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Proper attitude towards Liddell and Scott?

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Proper attitude towards Liddell and Scott?

Postby pster » Tue May 04, 2010 6:53 pm

For 18 months, Mastronarde was my bible. Now, as I move on into extended reading, I have to go to a dictionary. I use Perseus and the choice is typically L&S, Middle Liddell, Slater, or Autenrieth. Here are some related questions:

1) Is there a good dictionary that is not on this list? I read Plato, Aristophanes, and Demosthenes presently. Homer will be way down the road I'm afraid. So I'm mostly interested in Attic right now.

2) I don't really like the way any of the dictionaries do the principal parts. I'm sure that there are lots of variations across dialects etc, but would it really be so hard to just have a list with six entries (perhaps some blank) somewhere in the definition? (I assume the answer here is yes, but I'd like to hear somebody say it.) I sometimes feel like I have to study the history of the word just to get the aorist or the m/p perfect.

3) If mastering L&S is essential looking forward, does anybody have any tips? I sort of understand the entries, but they basically make my knees shake.

4) Would there be any merit/interest in looking at a longish entry in detail?
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Re: Proper attitude towards Liddell and Scott?

Postby oberon » Fri May 07, 2010 2:16 am

pster wrote:For 18 months, Mastronarde was my bible. Now, as I move on into extended reading, I have to go to a dictionary. I use Perseus and the choice is typically L&S, Middle Liddell, Slater, or Autenrieth. Here are some related questions:

1) Is there a good dictionary that is not on this list? I read Plato, Aristophanes, and Demosthenes presently. Homer will be way down the road I'm afraid. So I'm mostly interested in Attic right now.

2) I don't really like the way any of the dictionaries do the principal parts. I'm sure that there are lots of variations across dialects etc, but would it really be so hard to just have a list with six entries (perhaps some blank) somewhere in the definition? (I assume the answer here is yes, but I'd like to hear somebody say it.) I sometimes feel like I have to study the history of the word just to get the aorist or the m/p perfect.

3) If mastering L&S is essential looking forward, does anybody have any tips? I sort of understand the entries, but they basically make my knees shake.

4) Would there be any merit/interest in looking at a longish entry in detail?


Don't use the Perseus version of the LSJ (liddell & scott). Buy the intermediate version. For Homer, by Cunliffe's lexicon.
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Re: Proper attitude towards Liddell and Scott?

Postby swiftnicholas » Fri May 07, 2010 11:59 am

The intermediate Liddell and Scott is well worth the investment. It is less daunting to use for casual reading, and it will serve your purposes for a long time. You could always check the big edition at Perseus for tough questions. Another advantage is that the intermediate version often lists difficult forms as headwords, and I found that very useful as a beginner.

Another idea is to look for editions of specific texts that have built-in glossaries for every word. You'll certainly find those available for Plato and Demosthenes.
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Re: Proper attitude towards Liddell and Scott?

Postby Markos » Fri May 07, 2010 12:15 pm

The proper attitude towards Liddel and Scott should be the same attitude that you have towards your English dictionary. How often do you use your English dictionary? Do you even know the name of it? Does using one dictionary over another really affect how well you learn English?

I agree with Swiftnicholoas that glossed texts are better than using a lexicon simply because they don;t take you away from reading as much. In classical pedagogy, the traditional attitude towards Liddel and Scott has bordered on idolatry, in my humble opinion. The goal should be to use it less and less.
I am writing in Ancient Greek not because I know Greek well, but because I hope that it will improve my fluency in reading. I got the idea for this from Adrianus over on the Latin forum here at Textkit.
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Re: Proper attitude towards Liddell and Scott?

Postby modus.irrealis » Sun May 09, 2010 2:50 am

pster wrote:1) Is there a good dictionary that is not on this list? I read Plato, Aristophanes, and Demosthenes presently. Homer will be way down the road I'm afraid. So I'm mostly interested in Attic right now.

Those dictionaries don't really cover post-Classical Greek as well as possible, if you ever want to read those. There's the BDAG lexicon but I believe that concentrates mostly on the New Testament and Christian works, and I don't know what's out there for secular works. I've been reading Epictetus recently and the L&S can sometimes be less than helpful with certain words that I look up.

2) I don't really like the way any of the dictionaries do the principal parts. I'm sure that there are lots of variations across dialects etc, but would it really be so hard to just have a list with six entries (perhaps some blank) somewhere in the definition? (I assume the answer here is yes, but I'd like to hear somebody say it.) I sometimes feel like I have to study the history of the word just to get the aorist or the m/p perfect.

I don't know -- I agree with you. It's very frustrating if you just want to quickly look up a principal part. Smyth's grammar has a list of forms for common verbs which I find useful for looking things up.

About L&S, one thing I really like is that it's usually very precise about what constructions a specific word can have and I find that very useful in figuring out what's going on -- e.g. δοκῶ used to trip me up a lot but its entry is very good for learning how the verb can be used. Or even with what cases a verb governs -- textbooks and grammars have things like "verbs meaning X take case Y" but these are generalizations and I find it useful just to look up what cases a specific verb will take with what meanings. I also find entries on some of the little words like ὡς or γάρ or the prepositions are really good in giving you an overview and I've looked over them more than once (although there are basically books on these words so the entries don't cover everything of course). The thing I'm not a fan of, ironically for a dictionary, is that sometimes the translations aren't all that helpful, especially when you get a string of glosses that cover a lot of meanings, so it's hard to pin down the meaning of the word (and sometimes I suspect that certain English words must have changed meaning since the time when L&S was put together, but I can't think of any examples right now).

And of course, it's in English. It would be really nice to have a modern up-to-date dictionary in Greek. For me, being able to use monolingual dictionaries for the language I'm trying to learn is one of my major goals. But I doubt we'll ever see that for Greek.
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Re: Proper attitude towards Liddell and Scott?

Postby pster » Thu May 13, 2010 2:05 am

Markos, you had me thinking a bit, but I'm inclined to disagree. In the case of a living language, especially English, there are so many different kinds of experts ready to tell us meanings far beyond the ability of the most capable lexicographer. Not so for a dead language. I'm sure L&S is deserving of a fair bit of reverence.

Swiftnicholas and Oberon, since I'm just clicking on links, I usually go for L&S and only if I find the entry overwhelming do I go to the Middle Liddell. I ain't getting any younger. Don't want to miss out on any good stuff!

I'm moving through Aristophanes Clouds at a glacial pace that often involves reading every entry in L&S for unfamiliar words. I'm writing down all the principle parts for the verbs, for example. It's kinda fun now. Since I'm just practicing reading, I don't see how taking frequent detours through L&S is a bad thing.

Here are a couple of questions:

What the heck is going on when L&S have an entry that halfway through has an "A" but no "B" follows?

Sometimes, they don't list all the principle parts. Sometimes it seems as though they don't list a principle part b/c there is no known occurrence. Other times, especially if a verb seems quite regular, it seems as though they don't list a principle part for sake of brevity. Am I right? And if so how exactly are we to know which situation we are looking at?

And what about nouns? How are we to tell when there is no known occurrence and when things are regular?
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