacked sufficient intelligence and/or education to understand his ideas.

Nevertheless McLuhan has set in the back of my mind for the past fifty years.  So, when I recently stumbled upon a couple of YouTube videos of McLuhan’s interviews from the 1960s and 1970s, I had to watch.

First, I viewed a 45-minute interview from A.D. 1977.   I liked McLuhan in this interview.  He reminded me a little of David Niven.  He seemed intelligent, fun, whimsical.  At times I couldn’t tell if he was still just too smart for me, or if he was just baffling me with his BS.  He struck me as 80% genius and 20% Wizard of Oz spouting “big words” like “ipso facto” and “e pluribus unum”.

Then I watched an earlier video from A.D. 1968 of McLuhan debating Norman Mailer.  I didn’t like McLuhan in this interview.  He still seemed 80% genius, but he also seemed 20% pompous ass.   He acted as if he were trying with all his might to sound impressive.

Nevertheless, I was electrified when, at 4:40 into this 28 minute video, McLuhan explained to Mailer that the root of the original meaning of the word “read” (as in “I can read books by Norman Mailer.”) was “to guess.

“Read” originally meant “to guess”?!

Say whut?!

How could that be?  Made no sense.  What’s reading and guessing have to do with each other?

McLuhan explained.

Words have multiple definitions.  Therefore, whenever we read, we “guess” at whichever of the several definitions that apply to a particular word was intended by the author of whatever text we’re reading.   As we read quickly, we also guess quickly at the meaning of each word.

The very idea that we quickly guess at intended meanings of words as we read (or even hear) is mind-boggling.  Do you realize how much complexity must be wired into our brains to allow us to quickly, silently and usually subconsciously guess at the meaning of each word we hear or read?

The concept is almost too fantastic to be believed.

And yet, it’s the absolute and inevitable implication of words having multiple definitions and sentences having multiple possible meanings.

To communicate is to guess at definitions and guess at meanings.

To communicate is to guess.

That equivalence may seem too bizarre to be true, but the first time I heard McLuhan express the idea, I knew: 1) he was absolutely right; and 2) the entire legal system is vulnerable.

For five years or more, I’ve understood the confusion that’s inherent in multiple definitions for words.  But it never crossed my mind that we work around those multiple definitions by guessing.

After hearing McLuhan equate reading to guessing, I picked up my A.D. 1828 Webster’s Dictionary to see if the root for the word “read” was “guess”.   In fact, that dictionary traces the root of the word “read” to a score or more of sources.  But, sure enough, one of those sources is “guess”.

To read is to “guess”.

Not because I say so, but because one of the giants (Marshall McLuhan) of 20th century communication theory said so.

And also because logic makes the similarity of reading to “guessing” almost impossible to refute.

Given the multiplicity of definitions for most words, what else could it be?

Ah don’ unnerstan’

By explaining the relationship between “read” and “guess,” McLuhan not only clarified my own understanding of “reading,” “talking” and communication—he provided me with an authority (McLuhan, himself) to argue in court that “I don’t understand”.

Can a case against me proceed in court, if “I don’t understand”?

Mark Coker recently sent the following email.  Part of the email deals with Coker’s latest confrontation with the cops.  Part of it recounts someone else’s confrontation with a judge.  Both stories involve whether suspects, offenders, and defendants understand what the cops and courts are saying.

The email is a little long and a little funny, but it makes a point.  It’s worth reading (guessing).

“I thought amongst Dan Schinzing recent dying and Robert Fox being recently deported and slandered by the Canadian Broadcasting Company, you might enjoy some ‘good news’ for the day.

“I’m not so sure ‘good news’ is the correct name, but perhaps ‘interesting incident’ might be more appropriate.

“It so happened that I was (allegedly) speeding through an (alleged) school zone (not in the church auto, but a friend’s auto), when I noted behind me was a large Police SUV with his emergency lights on.  Of course, wanting to assist in the emergency, I pull over to help.

“The cop comes up and asks me for ‘Driver License and proof of insurance’. . . to which I said, ‘No, I don’t have any of that stuff.’

“He gets out his notebook and asks for my name.

“And, without my even thinking about it, and contrary to my pre-planned-‘know-nothing’-plan for my next arrest, out of my own mouth came my (slave) name.  As soon as I said it, I was a bit surprised at my confession.  Here’s why:

“The police need you to be a witness against yourself.  They have nothing.  They want everything.  And they want YOU to provide ALL the evidence.

“The first thing they want is your name.  They second is when that entity was birthed into their commercial venue.  The third thing they want is additional proof of your contract in the form of a DL.

“My plan for my next arrest was to not know ANYTHING.

“After much pondering, I thought about the value of a video that made it’s rounds about two or three years ago where a guy in court responded to all questions and statements with, ‘I don’t understand what you’re asking,’ ‘Could you repeat the question?’ and sometimes, ‘Do you mean that…uh…I don’t understand the question.’

“That’s how he responded even when they asked his name.  It didn’t matter the question.  In fact, even when the judge blew up and lost his cool and said to the counsel present, something to the effect of ‘This guy is an idiot!  He doesn’t understand anything!’ the guy responded, ‘I don’t understand what you’re asking’ . . . to which the judge lost it even more, screaming, ‘It wasn’t a question!  I made a statement! . . . And I was talking to counsel, not to you!’  . . . to which the guy retorted, and with brilliant deadpan character, ‘Could you repeat the question?

Written By: ALFRED ADASK, continue at ADASK’S LAW