The principle expressed in the statute works within the words, as the motive power within the machine. Just as there are sometimes found inert parts of a machine, which are net in due proportion to the power to be developed and consequently are but a hindrance and obstacle to its proper functioning, so there may be inert parts in the text expressing a statute. It may be that a statute contains two ideas, if all expressions are taken in their natural meaning. If, however, one or more of these expressions are taken in a metaphorical sense, or if one broadens some term beyond the ordinary meaning, or contracts to a narrower sense, possibly there may be six more ideas found in its provisions. Now the problem arises whether a lawyer may in such a case elect to consider these additional meanings also, assuming that for once the mode of expression chosen has been metaphorical, awkward, and unusual. The answer will have to be in the affirmative. For, as in ordinary daily life, so also in the statutes the mode of expression selected is by no means always the most ordinary, trite, and literal. If one were to use words always in the most common and overworked sense, the language of the statutes would lose all individuality and become schoolmasterly, stiff, and pedantic. Moreover, a wooden style, careful to give to each word the exact sense of daily conversation, would frequently be incapable of expressing some significant idea at all, or at least only by horrible circumlocutions and tortuous clauses. This would make the statute so awkward as to resemble some linguistic monster. Witness here the form of English statutes which are often absolutely astonishing in this respect. Now this ought never to be the case; for a statute ought to be also a literary work of art, so as, to some extent at least, to enter into the conscious memory of the people. Otherwise it can never become part and parcel of the popular mind but must remain strange and repellant. That, however, would work great injury to the legal education of the people.
7Decision 51, p. 274 (May 3, 1902).
From all this we may draw the following conclusion: in selecting the true meaning, the lawyer must bear in mind that the words may perhaps be metaphorical and unusual, so as to express their full meaning only approximately if taken literally; very much as one trying to explain the functions of a machine must bear in mind that the machine may have imperfections, possibly for no reason but because it had been put together in a hurry, or because a greater degree of precision was not required.
It is customary to speak of broad and narrow interpretation. These, however, are but special cases. In other ways also the expression may fail to cover the meaning exactly, both in respect of quantity and quality. One ought, therefore, to speak not merely of broad or narrow interpretation, but rather of interpretation which gives to the statute a significance apart from the inexact expressions of the text. This significance may be greater or less than the words may express, but it is also possible for it to change qualitatively. That would be a poor interpretation which could at most stay more or less within the literal text but could never go entirely beyond the literal meaning and introduce a new significance. For instance, where a statute speaks of "objection," we must be permitted to attach to the word "objection" in a given case a meaning other than the ordinary legal significance. We may conclude that the term is used untechnically and may include the rescission of a contract. Another illustration is the term "relative invalidity" of a patent. As used in the patent statute it does not mean invalidity at all but something entirely different.8