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Expanding on: Dictionary

Yesterday’s entry triggered some thoughts, not least about on-line dictionaries—and how these may be cutting into the sales of the printed-on-paper kind. Most online dictionaries are too simple, and those of us who like to understand the origin of words turn to the Webster’s on our desk or the BIG Webster’s on its little stand with the bronze pharmacy lamp providing illumination. Some time back we were pleased to discover the existence of Online Etymology Dictionary, available here, which goes deeper into word origins than the usual one- or two-phrasers you get elsewhere on the Web—while ad images bombard you from all side. Here is that dictionary’s entry for “dictionary”:

1520s, from M.L. dictionarium “collection of words and phrases,” from L. dictionarius “of words,” from dictio “word.” Probably first Eng. use in title of a book was in Sir Thomas Elyot’s “Latin Dictionary” (1538) though L. Dictionarius was so used from early 13c.

The initials of this online creation, funded by people who “sponsor words” (look here), are OED, not to be confused with the OED, the ultimate dictionary of the English language, the Oxford English Dictionary, which our oed (lower case to indicate fitting humility) tells us dates from 1898. The OED has a website too and lets you search its Compact Oxford English Dictionary. Having tried it, we note that “compact” means what it says, and the riches of OED are absent. We can do better with oed.

The OED’s free service online, limited as it is, makes plain some of the problems faced by publishers. Vast amounts of work go into any reference work (we should know). At the same time, getting paid for it on the Internet is like climbing-Mount-Fuji-at-night-in-the-fog-with-both-legs-tightly-chained-together-at-the-ankles. The solution? People put up the lesser value hoping to entice us to fork over dollars for “the real thing.” Language dictionaries are particularly woeful. The common words we already know are present, but the strange word in the middle of a French or Latin or Spanish or Italian quotation—why, that one’s missing.

We keep on buying dictionaries although their actual use is often infrequent. We turn to their pages when the web-pages come up blank. But, in seriousness, sooner or later, this dilemma must sort. The Web is a superb resource. But real work requires compensation. And ads should not be the only effective revenue to support it.

Did we just hear someone ask—hidden by cubicle walls—snidely!—how to say “dictionary” in Esperanto? We think we did. It’s a limited language with no major commercial backing anywhere, so the answer should be on the Internet… Ah, yes. Here it is, Esperanto fans. The word is vortaro—a neat compromise that, reminding us of the German Wörterbuch in its first two syllables, with a Latin O at the tail to make it rhyme with Esperanto.
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Photo courtesy of Kichler Lighting.

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2 Responses

  1. Vortlibro—”word book” just like the German—is generally the preferred form these days—at least I prefer it. Vortaro uses the generic Esperanto “a collection of” suffix, like arbaro, “forest”, or ŝaparo, “herd of sheep”, so it means both “dictionary” and “vocabulary”.

  2. Thanks for the update. Our own evidently dated Esperanto (1987, from the Teach Yourself Books people) is only halfway there. It list vortaro for dictionary but has vortlisto for vocabulary. The online dictionary we used for this post, however, had vortaro for both words, as you indicate.

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