About the Series
This is part of an ongoing series where I discuss resources that should be developed to aid teachers and students in acquiring Koine Greek communicatively.
Public Domain English-Greek Dictionaries
Back in the day, when courses in Greek composition were a normal part of one’s ancient language training, English to Greek dictionaries were plentiful. Lucky for us, “back in the day” was long ago enough to put these works in the public domain, which means they can be found (and downloaded) on the Internet Archive or on GoogleBooks.
Here are a few examples (I have also listed many of them on my Resources page):
- C. D. Yonge, English-Greek Lexicon (1849) – by the prolific translator. You’ll recognize his name from his translation of Philo (The Works of Philo).
- S. C. Woodhouse, English-Greek Dictionary (1910) – This is also available through University of Chicago’s portal, which can be easier to use than the hulking pdf (81mb).
- J. Wilhelm Fradersdorff, Copious Phraseological English-Greek Lexicon, revised by Arnold and Browne (1856)
- George Ricker Berry, Classic Greek Dictionary in Two Parts: Greek-English and English-Greek Dictionary(1901) – This is not as comprehensive as the others, but still worth consulting.
G. M. Edwards. English-Greek Lexicon. (1912) Searchable through Ancient Library’s portal. Especially helpful in this volume is the index of Proper Names, which is great when you can’t remember how to say “Spain” (Ἱσπανία/Ἰβηρία) or what Hannibal was called in Greek (Ἀννίβας).
- H. R. Hamilton, English-Greek Lexicon (1877).
There are, however, several problems with these dictionaries:
- They are usually British in origin and may be difficult to use for those more familiar with American English
- They are all quite old and therefore often do not reflect contemporary English usage, e.g. “toilet” in Woodhouse means “adornment of the person”
- They are not extensive enough—they lack a lot of words that you would want to use. For example, what if you want to eat cherries in Greek? Too bad, since Woodhouse doesn’t have it. Strawberries? Nope. No fruit for you!
- These resources often do not include later Koine and early Byzantine vocabulary and they may provide words that were archaic by the time of the New Testament. So, if you are trying to speak Koine, you have to be quite careful in using these dictionaries.
Other English-Greek Resources
Luckily, there are other ways to find the info you need:
- Perseus has an English to Greek word search that searches the definitions in the massive Liddell Scott (aka, the “big” Liddell). You will, again, have to think like an early 20th century Brit who likes to use archaic English, but you can eventually find most of what you need, my good chap. For example, “cherry” in Perseus yields 10 results. Unfortunately, again, there’s no way to tell what’s current in the Koine period, except to go into the detailed LSJ results and look at the citations. Also, sometimes LSJ’s definitions are not all that helpful. With “cherry,” for example, Perseus finds κερασός but for some reason does not pull up the most common word, κεράσιον, which is, in fact the only word defined in LSJ simply as “cherry!” Pretty frustrating, huh? And, you’re still out of luck on “strawberry,” though you’ll find “strawberry tree”—κόμαρος—and may be able to conclude on the analogy of κερασός that κομάριον would make sense to a Koine speaker.
- You’ll also want to check out A. Jannaris’ English-Greek dictionary, which is public domain. Technically, it’s modern Greek, but once you get used to using it, you’ll find that he provides the Katharevousa as well as the Demotic and that the Katharevousa usually has an ancient counterpart that’s the same or very close. Thus, for “strawberry,” Jannaris has χαμαικέρασος, which is in fact the ancient word as well. Likewise, for “cherry,” Jannaris has only κεράσιον. See how much time he can save you?
- To make sure you are getting Koine words, you could also do an English search of BDAG in Logos or Bibleworks if you have a copy. Obviously, the vocabulary included in BDAG is very limited, though, so this will not be much help for words not used in the NT or Apostolic Fathers.
What We Need
Now, in light of all that, here’s what we need—an English-Greek lexicon that is:
- Koine: The dictionary should make it clear what words are actually attested in the Koine era (with citations).
- Collocative: The dictionary should provide sample phrases from ancient texts illustrating common usage and what words the item commonly collocates with (especially prepositions) in the literature.
- Contemporary: I want to be able to look up “fan” and find ὁ θαυμαστής. I shouldn’t need to think like a stuffy turn-of-the century classicist and look up “devotee” instead!
- Comprehensive: If we are going to immerse ourselves in Greek, we need to be able to talk about things they didn’t have in the Koine era. Purists, of course, will bristle at this suggestion, but then again, I don’t know too many purists who are interested in immersive methods. So, how shall we handle “kitchen blender,” “car,” “fire station,” “toilet paper,” “football,” etc.? This is a big issue and I will probably address it at length in a future post. For now, let me say that it is certainly not an insurmountable issue. The Living Latin movement has been dealing with it for decades, even centuries. See, e.g., John Traupman’s Conversational Latin for Oral Proficiency, which talks about real estate agents, sports, etc. A guiding principle, I think, is to ask how a Koine speaker, given his lexical resources, would describe an item. What word would he coin? We’re lucky in that we have modern Greek to guide us in many situations. Thus, toilet paper is χαρτί υγείας, which is quite easily Koine-ized into χάρτης ὑγιείας (“paper of health”). Or in Neohellenic, “car” is αυτοκινητο, which is perfectly Koine in its roots and can be made Koine in form very easily if we just add a ν to the end. Alternatively, we could opt to go with an actual ancient word that described a similar transportation device, such as ἅρμα or ἅμαξα.
Conversational: The dictionary should include common conversational phrases: “How are you doing?” “What is your name?” “How old are you?” “Have you put on weight?” etc.
- Idiomatic and Phraseological: The dictionary should have a lot of English idioms (like “over the top,” “call it quits”) and phrasal verbs (like “give up,” “give out,” “give in,” etc.). We also need to be able to look up things that are idiomatic in Greek, like expressions of time (how do we say “next week” or “last year” or “in a minute” in Greek?)
This is the kind of resource that could be easily developed collaboratively through a “wiktionary” type approach. Well, maybe not “easily,” but certainly easier than it would be for one person to go it alone.
What do you think? Have I left out any features the dictionary needs to have? How do you think neologisms or modern items should be handled? What are some idioms or phrases you can think of that would need to be included?