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Noscitur a sociis

The meaning of a word may be ascertained by reference to those associated with it.

This maxim applies to the construction to be put upon all written instruments.

It is one of the many maxims serving as guides in the interpretation of written instruments used by the judges of former times, to express tersely a reason for their opinions ; and it is constantly acted upon by the judges in the present day in considering and determining the weight to -be attached to general words with reference to particular words associated therewith, and also in considering and determining the meaning of ambiguous terms in the absence of apt words showing clearly the real intention of the parties. It is, however, subject to the general rule of interpretation of written instruments as to intention, and is used with particular reference to the bearing one word has to another, and to the connection existing between one word and another.

The following case will most readily make the maxim under- stood : — C. demised to E. for a term of ninety-seven years an unfinished messuage, with a covenant by E. to deliver up the same to C. at the end of the term, together with all locks, keys, bars, bolts, marble and other chimney-pieces, foot paces, slabs and other fixtures and articles in the nature of fixtures, which should at any time during the term be fixed or fastened to the premises. E. took possession, and completed the messuage as a tavern, and for that purpose put in certain suitable trade and tenant's fixtures. B. afterwards contracted with E. for an under- lease of the premises, and the goodwill, furniture, fixtures, etc. ; in pursuance of which contract E. executed an under-lease to B. containing a covenant on the part of B. in the same words as the covenant by E. to C. in the original lease. In an action by E. against B. for the value of the tenant's and trade fixtures, it was held, on error, upon the principle of this maxim, that the covenant above set forth did not restrain B. from disposing of either the tenant's or trade fixtures ; but that the general words which followed the particular words ought to be limited to fixtures of the like kind, and not to be extended so as to include the trade or tenant's fixtures.

The rule of law in the construction of wills is, that the word “survivors” is to be confined to its literal significance of survivors at the period spoken of by the testator, in every case where it is possible so to be without violating the clear meaning of the rest of the will. But, where the gift over and subsequent part of the will referred to the “issue” of a deceased niece participating in an accruing share, the word “survivors” of nieces was construed “others.” Again, where a foreigner bequeathed his residuary personal estate to the hospitals of Paris and “London,” in other parts of his will showing that by the term “London” he did not mean the city of London properly so called ; it was held that London, as used by the testator, must be held to comprise all the houses which stand in a continuous line of streets within the cities of London and Westminster and the borough of Southwark, together with the houses contiguous thereto. So, the word “vested,” used in a gift over, must be construed as being intended to mean vested in interest, and not as meaning vested in possession, unless the rest of the will and the context require that it should receive the latter construction.

The maxim, “ Ex antecedentibus et consequentibus fit optima interpretatio” may be appropriately considered with this.

3 T. R. 87 ; King v. Melling, 1 Vent. 225 ; Evans v. Astley, 3 Burr. 1570 ; Bacon W. Bl. 4, p. 26 ; Hay v. Coventry, 3 T. R. 87 ; Clift „. Sohwabe, 3 C. B. 437 ; Hardy v. Tingey, 5 Exch. 294 ; Bishop v. Elliott, 11 Exch. 113 ; Borrodaile . Hunter, 5 M. & Gr. 639 ; Knight v. Selby, 3 Scott N. R. 409 ; Grey v. Friar, 4 H. L. Cas. .“>80, et seq. ; Re Keap, 32 Beav. 122 ; Wallace r. Attorney-General, 10 L. T. (X.S.) 51 ; Re Arnold, 9 L. T. (N.S.) 530.

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