A Contemporary English to Koine Greek Dictionary (Needed Resources)

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):

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.
  • πόσων ἐτῶν εἶ;

    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. Smile

  • 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?

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31 Responses to A Contemporary English to Koine Greek Dictionary (Needed Resources)

  1. Aaron says:

    After this, how about a dictionary with both entries and definitions in Koine Greek?

  2. arthad says:

    In addition to a contemporary English-Greek dictionary, I would echo Randall Buth’s call for a Koine monolingual dictionary — but that’s a long way off, for sure.

    For this project, are you thinking of something like the “learner’s dictionaries” which exist for English, French, Spanish, etc.? Or are you thinking of a full-fledged Koine dictionary, but English to Greek and including vocabulary and usage necessary for speaking about twenty-first century things?

  3. Mike Aubrey says:

    Louw &Nida’s English index, while not anywhere near perfect, isn’t entirely unusable…

  4. Jose Diaz says:

    I agree that it would be very useful to have something like that. We can all get together and do our part. Let me know if there is something I can do. Regarding things that do not have a Koine counterpart, I think we should use Modern Greek, but this is my opinion.

  5. Jose Diaz says:

    I think this website is a good start. It has words for Modern Greek and also Ancient Greek, but of course does not have all the words. There have been times when I was not able to find a word.
    Try it and see what you think.

  6. Jose Diaz says:

    Thank you very much for sharing these resources.

  7. Just curious–how would we say “orange”? I couldn’t find it in any of the ancient lexica. The modern word is πορτοκαλι, with one of its forms being πορτοκαλαδας (seems to be a genitive–in the phrase χυμος πορτοκαλαδας–but I don’t know enough ModGreek grammar…). So, how would we put it in a Koine form? πορτοκαλις, -ιδος?

    • Joshua, I dealt with this issue a while ago when I first taught fruits to my students! From what I understand, Koine has no oranges because they were not introduced to the Greek-speaking world until the medieval period. The name πορτοκάλι derives from “Portugal” (Portogallo) which was the major source of oranges at the time. In modern Greek, I believe, nouns with that type of ending usually derive from Byzantine -ιν nouns, which in turn developed from Koine/Classical -ιον nouns (though not those with the accent on the penult, -ίον, which produce in Modern Greek the ending -ίο). So, I would opt for πορτοκάλιον -ου. Another option would be to describe it periphrastically: ὁ πυρρὸς καρπός, or substantively: τὸ πυρρόν, assuming of course that πυρρός refers to something like our modern orange color, which is by no means assured. So, IMO, πορτοκάλιον seems best. τί νομίζεις;

      • Patricius Oenus says:

        I looked into this for a while and I think τὸ χρυτόμηλον appears early after the introduction of the orange. This is perhaps preferable to πορτοκάλιον, which is a neologistic back-forming. (I am not adverse to back-forming words when necessary; but perhaps it isn’t necessary here.)

  8. Mark Lightman says:

    σύμφημι δὴ, ὦ ἄριστε Δανιηλ. τὸ δ’ αἷμα τοῦ πορτοκαλίου “orange juice” ἐστιν. θέλω μὲν οὖν πίνειν τὀ “α.π.” τουτ ἐστιν τὸ “o.j.” ἔρρωσο φίλτατε.

    • Φωσφορε, το μεν αιμα της σταφυλης γινωσκω, μηποτε δε ακηκοα του αιματος του πορτοκαλιου. ισως κρεισσον εστιν· χυλός. And, IMHO, χ.π. is more euphonious. 🙂 τι σοι δοκει;

  9. ναι, αριστε. εως αρτι τον λογον το “χυλός” ουκ εγνων. αλλὰ νυν βλεπω ὅτι ουτος ὁ λογος εν τῷ LSJ εστιν. τουτον δ’ αγαπῶ. ευχαριστῶ σοι διδασκοντι με τουτον τον λογον. επιθυμῶ μὲν οὖν τοῦ “χ.π” μετα τοῦ vodka. 🙂

    ερρωσο και ιθι υγιης.

  10. Pingback: Using Electronic Lexica in Communicative Pedagogy (BibleWorks 9 Review, pt. 3) | καὶ τὰ λοιπά

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  12. Clifford Kvidahl says:


    I just wanted to let you know that most of your suggestion have been taken up by Logos and added to our Community Pricing page.

    C. D. Yonge: http://www.logos.com/product/15746/an-english-greek-dictionary

    S. C. Woodhouse: http://www.logos.com/product/15748/english-greek-dictionary-a-vocabulary-of-the-attic-language

    Wilhelm Fradersdorff: http://www.logos.com/product/15750/a-copious-phraseological-english-greek-lexicon

    Thanks for the suggestions. If you have anymore, please send them to me at cliff [dot] kvidahl [at] logos [dot] com.


  13. Joshua W.D. Smith says:

    γινωσκω ὁτι οὑτος ὁ μυθος ὑστερει αρτι, αλλα τί νομιζεις περι ‘μιμαικυλον’ ὡς ‘strawberry’?

  14. Gerald Aurand says:

    Hmmm….I’d be very uncomfortable in using the word for orange derived from Portugal. It would have made absolutely no sense to a native speaker of Koine, since the country didn’t even exist and the area was known by a completely different name. Two alternatives for a gloss: the neo-Latin scientific name is Citrus aurantium, which seems to derive from aurum, gold and the English word is derived ultimately from a Sanskrit word, which from a Mediterranean point of view makes sense since that would seem to them to be the immediate source of the fruit. Either adapt the Sanskrit/Prakrit word to Koine phonetics and morphology, or perhaps look to a near contempory Persian borrowing of the Indian word. It wouldn’t be as lexically transparent to a Koine speaker as a derivation from gold, but it would at least true to the word’s history in many modern languages. Neologisms should at least have the possibility of having meaning to the native Koine speaker. And I’d even be cautious about Modern Greek words like autokineto, since I’m not sure whether a Koine speaker would have understood the compound to mean what it’s seems to to us. Even a calque on horseless carriage might be clearer to our theoretical native speaker. BTW, I’m surprised that this project is only just being proposed now.

  15. Gerald Aurand says:

    Pers. narang, Skt. naranga-s, Mod. Gk. nerentzi. The etymological note states that only MG. maintains a vocabulary distinction between the bitter and sweet orange, with portokali referring to the sweet.

  16. Gerald Aurand says:

    Whoops! Narantzi. What would a likely Koine form of that been? Naragga?How about taxamaza/ taxarma “swift wagon” for automobile?

  17. Gerald Aurand says:

    When the word automobile was coined, the public heard new word for a new technology. For most the word would not be analyzed into meaningful components. However, if a Latin or Greek speaker understood the roots and got the intention of self-moving, their question would be a self-moving what. I think one has to ask what a native speaker might make of a neologism. I wonder what an ancient would make of distant voice, would they get any sense of the device’s purpose or use? I always thought that the concept of conversation should have been the basis of the word for Bell’s invention.

    • GV says:

      Greetings Gerald
      I’m only only now starting what you have been doing for years, so maybe you can help me. I have (independently) been trying to formulate “contemporary” Koine vocabulary for an independent study I’m doing for conversational Koine. Have you made any progress towards a “common” (i.e., Koine) Koine that everyone can agree on? Or are only going to have a Biblical Languages dialect, a Living Koine dialect, etc.? Without a common vocabulary, or even common guidelines for vocabulary, how can we progress to being able to study at different institutes or independently and have a reasonable chance at conversing with each other? I trust this has been dealt with so that there is a semblance of a canonical vocabulary. Thanks for listening.

      Gerald (the other one)

  18. orrinwinton says:

    Woodhouse: I downloaded the PDF, then wanted a hard copy. Prices on amazon are unaffordable, $150 to $300. So I looked on abebooks and voilà there is a printer in India doing print-on-demand for this book. $34 plus only $6 for “expedited” (2-week) shipping. The book is hard cover, sewn binding, and the printing job is very good though not perfect. Vowels that have more than one mark above them are hard to make out, but that is easily checked against LSJ. The pdf isn’t perfect either.

    I’d also gotten a lightly-used copy of the ‘Middle Liddell’ off amazon that was printed in India, and it was excellent.

  19. Thomas Sandberg says:
  20. GV says:

    I’m glad to hear about the issues being wrestled with here. I’m trying to make a “Colloquial Koine” course based mainly (but not exclusively) on the “Colloquial Greek” course. I usually adopt words from our hero Woodhouse that most closely track with MG. This is one of Randal Buth’s guidelines, I think. Sometimes this works well and sometimes it’s not even possible. (E.g., there was no paper in the ancient world so I use βυνλος for a single “papyrus” sheet and πιαξ for a “tablet”. Along with “σουβλακιον” (read the Wikipedia article–interesting and provides ancient alternatives) I have no doubt better alternatives are out there or waiting to be invented, but thanks to all of you who are working on this! God bless you and your efforts!

  21. GV says:

    Watch for autocorrect in the Greek font. That should read “βυβλος”. Thanks.

  22. GV says:

    Having read your posting just now, I got online and ordered Jannaris’ dictionary.

    I’m quite surprised to read my own thoughts regarding the use of Modern Greek as a guide to Koine. I just wrote a list of words to research from a list called “around town” in one of my language books, including the word “fire station”. I’ve found an interesting word for “beer”-“το σικερα” (not declined) from the Akkadian word also taken into Hebrew, “shekher” which is mentioned in the Septuagint in several places.

    I’ve bought “Latin for Oral Proficiency” and have learned to write with ancient Roman cursive handwriting. I’ve also found images of 1st century Greek papyri, one of which contains all of the Greek letters and am now writing Koine like that. (It’s not just nerdliness, it helps keep MG and KG straight while I’m doing research–okay, it’s pretty nerdy)
    This is quite hard, but with Christoph Rico, Randal Buth, Michael Halcomb, yourself and ??? working on this, it should be doable. I sometimes read your site postings for encouragement. Thank you.

  23. GV says:

    I just watched a wonderful YouTube video by Iakob Trophimos called “το ακρατισμα”. I got some good listening practice, but I was disturbed by some of the vocabulary. Does anyone know what his sources are? For instance, he used the word “πίναξ” for “plate”. Woodhouse and my Ancient Greek dictionaries show that to be “writing tablet” and “πινακιον” for a small writing tablet used in courts. “λεκανη” was the entry for “plate” (with possible “λεκανιον” for “saucer”?–but I digress). My point is that ALL of us spoken Koine types will have to standardize our vocabulary or we will find ourselves eating supper off our writing tablets or tearing sheets of paper from our dinner plates. We really do need a standard, modern English-Koine dictionary ASAP. Thanks for listening.

  24. GV says:

    I like the idea of putting English idioms into Koine, but I think we also need a list of Koine idioms as well. I seem to remember reading somewhere that “with the jawbone of an ass” meant “with gluttonous appetite”. And was “a camel passing through the eye of a needle” an idiom or a one off expression? Inquiring minds want to know! Thanks.

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