Indo-European Etymological Dictionaries.

I realize this post will be of interest to a limited portion of my readership, but I have to be true to my roots, and even though my days as an Indo-European scholar are four decades behind me now, Matthew Scarborough’s Indo-European Etymological Dictionaries: A Guide for the Perplexed gets my blood racing and I have to share it. He begins:

Over the last three years I have worked more-or-less intensively and widely on Indo-European etymological problems […] Because I have been working on this over the last three years, have come into contact with all manner of etymological resources I had never used before, and (most importantly) because I’m the perverse sort of individual who delights in making lists and bibliographies, I thought I ought to compile a working bibliography of Indo-European etymology as a kind of where-to-go list if you need to make etymological enquiries – something that could be of interest to laypeople who are etymology hobbyists who want to know the relative reliability of different sources and so forth, or maybe you just want a quick resource to know where to go to fact-check dodgy etymology memes floating around the internet.

I will be doing this series in a piecemeal form, first with the general handbooks covering cross-branch cognacy for all of the older Indo-European languages, then the main handbooks that exist branch by branch. […] So, I’ll now begin this series in this post starting with an overview of the general Indo-European etymological dictionaries that are commonly in use today.

He starts with Pokorny’s venerable and still necessary Indogermanisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch (1959–1969), and continues with the Lexikon der indogermanischen Verben (2001), Nomina im Indogermanischen Lexikon (2008), and Lexikon der indogermanischen Partikeln und Pronominalstämme (2014), with some appetizing images of entries, and for lagniappe adds Cal Watkins’ American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots (3rd ed., 2011). I can’t wait for the promised coverage of handbooks for individual languages/branches!


  1. Thanks for the shoutout, Stephen!

  2. It’s nice to have someone acknowledge us etymology hobbyists.

    Professional linguists should think about building up their fanbase the way that other academics do. (EO Wilson, for example.)

  3. You’re not thinking of entomologists?

  4. I wonder how Indo-European entomologists differ from Altaic entomologists…

  5. J.W. Brewer says:

    I have mentioned this before but it will be four decades this coming spring since I was given an earlier version of the Watkins work simply by virtue of the 8th grade version of me being given whatever the then-current version (possibly still 1st edition) of the AHD was as some sort of academic prize. And I can’t have been the only kid of that generation to have been led onto the primrose path toward the iniquity of majoring in linguistics in college by getting sucked into that back-of-the-book piece of the AHD as an adolescent. Whatever the virtues of the Lexikon der indogermanischen Partikeln und Pronominalstämme, it seems less likely to be the sort of thing that a curious thirteen-year-old might stumble into semi-randomly and then get hooked.

    (For some reason my memories of being given that AHD are tightly bound up with my memories of an award ceremony for being a math league state champion, even though it seems highly bizarre in retrospect that the math league authorities would have wanted to give their champions a non-STEM type of prize to keep us from becoming overspecialized or whatever. There were probably two different academic-achievement-type ceremonies I am conflating. At least my memories of buying my first punk-rock album that same spring — Give ‘Em Enough Rope, on sale for $4.49 — have remained distinct.)

  6. Savalonôs says:

    Not sure who these goofballs are that would find this of limited interest. I could read LH PIE posts all day.

  7. marie-lucie says:

    Watkins’ AHD is great, but it only covers PIE roots that are found in English words, and even if English has borrowed from a number of IE languages, adding their descendants to its native Germanic fund, there still exist other PIE roots which I have often been frustrated not to find in the AHD. As I am not an Indo-Europeanist, this lack does not significantly affect my own work, as opposed to personal interest, but it is still annoying.

  8. ktschwarz says:

    I hope this is an appropriate place to drop some PIE etymology that tickled me recently. I learned that English “word” and its Germanic cognates go back to PIE *werh₁- ‘to speak, say’, as does Latin verbum, so I wondered, what about the other IE languages? The AHD appendix has seven different roots glossed ‘to speak’, plus *leǵ- ‘to gather’ with its many speech-related derivatives, plus those glossed as ‘to call’, ‘to cry’, ‘to shout’. That’s a lot, out of a lexicon of only ~1300 roots. Furthermore, some languages have repurposed a different PIE root: Proto-Slavic *slȍvo ‘word’ comes from PIE *ḱléwos ‘fame’, I don’t know how, but that’s what Wiktionary says.

    In most of the Romance languages, the current primary word for ‘word’ goes back not to PIE, but to Latin parabola from Greek parabolḗ ‘placing side by side, comparison, illustration’. But French departed from the rest: parole has been overtaken by mot from Latin muttīre ‘to mutter, to moo’. The sense of ‘incoherent speech’ was turned upside down into ‘unit of coherent speech’. Semantic drift is amazing.

  9. It certainly is, and this is definitely an appropriate place!

  10. Stu Clayton says:

    In view of French pronunciation, there has been no semantic drift. It’s more a realization that cows communicate.

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