Sometimes I am (not to put too fine a point upon it) an idiot. I recently expressed wild enthusiasm for the online version of Platts without ever noticing that at the top of the Platts page was the rubric Digital Dictionaries of South Asia. Today, in order to make a point in a comment, I Googled “Hobson-Jobson” and was directed to this page; this time I did notice the rubric, clicked on it, and was taken here. I boggled. My friends, I’m here to tell you that the good people at The South Asia Language and Area Center at University of Chicago, Columbia University, and the Triangle South Asia Consortium in North Carolina are putting online every major dictionary available for their area of focus.

The first name that caught my eye was Steingass. Once I had found Platts online, I began wishing that someone would publish Steingass the same way; it’s the classic Persian-English dictionary, full of obscure words and usages often tossed together in a blender (“par, Past, elapsed; heretofore; last year; a bit, a piece; a skin, a tanned hide; flight”) and, as my beloved Gaffarov (Persidsko-russkii slovar’, 1914-28) says, not based reliably on either authentic Persian texts or actual conversational usage, but indispensable all the same. I’ve often looked longingly at it in libraries and the Librairie de France in Rockefeller Center (ridiculously overpriced—I never buy anything there—but a great place to gawk at dictionaries), but could never afford it (it’ll set you back over a hundred dollars). Suddenly, there it was, the whole thing online for free. I should point out that it can be maddening to use, especially online; for instance, if you’re looking for pur ‘full’ you will come up empty—there is no such listing, even though there are plenty of compounds, e.g., pur-a-pur, ‘Filled to the brim, quite full.’ You have to go to par ‘A wing; a feather; a leaf; the arm from the collar-bone to the tip of the finger; the sails or paddles of a mill; a side, skirt, or margin; leaf of a tree; light, ray; (imp. of paridan, in comp.) flying’ and look down past all the compounds of that word until you get to “pur, Full; laden, charged; complete; much, very; too much, too.” It’s written the same in Perso-Arabic script, you see, so it’s part of the same entry. Which is particularly ridiculous since, as they demurely admit at the bottom of the seach page, “Perso-Arabic script is not yet displaying.” (Speaking of which, in case you’re wondering at the two different citations for par quoted above, the first has long a and is thus written differently, with an alif. This points up another problem with using the online transliteration: you can’t tell the length of vowels. They really should be using a more informative transliteration, like the one explained here.) But details, details… the important thing is that all that information is right there at my fingertips, and at yours.

And beyond the books already online, they’re working on still more: for you Sanskrit fans, for instance, they’re encoding Macdonell and Monier-Williams and negotiating license agreements for Apte. Here’s their statement of purpose:

For each of the twenty-six modern literary languages of South Asia, a panel of language experts identified key dictionaries currently in print and selected at least one multilingual dictionary for each language. For the more frequently taught languages, a monolingual dictionary also has been chosen. After identifying the best available resources, the chosen dictionaries have been converted to digital formats. The results of this conversion are available to readers through this site on the World Wide Web, by means of standard file transfer protocol, or by compact disc. There is no charge for access via the Internet and the compact discs are available for the cost of duplication and mailing.

Bless their little hearts!

And now, as a reward for those who have slogged through this long and technical post, a pair of tidbits:

1) From my battered old 1970 edition of Webster’s Biographical Dictionary, the following magnificent name (discovered in a vain search for Steingass): “Alidius Warmoldus Lambertus Tjarda van Starkenborgh Stachouwer, 1888– . Dutch diplomat and administrator.” Alidius has since passed on, but his many-barreled name survives to awe future generations.

2) No-sword has been on a roll. Read his latest (06-14) entry “The shirt” and then scroll down to “Awesome baboon article” (06-12). You’ll laugh till you cry.


  1. Well, I just spent a whole bunch of time fooling aroudn with Steinglass. What an amazing thing! this problem of transliteration has been confounding me, even at my beginner’s level – for example, in my last blog entry I wasn’t sure whether to talk about “keshk” or “kishk” — the Arabic ses just the written three letters, and no vowels, so, as my father-in-law says, “you’re just supposed to know”. Fine if you’re an Arabic speaker, but when we’re trying to write a transliterated “english” word – what to do? This is an amazing tool to have online, though…

  2. Also, thanks for the link to the “Writing Arabic” site (via your “alif” link).

  3. This. THIS. Goddammit. Is what I want to do with my life.
    Making things like this.

  4. beth: Have I got a book for you! Culinary Cultures of the Middle East (apparently there’s a new edition called A Taste of Thyme) has a whole chapter called “Al-Kishk: the past and present of a complex culinary practice,” which starts:
    Kashk/kishik refers to certain dishes that were, and remain, popular in Iran, Turkey, and parts of the Arab world. However, the exact definition of the term raises problems for ethnologists, linguists and historians of the different regions of the Middle East. Behind an apparently trivial recipe lies a complex history of diffusion which throws remarkable light on the history of these regions… It is a preserved food all over the Middle East, but Persian kashk is quite different from the Arab kishik; among the Armenians of Turkey and generally in Anatolia it is a dish like herissa (pounded meat and cereal); in Egypt it is a sweetmeat.”
    The chapter goes on to discuss the forms, meanings, and history of the word in detail (the earliest recorded form is in “an Armenian author of the 5th-6th century”). The book is indispensible for anyone interested in the history and food of the region, and I hope it is the harbinger of a wave of badly needed such works of culinary history, an incomprehensibly ignored field by and large. (Well, maybe not so incomprehensibly, considering that food is, you know, a woman thing…)

  5. Incredible! I want it!
    The kashk I’m referring to here is a whitish liquid made from dried, drained yogurt, but I’ve also eaten it in blocks that are almost brown (I know, that sounds truly disgusting, and I do find it pretty inedible) and extremely sour (surprise); in Persia this form is indeed eaten like candy. But the liquid form is a sauce that’s poured over various dishes. I recently had a Palestinian version of kibbeh-in-a-tray (baked ground meat; in Lebanon and Syria it’s always stuffed with a pine-nut, onion, meat layer) with kashk on top.
    Do you know Claudia Roden’s “Book of Jewish Food?” It’s an amazing and comprehensive work of culinary anthropology, divided into two sections, Ashkenazi and Sephardic. The Sephardic section is, so far, the best source I have for the kind of information about Middle East cooking you’re describing.
    By the way, now I’m fascinated with your use of the word “herissa”…

  6. Well, not my use—it’s from the chapter—but in any case, here‘s a recipe. (Of course, it’s also spelled harissa and harisa.)
    By the way, check out this food reference site I just ran across.

  7. I’m really into trying to recreate ancient Roman food. Since one of my favorite recipes is Parthian Chicken, it got me wondering what we know about Persian food of the period. When searched for a book that might tell me, this one came up. It took forever to find it, because the book store kept claiming it had copies but then losing them and reordering. When I finally got a look at it, I was rather disapointed. It does give much interesting information on Iranian cuisine, but when it comes to the ancient world, all it has is some quotes from classical Persian epics, which I mostly could have found on my own.

  8. Too bad; it does look intriguing. (Here‘s the direct link.)

  9. I search for forum like this long time.You website is very good!I will come next time ! …………………………
    [edited to remove spam links]

  10. PUR? perhaps you meant POR = full. I went to the Steingass online website, and got totally confounded with the unicode business. If I am supposed to trasliterate, what are the rules. I am disgusted to see the PUR would get me to full; not even peasants with dialects would pronounce it that way.

  11. Odd that Jack should have lisa1967 as an email alias. Nice of him to take the time to provide a different link with each period, though.

  12. farshid: It’s an old-fashioned transliteration based on Arabic, so that what’s written as short u (and pronounced as o in Farsi) is transliterated as u, and Farsi u is written long u. Doesn’t really matter how you transliterate as long as you’re consistent, but it’s certainly easier to use o/u (and e/i) and not bother with diacritical marks for long vowels.
    PF: Those &%$*#@! spammers put that “comment” on virtually every entry I made for a year and a half; it took me weeks to get rid of them all, and obviously I missed a few. Grr.

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