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This Article considers the relationship between ordinary meaning and ordinary people in legal interpretation. Many jurists give interpretive weight to the law's ordinary meaning (i.e., general, nontechnical meaning). Modern textualists adopt a strong commitment to ordinary meaning and justify it by alluding to ordinary people: people understand law to communicate ordinary meanings. This Article begins from this textualist premise and empirically examines the meaning that legal texts communicate to the public. Five original empirical studies reveal that ordinary people consider genre carefully, and regularly take phrases in law to communicate technical legal meanings, not only ordinary ones. Building on the insights from these empirical studies, this Article argues that interpreters who claim fidelity to ordinary people's understanding of law should regularly look beyond “ordinary meaning.”

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University of Pennsylvania Law Review, Vol. 171, Issue 2, 365.