Cambridge Greek Lexicon.

Alison Flood reports for the Graun about a new dictionary:

Victorian attempts to veil the meanings of crude ancient Greek words are set to be brushed away by a new dictionary 23 years in the making. It is the first to take a fresh look at the language in almost 200 years and promises to “spare no blushes” for today’s classics students. […]

It was initially thought that Chadwick’s project would take five years, but Cambridge professor James Diggle, who was then chair of the advisory committee, said it soon became clear that the Intermediate Lexicon was “too antiquated in concept, design and content”, and the team would need to start afresh.

Diggle and his fellow editors then set out on the “Herculean task” of rereading most examples of ancient Greek literature, from Homer to the early second century AD. They then worked through the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet to create a modern guide for today’s students to the meanings of ancient Greek words and their development through the years. The lexicon is the first to be based on an entirely new reading of the Greek texts since 1843. […]

The completed Cambridge Greek Lexicon, which is being published by Cambridge University Press, runs to two volumes and features around 37,000 Greek words, drawn from 90 authors and set out across 1,500 pages.

The new dictionary’s editors “spare no blushes”, Diggle said, when it comes to the words that “brought a blush to Victorian cheeks”. The verb χέζω (chezo), translated by Liddell and Scott as “ease oneself, do one’s need”, is defined in the new dictionary as “to defecate” and translated as “to shit”; βίνέω (bineo) is no longer “inire, coire, of illicit intercourse”, but “fuck”; λαικάζω (laikazo), in the 19th-century dictionary translated as “to wench”, is now defined as “perform fellatio” and translated as “suck cocks”.

Antiquated and offensive language also gets a makeover. While Liddell and Scott defined βλαύτη (blaute) as “a kind of slipper worn by fops”, in the Cambridge Greek Lexicon it is described as “a kind of simple footwear, slipper”; κροκωτός (krokotos) is no longer defined as “a saffron-coloured robe worn by gay women”, but as a “saffron gown (worn by women)”.

I have to admit, I like “a kind of slipper worn by fops.” Thanks, Trevor!


  1. William S. Annis says

    Hopefully they’ve been able to assimilate more recent work on the pesky particles. The recent Brill dictionary seems to have stuck to Denniston a lot of the time.

  2. I applaud the dictionary, and it brings back some memories to see James Diggle involved; as praelector of my college in Cambridge, he had the task of formally presenting me for my degree with a version of the formula here “Dignissime domine, Domine Procancellarie et tota Academia praesento vobis hunc virum (hanc mulierem) quem (quam) scio tam moribus quam doctrina esse idoneum (idoneam) ad gradum assequendum (name of degree); idque tibi fide mea praesto totique Academiae.” (though I think we were in groups of 4 so the Latin was adapted with ‘hos viros et has mulieres’ and other permutations as appropriate). How he could be expected to know much about my morals is not clear…
    This was of course formulaic but he had quite a reputation for the quality of his formal Latin speeches on all sorts of subjects in another role as University Orator.

  3. And did he say the Latin with Ye Traditional Olde Anglicized pronunciation or with the newfangled Erasmian, with hard c’s and fancy Italian vowels?

  4. Thank you, stuffy Victorians, for teaching me, 170 years later, the English verb “to wench” (OED has only ‘To associate with common women.’)

  5. I think he used the reconstructed classical with hard c’s etc. For his sins he may even have had to suffer my Latin pronunciation on occasion when I said grace at formal dinners…

    For real old-fashioned Anglicized Latin you needed to be in Corpus Christi where Oliver Rackham the botanist/ecologist was praelector, and made a point of doing it in traditional English pronunciation. His most famous work was on the English countryside, but he was also an expert on the landscape of Crete, and pronounced all Greek (in any context) with what I took just to be modern pronunciation – but perhaps it was really meant as medieval Byzantine and pre-Erasmian, to be consistent with his Latin!

  6. Good man, Rackham!

  7. Stu Clayton says

    defined in the new dictionary as “to defecate” and translated as “to shit”

    What foppish lucubrations prompted this contrasting of “definition” and “translation”, in a bilingual dictionary of all places ? From each an instance of the other can be produced, modulo “registers”. It’s an m-2-n thing, of course.

    Or it might be intended to appeal to two different clientele at once. Serving both Caesar salad and Godburgers.

  8. I would guess the definition is what it says after the Latin word (the literal meaning) and the translation is what you would use in translating a sentence. Not everything in the world can be classified as either idiocy or greed.

  9. David Eddyshaw says

    I was not impressed by the decision of the PR person behind this to go with “Look, it translates βινέω as ‘fuck’!” as their hook for the publicity release of this surely rather significant work. I am not a fourth-former sniggering at the back, and I dislike being treated as one.

    (I also notice that the Grauniad has misprinted βινέω. It is good that we can rely on some traditions, at least.)

  10. Why the early 2nd century cutoff? Did they want to exclude the NT for some reason?
    Also, I imagine there are challenges in using the LXX (or any translation) as a source for lexicography, in that the meanings might unnaturally veer toward reflecting the source semantics.

  11. @anwheol. Does the vice-chancellor or the vicechancellor’s deputy still say “Auctoritate mihi commissa admitto te ad gradum (name of degree), in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sanctii” when handing the diploma to the student? Even if the student is non-Christian?

  12. In my day (1989 for BA degree) one could arrange to be admitted “in nomine Dei” on request, so non-Christian theists (or people who were prepared to pass as such based on their heritage) were catered for. I don’t know what provision was made for people to whom that would also have been unacceptable. Nowadays it seems you can arrange for the whole “in nomine…” phrase to be omitted ( but no word on people who want to be admitted in the name of other named deities. I’m waiting for the first student to ask for “in nomine Mithrae” or “.. Isidis”

  13. @anhweol. Thank you for the information.

    I made a mistake: the vice-chancellor does not hand out the diplomas. The new graduate then rises, bows to the vice-chancellor, and exits through the Doctor’s door of the Senate-House to receive the diploma.

  14. David Marjanović says

    The verb χέζω (chezo), translated by Liddell and Scott as “ease oneself, do one’s need”, is defined in the new dictionary as “to defecate” and translated as “to shit”

    I wondered if it’s actually cognate with its translation, but the vowel doesn’t work. 🙁

  15. A naive question, perhaps, but how do we know what these mildly taboo but apparently very specific words mean? Is there some surviving Greek “1001 Salacious Acts To Perform With Your Slaves” manual? Or does a verb like “laikazo” contain the necessary elements in plain sight?

  16. Why the early 2nd century cutoff? Did they want to exclude the NT for some reason?

    According to the project website it “covers the most widely read ancient literary texts, from Homer to the Hellenistic poets, the later historians, and the New Testament Gospels and Acts of the Apostles”. Presumably they decided they had to draw the line somewhere and there wasn’t a non-arbitrary place to draw it. I wonder if Lucian is included; I’m guessing Plutarch is as he’s a bit earlier. A lot of important Christian literature is obviously left out.

    You can view a sample page here. Apparently it cites authors but not specific passages, like the Middle Liddell but unlike the big LSJ; it’s pretty clearly intended to replace the former rather than the latter (“aimed primarily at students”).

  17. I wondered if it’s actually cognate with its translation, but the vowel doesn’t work

    And the consonant, surely — is there any way to get Eng. sh : χ? Anyway χέζω appears to be from a *ǵʰed-, with Sanskrit and Albanian cognates. Chantraine demurely glosses it as “aller à la selle”, but the Dutchman Beekes bluntly prints “to shit”.

  18. Apparently it cites authors but not specific passages, like the Middle Liddell but unlike the big LSJ; it’s pretty clearly intended to replace the former rather than the latter

    Yes, the article says so explicitly: “The late scholar John Chadwick first came up with the idea to update HG Liddell and Robert Scott’s 1889 dictionary, the Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon, in 1997.”

  19. David Marjanović says

    And the consonant, surely — is there any way to get Eng. sh : χ?

    s mobile should do the trick.

  20. The project website also has Hardy’s poem about Liddell and Scott.

  21. χέζω

    Hence хезка

    ХЕЗАЛКА, -и, ХЕЗКА, -и, ж., ХЕЗАЛО, -а, ср, ХЕЗАЛЬНИК, -а, ХЕЗНИК, -а, м.
    1. Задница.
    Ты к кому хезалом повернулся, нахал!

    2. Туалет. От хезать.

  22. Jen in Edinburgh says

    I initially read ‘Cambridge Greek’ as if it was e.g. ‘American English’ and had to reset my mind slightly, which I suppose is why you sometimes get ‘X Dictionary of LANGUAGE’. Although there is some discussion of Cambridge Lation upthread…

  23. @David Eddyshaw:

    I also notice that the Grauniad has misprinted βινέω. It is good that we can rely on some traditions, at least.

    It now says

    This article was amended on 28 May 2021. An earlier version misspelled the Latin βινέω as “βίνέω”. Also, the headline was changed to remove a reference to the dictionary being the “first English dictionary of ancient Greek since the Victorian era”.

    All the best corrections introduce a stupider mistake; at least “Latin βινέω” is in the correction notice, not the main text.

  24. That gave me a good laugh, thanks!

  25. David Eddyshaw says

    Does the Grauniad do nested corrections, I wonder?

  26. John Cowan says

    “in nomine Mithrae” or “.. Isidis”

    I think “in nomine Sivae” (1st decl. masc.) or “in nomine Visnūs” (4th decl. with irregular nominative Visnu) would be more likely nowadays. I am not sure what to do for Hindus whose Supreme Being is Devi, which looks masculine plural to a Latin eye; perhaps the right thing here is to calque rather than borrow, and say “in nomine Bonae Deae“.

  27. Stu Clayton says

    in nomine Bonae Deae

    My kind of dame ! I wonder whether Matron was modelled on her.

    # Surviving statuary shows her as a sedate Roman matron with a cornucopia and a snake. #

  28. J.W. Brewer says

    Nested corrections remind be of “We apologise again for the fault in the subtitles. Those responsible for sacking the people who have just been sacked have been sacked.”

    Despite the restoration of Greek to a position of great importance in the Oxford/Cambridge curricula in the 16th through maybe early 20th centuries, it never quite displaced (or even threatened to achieve parity with) Latin as the official working language of posh university rituals.

  29. Stu Clayton says

    The massive, exclusive use of Latin in Western Catholic ritual may have exerted selection pressure against Greek in other contexts. Catholic pomp is posher than any other kind. A little kyrie eleison here and there don’t amount to a hill of beans.

  30. Stu Clayton says

    Ha ha, I thought of that just in time to add it, before reading your comment (cross my heart and hope to die).

    Edit: DE, are you funnin’ me ? Where’s your comment gone off to ?

  31. Graham Asher says

    λαικάζω is defined in the LSJ supplement as ‘to practice fellatio on’. So the new dictionary is not the first to give a straight definition.

  32. Stu Clayton says

    λαικάζω is defined in the LSJ supplement as ‘to practice fellatio on’

    Then the very definition shows it would be more accurate to translate the word as “greenhorn”. Nobody in his right mind lets someone practice on his willy. Just as in the world of concert music, one wants seasoned performers.

    Of course only practice makes perfect, but let it be carried out on one of those rubber things available at any adult accessory store.

  33. If you’re going to deliberately pretend to not know what homophones are, so will I. “Seasoned performers” are a string quartet, well-coated in salt and pepper.

  34. David Eddyshaw says


    It’s just the same as practicing medicine, apart from some minor details. You should be reassured.

  35. Stu Clayton says

    And to think that only a few weeks ago I entrusted my colon to a medical practitioner who wanted to scope me out! I hope there are no teeth marks. Not being as supple as in younger years, I can’t check.

  36. I don’t know a first thing about Oxbidgean hierachy and rituals, but I would have thought that to do anything in the name of “Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sanctii” you have to be an ordained priest or something. And I have no idea how other religions look at some English professors doing stuff in the name of their deities.

  37. In Catholicism, baptism must invoke “the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”, but in an emergency can be administered by anybody, even a non-Christian. In the notorious case of Edgardo Mortara, it was an illiterate servant what done it.

  38. PlasticPaddy says

    At least in the Cambridge graduation, the Vice -Chancellor says “auctoritate mihi commissa …”. So I would suppose it is like a magistrate or ship’s captain performing a marriage.

  39. J.W. Brewer says

    The ship’s-captain officiant is not the necessarily the right marriage analogy. At a perfectly conventional-if-old-fashioned English wedding w/o unusual circumstances (i.e. on land, in a church, presided over by a priest of the Church of England according to the form set forth in the 1662 edition of the BCP), the man says to the woman at one crucial point: “With this ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.” There is, at least in Anglicanism, simply no taboo (or even default presumption with an emergency-circumstances loophole) against a non-member of the clergy using that particular Trinitarian form of words when engaged in a performative utterance of a certain degree of gravity/solemnity.

    That said, if you go far enough back in Oxford/Cambridge history, most-to-all of the faculty would have been at least nominally members of the C of E clergy, although I believe at some post-Reformation point it became the custom for those destined for an academic career with no genuine independent interest in churchly matters to get ordained to the diaconate and stop there.

  40. J.W. Brewer says

    Further to one of my earlier comments, the daily chapel services in most of the Oxbridge colleges continued to be in Latin (with changed wording from the pre-Reformation services as needed) for some considerable time after the Reformation, because the motive to switch to the vernacular (a congregation that could not actually understand Latin) was not present. The last straggler (Christ Church, Oxford) did not switch its chapel services over into English until circa 1860. There were I think some ambitious proposals early on to switch over from Latin to Greek, since the fellows and undergraduates still ought to be able to follow it and it would be even posher, but nothing ever came of that in practice. Lancelot Andrewes composed a set of compatible-with-Anglican-theology Greek prayers that he used for his own private daily devotions, but they never made the leap even (AFAIK) on a trial basis to congregational use approved by appropriate ecclesiastical authority.

    EDITED TO ADD: Truly it is a testimony to the wonders of our age that WalMart’s website will sell you a copy (probably a modern facisimile reprint of a 19th-century edition typeset from the 17th-century manuscript) of Bishop Andrewes’ Greek Devotions.

  41. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    In Catholicism, baptism must invoke “the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”, but in an emergency can be administered by anybody, even a non-Christian.

    That works in the Church of England as well. It was very common for babies that were expected to die to be baptised into the true church by nurses or midwives before it was too late. My grandmother was baptised three time, the first time by a nurse in hospital. (She lived to be 89, so there wasn’t any real urgency.)

  42. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    I imagine that all of those of us that are not French were taught at school that baiser meant “kiss”.

  43. John Cowan says

    The Catholic Church […] the Church of England as well

    Trinitarian baptism is pretty much universal across all groups that Christians would call Christian (there are a few groups who baptise in the name of Jesus only), and so is the general idea of flowing water on the brow. In the sequence “aspersion, affusion, immersion, submersion”, those who use a given form generally accept the validity of all forms to the right but consider them sometimes or always impractical.

    TIL that the Catholic Church, given its practice of infant baptism and its rage for order, has a number of forms of conditional baptism to be used in various cases of doubt: the instituting words may be preceded by “if you are not already baptized” (when it is uncertain whether there was a previous baptism or whether it was valid), “if you are alive” (when it is unclear whether we are dealing with an infant or a stillbirth), and even “if you are human” (used “in cases of severe birth anomaly”, we are told). In cases of breech birth where there is doubt that the fetus will survive, it should be baptized on the most accessible body part, but such a baptism should be repeated later using the “if you are not already baptized” formula.

  44. Trond Engen says

    A C-B: I imagine that all of those of us that are not French were taught at school that baiser meant “kiss”.

    Heh. I thought you meant baiser < baptisare (or whatever), which would have have added an even weirder semantic twist to the modern meanng “fuck, screw” (with similar semantic extensions as the English glossings).

    But yes, I surely wasn’t taught that at school!

  45. used “in cases of severe birth anomaly”

    The 1959 U.S. edition of Heribert Jone’s “Moral Theology” still used the word “monsters”. Unrelatedly, its chapter on matrimony had a helpful table of state miscegenation laws.

  46. John Emerson says

    Either in Samuel Butler or on Charles Flandrai’s “Viva Mexico” there’s a story of a rubber tapper out in the jungle performing the wedding of two of his non-Anglophone workers, using “Tristram Shandy” as his Bible and reading a page from it as the lesson for the day.

  47. @John Cowan: In a nearby parallel timeline, Father Zerchi attempts—as he lies dying of radiation burns—to give Rachel, a recently awaked supernumerary head, a conditional baptism.* However, Rachel, having not been conceived sexually but grown spontaneously from a tomato-vendor’s shoulder, has at the moment of awakening, no original sin. So she instead administers communion to Zerchi, just as human life on Earth is coming to an end.

    * The reason for the spoken conditionals in such conditional baptisms is that, according to the Council of Trent, it is strictly forbidden to baptize a person who has already been baptized, because the first (true) baptism has already left an indelible sacramental character on the person’s soul.

  48. Rodger C says

    In a nearby parallel timeline

    Surely you mean “In a supposed future”?

  49. @Rodger C: A Canticle for Leibowitz strongly implies that the Flame Deluge occurred in the early 1960s (which made sense for a novel published in the late 1950s). However, it was not really impossible for the nuclear war to have begun at any time up through the 1980s. Around 1988, my younger brother once asked me about the setting, and I explained that there had been a nuclear war; he asked when the war had occurred, and my answer was, “Now.”

    Yet with the changes in computing and communication technology, it eventually became impossible for A Canticle for Leibowitz to be a description a possible future for the real world. I. E. Leibowitz used old-fashioned blueprints and did not have a cell phone, so the story of the Flame Deluge has passed from “supposed future” to “alternate history.”

  50. Rodger C says

    Excellent points (I wrote, or began, a novel in the 70s in which a nuclear war happened ca. 1990), but I think we differ on whether the passage of time can change the genre of a work of fiction. A Canticle for Leibowitz was written in a future that was supposable when it was written (including a Latin liturgy).

  51. marie-lucie says

    “Conditional baptism”

    I am the oldest of four sisters. The three oldest ones were born during WW2 and the German occupation of France, which caused a lot of upheavals. Our Catholic mother wanted us to be baptized, but circumstances made it impossible (for instance, the godparents she wanted us to have were not able to travel). For whatever reasons, we each had a mini-baptism ceremony called “ondoyer”, which involved having water poured over our heads by someone not a priest (or so I was told later). It was not a “real” baptism, and needed to be superseded by a real one before our “First Communion” at the age of about 10. Of course we were not held over the fonts like babies, or dressed in traditional “robes de baptême” for the occasion, but I was still very embarrassed, especially since one of the attending choir boys was in class with me! Our much younger fourth sister, born long after the end of the war, was baptized as a baby with the usual pomp and circumstance.

  52. Lars Mathiesen says

    The liturgical part of the hymnal of the Danish Reformed Lutheran Church has instructions for baptism at home in emergencies: Anybody can basically say “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost,” and that is a real baptism. The baby then has to be “produced” (fremstillet) at a mass so the godparents can make their pledges and records be completed.

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