A Whole New Word: “Dispositive”

I’ve spent a fair amount of my life reading. Along the way, I’ve been exposed to a wide array of words. Yet, there are plenty of words I have never read before or, at least, never paid really noticed. I love coming upon new words, making sense of them and perhaps even integrating them into my active vocabulary.

In a recent op-ed column in the New York Times, David Brooks used a word I don’t remember hearing or reading before. He was describing different approaches to the Medicare crisis in our country. Some prefer a centralized, top-down approach to medical reform. Others defend a decentralized, bottom-up, competition-based approach. Of this deep divergence in perspectives, Brooks explained:

The fact is, there is no dispositive empirical proof about which method is best — the centralized technocratic one or the decentralized market-based one.

“Dispositive.” Now there’s a whole new word for me. What does it mean?

The context suggests that “dispositive” means something like “certain” or “telling” or “undisputed.” Brooks is saying that there’s no empirical proof that demonstrates which approach to Medicare reform is best. According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, “dispositive” means “: directed toward or effecting disposition.” Well, that helps, but only a bit. Dictionary.com offers further guidance: “dispositive” = “involving or affecting disposition or settlement.” Quoting from Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of Law, Dictionary.com gives as a third option: “providing a final resolution (as of an issue) : having control over an outcome < dispositive of the question>.”

Thus, when Brooks refers to “dispositive empirical evidence,” he means evidence that disposes of the matter at hand by providing a final resolution. So there’s your whole new word for the day: “dispositive.”

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  • Don B

    Wow, Mark, I’m sure the lawyers who read your blog can’t believe that this is a new word for you!  Any motion a lawyer brings or any action a lawyer takes that could “dispose of” a case is (at least potentially) “dispositive.”  Judge: “Why am I wasting my time on this motion, is it dispositive?”  Lawyer A: “Of course, your honor!”  Lawyer B: “Never in a million years, your honor!”

  • Anonymous

    Don: Yes, I learned this was common in legal circles. But, honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever heard it, even in legal TV shows. Maybe I just missed it in LA Law.