AM -- Dictionaries

Das wissen nur die Götter: deutsche Redensarten aus dem Griechischen [Only the Gods Know: German Figures of Speech from the Greek]. Ed. Reinhard Pohlke, lithographs by Honoré Daumier. Düsseldorf: Artemis & Winkler, 2000. 240p. ill. 20 cm. ISBN 3-7608-1964-8: DM 29.80 [01-1-014]

Recent years have seen new publications and reprints of a number of dictionaries of familiar quotations and other expressions from classical antiquity. One example is the Lexikon der lateinischen Zitate [Dictionary of Latin Quotations] edited by Hubertus Kudla (München, 1999) and reviewed in RREA 6:31.

Pohlke has compiled "picturesque" figures of speech--in this case German words and phrases derived from their literal ancient Greek meaning (e.g., "draconian" now refers not to the Athenian lawmaker Draco, but to an especially harsh punishment). Single words, e.g., names ("Adonis," "Mentor") or objects ("swan-song"), and especially derivatives ("Pyrrhic victory," "gigantic") comprise about two-thirds of the dictionary. Figures of speech ("a bed of roses") and proverbs ("a swallow doesn't make a summer," "time is money") comprise the remaining third. This latter category also includes quotations that "in German ... are no longer viewed as quotations and have instead become sayings" ("love is blind").

The articles are grouped around some 300 headwords defined in detail and documented with references, thus serving as useful hooks on which to hang related figures of speech. For example, under "Laurels" one finds "to earn one's laurels" and "to rest on one's laurels." Because a headword article can contain up to half a page of related expressions, the total number of items far exceeds the 300 headwords. Each article gives a literal translation of the original Greek, an explanation of the Greek (and any possible Latin) meaning, the origin of the figurative usage, and a notation of the earliest German usage (according to the Grimm Brothers' dictionary). Each article concludes with a fine-print bibliography of other reference works, including those that cover the theme as represented in music, literature, and intellectual discourse, both past and present. For example, Pohlke cites as modern applications the reggae group UB 40's "Madam Medusa," the US Titan rocket, and two Frankfurt skyscrapers that are known in the vernacular as "Castor and Pollux." There are also text examples of equivalents in other modern languages. Individual headword articles are illustrated with one of 19 lithographs from Honoré Daumier's Histoire ancienne (1842-1843), a cycle of Greek myths lightly caricatured and depicted in an unheroic style.

Multiple-word expressions can often be filed under any number of headwords. For example, "golden words" and "golden ages" file under "g," but "golden hills" files under "b" (for "Berge"). There are no cross-references in such cases, and unfortunately there is also no index. The criteria for selection of the keyword entries are not entirely clear. Some obvious phrases are not included, while others similar in meaning are. About one-quarter of all the phrases are starred as "little or almost never used anymore," but are included because they are found in older literary works.

The instructive, exact, reliable, and understandable commentary and documentation are the work's greatest strengths. Pohlke serves both readers who know Latin or Greek and those who do not. All ancient words and quotations are given in exact and correct translation (most of them translated by Pohlke himself) and in the original. Only for citations from Homer does Pohlke rely on Johann Heinrich Voss's (1751-1826) popular but inexact translations. Greek words, expressions, and names are transcribed. For Greek names, also the Latin and German forms are given. Pronunciation guides and rhyming accents in the Greek are also given. The few quotations from other languages (e.g., from Dante) are given alongside the German. This service should also have been applied to Middle High German.

The commentary to the figures of speech and the documentation combine to provide a high level of information content. Even the small-print references are carefully selected. There are very few printing errors or omissions. Disadvantages are the lack of indexes and the too finely printed references. [bb/ga]


La lune avec les dents: le dictionnaire des façons de parler du XVIe siècle [To Grasp the Moon with Your Teeth: Dictionary of Ways of Speaking in the 16th Century]. Comp. Pierre Enckell. Paris: CNRS Éditions, 2000. 379 p. 22 cm. ISBN 2271058287: FF 150.00

An RREO Original Review

Pierre Enckell's La lune avec les dents is aptly titled: the phrase itself refers to attempting to do the impossible. This volume seeks to bridge the gap between proverb dictionaries, such as James Woodrow Hassell's Middle French Proverbs, Sentences, and Proverbial Phrases (Toronto, 1982), or Le Roux de Lincy's Livre des proverbes français (Paris, 1842; reprinted Hachette, 1996), and slang or period dictionaries such as Jean-Paul Colin's Dictionnaire de l'argot (Paris, 1990) or Edmond Huguet's Dictionnaire de la langue française du seizième siècle (Paris, 1925-1967). This gap for readers occurs somewhere between the beginning student learning 16th-century vocabulary for the first time, and the experienced scholar searching for the etymology of particular words and phrases. La lune avec les dents falls right into this gap quite nicely. As a dictionary, it fills its niche through its exclusive coverage of 16th-century texts, which often fall on the cusp between Middle and modern French, citing phrases that do not necessarily appear in the other proverb dictionaries.

Enckell apparently means to provide a document of popular culture, as well as a vocabulary aid. His sources are suitably varied, drawing his proverbs from all kinds of literature, religious works, histories, law, and the like. While La lune avec les dents is meant to be a mirror of popular culture, it could be argued that there is no way to prove that Enckell's sources accurately record (as opposed to satirizing) popular usage of the time. Renaissance writers may not have been faithful in transcribing expressions that were not idiomatic in their literate circles, but desultorily picked up from lower, preliterate classes. Enckell deals with this question by simply asserting that we should have faith in the writers of the 16th century to "bear witness" in their willingness and ability to record everyday language accurately in their works.

The layout and organization here can be confusing to those not conversant with proverb dictionaries, but La lune avec les dents still seems about as simple to use as some other similar works: Le Roux de Lincy, for instance, groups proverbs more or less by subject, and then does not necessarily index every word. Following in the traditions of Hassell and Le Roux de Lincy, Enckell places the entry under what he judges the most important word in the phrase, printed in boldface type. Each appearance of the proverb is defined, documented, and listed chronologically along with bibliographical references, noting also when the proverb is not found in any of Enckell's sources. The index in the back of the volume provides cross-references to other words in the phrase. Main entries are indexed under their modern spellings; older spelling variants are not indexed at all, even when they appear within the entry. Although indexing older spelling variants is not necessarily a standard for the other phrase dictionaries examined, it would be a useful addition, especially for those students who are just beginning to study Middle French. Immediately following the main entry word, the earliest printed use of a phrase containing the word appears. These phrase entries, at first glance, do not seem to fit in alphabetically, especially when the first word in the phrase is not the main entry word. Variants of the same phrase, often as simple as a plural variant of a singular noun, or the insertion of an article, are arranged not alphabetically, but by the part of speech of the main entry word as it functions in each variant phrase.

At first glance it is difficult to determine the audience for this work. The simplistic definitions included in the entries, explaining the underlying meaning of the proverbs, point to use by beginning literature students. Proverb dictionaries, on the other hand, tend to be used by more advanced students and researchers--those who have reached the point of working on their own in a period text, and can glean the meanings of proverbs from contextual clues. While this volume proves a handy guide for graduate students already somewhat familiar with the territory, it does not quite work as well as Larousse's or Hassell for the beginner. For those slightly seasoned students who are just beginning to work independently in 16th-century literature, however, this might serve as a convenient transitional volume between vocabulary and etymology. This volume does not quite achieve the impossible, but it makes a valiant attempt.

Lynne M. Thomas (Yale University)


Grande dizionario italiano dell'uso [Comprehensive Dictionary of Italian Usage]. Tullio de Mauro. 6 vols. Torino: Utet, 2000. lvii, 6,989 p. 31 cm. 1 CD-ROM with printed guide: viii, 79 p. 31 cm. ISBN 88-02-05523-8: LIT 1,780,000

Garzanti etimologico. I grandi dizionari [Garzanti Etymological Dictionary]. Tullio de Mauro and Marco Mancini. Milano: Garzanti Linguistica, 2000. xvi, 2,317 p. 26 cm. ISBN 88-02-05693-5: LIT 159,000

DIB, Dizionario di base della lingua italiana [Dictionary of Basic Italian]. Tullio de Mauro and Gian Giuseppe Moroni. Torino: Paravia, 1996. ii, 1,499 p. 25 cm. ISBN 88-395-5060-7: LIT 40,000. Accompanying volume: Dizionario visuale, DIB [Visual Dictionary]. Tullio de Mauro and Angela Cattaneo. Torino: Paravia, 1996. ii, 137 p. 25 cm. ISBN 88-395-5060-7: LIT 10,000

DIC, Dizionario dell'italiano contemporaneo [Dictionary of Contemporary Italian]. Michele A. Cortelazzo. Brescia: Editrice La Scuola, 1998. iv, 714 p. 27 cm. ISBN 88-350-9422-0: LIT 28,000

An RREO Original Review

During the last few years, a great number of new Italian dictionaries have been published, many of them by the same author or authors. This proliferation has been made possible by the changing methods and technology of dictionary writing: the application of the computer for lexicography on the one hand, and the accomplishment of vast sociolinguistic projects on the other have resulted in refined, exact, and meticulous characterization of the different layers of the Italian vocabulary. Tullio de Mauro, undoubtedly the most renowned Italian linguist, has been a leading figure of these giant linguistic projects. Consequently, he conceptualized and directed the majority of the ventures leading to the publication of the new dictionaries.

The Grande dizionario italiano dell'uso is the largest of the works reviewed here--a six-volume massive product--the kind of major monolingual dictionary that is a major reference resource, and what reference departments of libraries are definitely supposed to buy. Its entries originate from a database that has been the second harvesting of the materials of a large number of other dictionaries that had existed before 1989. The publication of the Dizionario dell'uso has leaped ahead of the publication of Salvatore Battaglia's Grande dizionario della lingua italiana (Torino, 1961-), the largest contemporary monolingual Italian academic dictionary based on original traditional lexicographic research, which has been published in parts since 1961, and reached volume 20 (Squi-Tog) in 2000. De Mauro's Dizionario dell'uso is smaller, belonging to the category that many individuals could afford: professionals whose jobs demand a high level of language skills would probably pay the $820 for the set.

The uniqueness of De Mauro's work consists in the inclusion of new, quantitatively based information on vocabulary. Traditional dictionaries usually give a verbal characterization of the frequency of the entries while De Mauro's qualification originates from computerized word frequency research. The 265,000 main entries are distinguished into nine usage categories: fundamental words (2,000 entries, making up about 90 percent of all texts), extremely frequent words (2,500 entries), frequently used words (2,000), common words (47,000), literary words (5,000), regional vocabulary (5,000), dialectal words (338), exotic words (7,000), obsolete words (13,000), technical words (100,000), and rarely used words (22,000). Entries present pronunciation and syllabification; the first occurrence of the word in writing; the different meanings in an exceptionally comprehensible and compact form; usage category or categories; grammatical and etymological information; and versions (phonological as well as positional), if applicable.

Another novelty of De Mauro's Dizionario dell'uso is its parallel publication in CD-ROM format. The CD, with Italian interface and guidebook, is much more than a simple PC-version of the dictionary: it is a real research tool. It permits looking up the dictionary's entries much faster than in the printed edition. Users can create customized dictionaries for themselves, and--what is more important--can get an amazing number of statistics about the characteristics of the vocabulary represented by the 265,000 entries. It is possible, for instance, to tell how many entries were recorded at a certain period of time and which ones, how many are of Greek origin, how many represent the Venetian region, and it is also possible to combine these criteria. The software of the CD is able to chart the statistics users generate, so one can see in graphic form what the proportion, for instance, of Greek origin words are among medical, physical, and botanical terms. The interface could have been planned to be somewhat friendlier, for it takes time to figure out the hidden possibilities of the program, but once the user masters it, he or she has a very powerful research tool at hand. The CD has the potential to become an excellent tool in teaching Italian or general linguistics for graduate students.

Tullio de Mauro and his colleagues have admirably exploited the possibilities of the lexicographic database and quantitative data. The dictionaries reviewed below all represent different abridged versions of the Dizionario dell'uso, presented in different forms, and all serve purposes beyond those of general reference.

The Dizionario etimologico, published in the series I grandi dizionari by Garzanti is a list of the etymologies of 185,000 out of the 265,000 entries of the Dizionario dell'uso, in one thick volume. De Mauro, together with an expert in etymologies, Marco Mancini, deselected a few categories (e.g., words without known etymology; derived words, etc.) and produced the largest number of Italian words ever included in an Italian etymological dictionary. Etymologies, on the other hand, are very briefly defined, include a minimum of examples, and do not give details of phonological versions and the way forms and meanings have changed over time. These data can be found in other, more voluminous, traditional etymological dictionaries such as Carlo Battisti's and Giovanni Alessio's five-volume Dizionario etimologico italiano (Firenze, 1950-1957) or Max Pfister's Lessico etimologico italiano (Wiesbaden, 1979-). This one-volume work is probably extremely useful and affordable for those who want to keep a reliable work at home on the basics of Italian etymology.

DIB, the dictionary of basic Italian (Dizionario di base della lingua italiana), is a two-volume work. The 1,499-page dictionary itself is accompanied by a slim visual dictionary (Dizionario visuale), showing colorful pictures and names in eight broad topic areas: space and earth, transportation, people and their bodies, communications, buildings, arts, labor, recreation. The work is the product of a large number of authors directed by Tullio de Mauro.

The idea of "basic vocabulary" goes back to the late 1940s: G. Gougenheim, A. Sauvageot, and others, in L'élaboration du français élémentaire (Paris, 1956), developed the concept in order to provide a minimal vocabulary and grammar for foreign language teaching. Basic vocabulary is the nucleus of a language; the most important part of it from the point of view of everyday use. Inclusion in "basic vocabulary" is based on exact frequency calculations in the spoken language. This idea is fundamentally different from C. K. Ogden's "Basic English," which was an attempt to develop a simplified version of English, a kind of an Esperanto (see The ABC of Basic English, London, 1939). Roughly 7,000 vocabulary items are declared to be absolutely basic in DIB: grammatical words (articles, pronouns, etc.), about 2,000 extremely frequent words, that, surprisingly, make up about 90 percent of everyday communication, 3,000 very frequent words that are probably absolutely necessary to pass a test, and a few other basic lexical layers. These basic items are marked and distinguished with specific symbols. Another 8,000 words--necessary to understand newspapers, customs, sports, advertisements, contemporary literature, and instructions--are additionally included.

Definitions in DIB include, of course, the different meanings of a word. Examples are given in italics. Additional information includes synonyms, antonyms, and grammatical information. In addition, etymologies of the words, and figurative sense, if it is commonly used, are also briefly identified.

DIB's vocabulary is intended to cover the vocabulary of the 8-11 age group in Italy. But the dictionary is not written for children, at least not its main volume. The targeted users are teachers, instructors, and parents aiming to provide a continually broadening vocabulary for children. DIB is particularly useful for people studying Italian as a foreign language, because it not only provides the necessary definitions and additional grammatical information, but also, with the different symbols marking frequency degrees, warns the learner about the relative importance of a given word. The accompanying Dizionario visuale volume is basically a pictorial common noun encyclopedia for kids, although enjoyable to look at for adults as well.

The Dizionario di base is an important autonomous work. But it is actually the second member of what is virtually a four-volume set published by Paravia (the volumes are, in fact, not indicated as clearly belonging together). The members of the set have colorful vinyl soft covers suggesting a broad targeted readership and frequent use. Prices vary between $12 and $62. Imagine concentric circles, the first being "very basic" Italian vocabulary: Elio D'Aniello, Tullio De Mauro, Gisella Moroni, Prime parole: dizionario illustrato di base della lingua italiana (1977). The above reviewed Dizionario di base represents the second concentric circle, entirely including the contents of the first one. Commonly used words are included in addition to absolutely fundamental ones. Tullio de Mauro's Dizionario avanzato dell'italiano corrente, DAIC (Torino, 1997), is the next member of the set, also published in CD-ROM format. Its material extends to not-so-commonly-used words as well. It is intended to provide a further broadening vocabulary for the Italian age group 11-15. It may be viewed as a dictionary for foreign students studying Italian on a very advanced level. Last comes a very large one-volume dictionary: Tullio de Mauro's Il dizionario della lingua italiana (Torino, 2000), a good-sized monolingual dictionary for the general public, containing all the concentric circles of the former volumes, plus a large additional vocabulary layer.

The dictionary of contemporary Italian, DIC, Dizionario dell'italiano contemporaneo, is very similar in its size and targeted readership to DIB and DAIC. DIC has been compiled for Italian junior high and high school students. It lists 20,000 words of contemporary use with very clear and easy to understand definitions, sometimes with examples of use. Definitions in DIC usually include fewer meanings per entries than DIB. Every entry includes syllabification and very elementary grammatical information, synonyms and antonyms if appropriate. Drawings most of the time illustrate lesser known plants, animals, vehicles, and tools. Some words receive not only their normal dictionary characterization, but also a story related to the history of the word. Children may read, for instance, how the 19th-century diminutive form of pinolo, "pine nut""pinocchio"became exclusively a proper name, Pinocchio. Another story tells about the word picnic that Italian borrowed from the English language, though the original form of the word was French, "pique-nique" meaning "take nothing." The definitions in DIC have a slight encyclopedic character, aiming to clarify the world described by words. Still the book remains entirely a dictionary, giving definitions of all kinds of words (not only nouns, as do encyclopedias), and excludes, in its basic body, proper nouns. Two useful lists complement the 689-page dictionary, both more characteristic of an encyclopedia than a dictionary. The index of Italian regions (proper nouns) together with their adjectival forms, followed by an index of frequently used abbreviations, most of them standing for proper nouns (basically names of institutions that high school students are expected to know). The book is a good quality product of a widely published Italian lexicographer, Michele Cortelazzo.

Tullio de Mauro's Grande dizionario italiano dell'uso is an indispensable major reference tool for academic libraries. The Dizionario etimologico and the Dizionario della lingua italiana are excellent reference tools for undergraduate students and the general public. The dictionaries representing the different tiers of basic vocabulary are excellent tools for students learning Italian as a foreign language. I would recommend their acquisition for colleges and public libraries as well as for individuals.

Katalin Radics (University of California, Los Angeles)

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