The Thrill Packed World of Latin Dictionaries

The WDTPRS series intends to help you enter more fully and love more deeply the prayers Holy Church has given us.  As a result I must constantly attempt the tight-wire of writing too much and too little, of including huge swaths of details to limiting the discussion to a general reader’s needs. 

Still, even the general reader might want a glimpse into what makes this articles in the paper and blog entires here "tick" as it were.Collin's

This brings me to offer a note about the dictionaries I consult for this WDTPRS series.  No, friends, your little "Collins" doesn’t cut it here!

For Latin I use mostly the mighty Lewis & Short, whcih in its fuller title is A Latin Dictionary Founded on Andrews’ edition of Freund’s Latin dictionary revised, enlarged, and in great part rewritten by Charlton T. Lewis, Ph.D. and. Charles Short, LL.D. Oxford. Clarendon Press. 1879.  On the spine you will see A LATIN DICTIONARY and under that LEWIS & SHORT.  My experience is that, in the main, if you have a good grasp of Latin the one volume L&S will give you virtually everything you need. 

Thesuarus Totius LatinitatisMore and more I am consulting Albert Blaise, Le vocabulaire latin des principaux themes liturgique, revised by Antoine Dumas, O.S.B., published by Brepols.  This is a very useful volume.

For Greek I used whatever edition of Oxford’s Liddell & Scott is nearby.  Often that will be the medium of the three sizes of lexica we lovingly call "Middle Liddell".  For Patristic Greek I use the dictionary by Lampe. 

If you want a dictionary of Classical Latin, the 40,000 word entry Oxford Latin Dictionary (P.G. Glare, ed., 1968) will do nicely.  It has very large format, is quite expensive and is limited to classical texts.  It only extend to the end of the 2nd century A.D., about 180 A.D. 

You can also really get into words using Forcellini’s Totius Latinitatis Lexicon (1858-1887).  It is in 10 volumes and fairly rare.  Try also the
many volume Thesaurus linguae latinae or TLL begun in 1900.  It is still in the works.  It is huge and not easy to find.  Also, as Souter remarks in his preface to his own Glossary, Forcellini tended to ignore non-Italianate authors.  Thus, its title is a little misleading.  Since the compilers of great dictionaries such as the Lewis & Short based a lot of their work on Forcellini, they suffer from some of the same drawbacks.

DuCangeThere are some Latin etymological dictionaries.  Useful (and hard to get and expensive) are A. Blaise, DictionnaireErnout Meillet latin-français des auteurs du moyen-âge. Lexicon latinitatis medii aevi, praesertim ad res ecclesiasticas investgandas pertinens (1975) and C. du Fresne, seigneur Du Cange, Glossarium ad scriptores mediae et infimae latinitatis. This is a 10 volume 5th edition, from 1883-1887.   On the other hand L&S includes very useful etymological information, so Blaise and Du Cange might be overkill.  Also, DuCange is outdated.  Its entries in 17th c. Latin are not always the best.  New tools of Latin etymology are coming.  I have Meillet & Ernout’s Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue latine which now has a paperback (4th) edition by Klincksieck.   It is spendy but good.

For a cursory look at a word, there is Leo F. Stelton’s little Dictionary of Ecclesiastical Latin (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1995).  Stelton’s preface says that “this book is not intended to be a research dictionary”.  Rather, it is a “practical manual for seminary students once they have completed introductory courses in the Latin language” and that it might be useful also for laypeople.  So, Stelton’s DEL is helpful for a beginning student for a quick consultation.  As such its entries do not include citations showing the word in contexts.  That is very unhelpful but it keeps the size of the volume down too.

SouterThis leads me back to Alexander Souter’s fun and useful A Glossary of Later Latin to 600 A.D. published by Oxford, Clarendon Press in 1949 and reprinted in 1997.   Souter worked on the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae.  Again, reading a preface of any dictionary is important and Souter’s renders up some gems.  Here is an example from his 1947 comments:

"When plans were being made for a new Oxford Latin Dictionary, it was decided not to include in the main work writers who flourished later than about A.D. 180.  Thus Christian authors were excluded.  But it was thought advisable to supplement the work by a separate brief glossary of the new forms, meanings, and phrases which appear for the first time after that date, so that students might have some help in reading authors like Ausionius, Claudian, and Ammian, or the City of God and Confessions of St. Augustine, or the Letters of St. Jerome."

He includes some interesting note about how he worked.

The Thrilling World of Latin Lexicography"The present work was in effect begun about half a century ago when, in imitation of my dear master Mayor, I began to add words and examples to a copy of Lewis and Short.  The margins of the first copy became after about five years so crowded that I had to purchase a second, which in its turn has become just as full.  Into a third, interleaved, I copied a number of classical examples from Professor Mayor’s annotated copies."

Souter has a great sense of humor too, which no doubt results in much knee slapping at lexicographer parties.

"The preparation of a lexicon of this kind, though tedious, is without its consolations.  Lexicographers can claim to know some of the joys and excitements of all explorers.  We, too, have often to hack our way through tangled growths.  These tangled growths are sometimes tralaticious blunders which have passed undetected, or at least unremoved, through a series of dictionaries." 

HAR HAR.  "tralaticious"!  HAR HAR

And I really like this footnote on p. vi:

"Is there anything more astounding in the history of language than that Geman Pferd should come from paraveredus?"

Yes, friends, this is an exciting world, Latin lexicography.  Perhaps the only thing more interesting than reading about Latin dictionaries is using them.  So get right out there.  You can also click some links in this blog to buy them with ease.

Antonio Card. BacciCarlous EggerAnyway, this has been a glimpse into my WDTPRS world.  Dash out there are find some of these great tools, each of which is also a jewel.

I don’t think there are many reasons to consult some of the dictionaries of newer Latin, which have all sorts of neologisms, unless you want to make up your own Latin prayers.  I once had to use a prayer from the older Roman Ritual to bless the equipment that went into an old priest’s knee replacement.  Not having many of the words for that stuff in Latin firmly in my mind, I adapted the prayer for the blessing of mountain climbing equipment.  More Latin humor!  At any rate, you can find some volumes by the inestimable Antonio Card. Bacci and by the inimitable Carolus Egger for new words.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Jeff says:

    Father (or others):

    Is there a short guide anywhere to the abbreviations in the form of curly superscripts that one so often sees in Latin passages in mosaics and paintings, etc.? One can often figure out what they mean, but not always, or not always with ease.

    And: Is there are general rule for “Latining” names? For example, the bishop of Orange, California is named (sigh!): Tod. Is there a rule–or at least a rule of thumb–for Latinizing and declining such a name for use in, say, the canon? Or for Latinizing the name of a diocese with a non-Latin name?

  2. Jeff says:

    Another question which belongs more properly to the previous entry. My old missal not only has Stational Churches for Lent listed before the propers, but it also lists other churches it labels “Collecta”. Are these the Churches at which the Faithful gather before proceeding to the Stational Churches? Or are they something else?

  3. Henry Edwards says:

    For the modest purpose of comparing Latin and English scripture readings — Vulgate with Douay-Rheims or the left and right hand pages/columns in a traditional missal — I find Stelten’s Dictionary of Ecclesiastical Latin invaluable and will admit (beginner as I obviously am) that it’s my constant companion. I use my trophy copy of Lewis & Short only for the much more challenging purpose of trying to understand WDTPRS. This bifurcation of my personal dictionary usage reflects the fact that the Latin of Jerome’s Bible seems very much simpler and easier to read than the classical Latin of the collects that Father Z is translating. Indeed, I read somewhere that “these prayers defy adequate translation” — this was ICEL’s excuse? — “though something of their feeling is conveyed in the collect translations of the Book of Common Prayer”. Hmm … peeking at the BCP, are we, Father Z?

  4. Jeff: There is a small volume of Latin abbreviations used by paleographers, yes. Also there is a handbook of names prepared by the abovementioned prepared by the abovementioned Carolus Egger called Lexicon nominum virorum et mulierum. “Todd” is a puzzler, however, since it is not a Latinate name. It seems to derive from Germanic “fox” on the one hand. Others say it comes from Thaddeus, which is perhaps the more Christian version. Why don’t you ask the bishop of Orange what he uses and let us know? Write him a kind letter and ask him!

    As I have written at various times in the WDTPRS in print (you should subscribe!) the people would gather at a “collect” Church (which gave the name to the prayer) and then go in solemn procession to the “stopping” church, or “statio” where the Mass was celebrated.


  5. Henry: I don’t believe they defy “adequate” translation. That is either a snobby condescension or a cop-out. Frankly, I would be delighted by adaptation of the Book of Common Prayer in many instances. The document Liturgiam authenticam says we must make use of classical texts of our language and I think that qualifies. Also, to strip ourselves of reliance on daily and emphemeral speech, perhaps a return to the archaizing style of Early Modern English wouldn’t be so bad.


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