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When the Legislature has failed to assign definition to a statutory term, the courts will generally construe that term according to 'its ordinary and accepted meaning as it was understood at the time' (People ex rel. Lichtenstein v Langan, 196 NY 260, 264). If the term at issue has been judicially defined prior to its use in a statute, however, that definition will be assigned to the term, absent contrary indications (People v Richards, 108 NY 137; see People v Most, 128 NY 108, 113; cf. Orinoco Realty Co. v Bandler, 233 NY 24).


In every case, of course, the term must be read in accordance with the apparent purpose of the statute in which it is found (see People v Ryan, 274 NY 149; People v Kaye, 212 NY 407). Bearing these principles in mind, it must be added that statutory construction is not 'a ritual to be observed by unimaginative adherence to well-worn professional phrases' (Frankfurter, Some Reflections on the Reading of Statutes, 47 Col L Rev 527, 529). '[Few] words are so plain that the context or the occasion is without capacity to enlarge or narrow their extension' (Surace v Danna, ...

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