Lessico Etimologico Italiano.

I just discovered the Lessico Etimologico Italiano, a splendidly done etymological dictionary of Italian. Unfortunately it’s only up to the letter E, and given the rate at which these projects progress it may not be finished in my lifetime, but what’s there is so good it’s worth bookmarking and playing around in. There’s an alphabetical list of words and phrases on the left, and clicking on one brings up the page (pdf) on which it’s treated. I clicked on “ecce homo” and found a two-and-a-half-column entry beginning with the literal “immagine di Cristo sofferente” and going on to the much more productive “persona malridotta, diforme,” with all sorts of dialectal developments I won’t try to copy here (combinations of accents on top and dots beneath are too much trouble for me to deal with, though I imagine it’s possible to reproduce them). Unfortunately, I can’t seem to link to a particular page; trying to open one in a separate tab and then copying the URL (my usual hack in such situations) doesn’t work. But take a look for yourself and enjoy the thoroughness and the very attractive layout.


  1. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    The slight variation on the usual hack that works in this case is opening in a separate tab only the frame with the PDF. For instance, the entry for ecce homo is at:

    lei-digitale.org/lib/pdf_viewer/web/viewer.html?file=/publications/ecce homo.pdf

    It seems you can get directly to every entry by using this string and inserting the relevant headword. I love websites that work like that.

  2. Thanks for the tip!

  3. ktschwarz says

    LEI on Facebook.

    It’s not quite through with the letter E, and only Latin source words so far: the last word is currently ervum/erum, Latin for bitter vetch. The small link at the bottom marked Schedario takes you to what seems to be a list of source words yet to be covered, arranged by origin: first A-Z Latinismi (there are a lot under A-D, which I guess are in line to be updated or added?), then Albanesismi, Anglicismi, Arabismi, … , Ucrainismi, Unbekannte, Zingarismi.

    This is an online version of a project that’s been publishing volumes starting in 1979 (which explains why A-B and part of C are scanned from books, but the later entries were created directly as pdfs). Like the Französisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch before it, it’s a German-led project. Here’s an article from Der Standard on the opening of a new center in Vienna in 2019: Die größte Geschichte des Italienischen, Es ist ein Jahrhundertprojekt. It began with literal cut-and-pasting:

    Tausende Wörterbücher und einschlägige Publikationen haben die Forscher manuell durchforstet, relevante Einträge ausgeschnitten und auf DIN-A6-Zettel geklebt. Über sieben Millionen dieser Karteikarten haben sie bisher gesammelt, und das Exzerpieren des Datenmaterials geht weiter.

    And there’s a worryingly close deadline:

    Bis 2033 muss das Lessico Etimologico Italiano von A bis Z fertig sein, weil dann die Finanzierung durch die Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur Mainz, die das Vorhaben seit 1974 unterstützt, ausläuft.

    I hope that’s not as impossible as it sounds; sounds like they’re making a big effort to get there. (Mark your calendar for 5 or 10 years from now to check on their progress.) And the article ends with a good quote on the value of etymology:

    “Immerhin werden dabei systematisch auch sämtliche Germanismen, Gallizismen, Gräzismen (Entlehnungen aus dem Altgriechischen) etc. des Italienischen und der Dialekte Italiens erforscht, die als sprachliche Zeugen der Kontakte mit anderen Kulturen fungieren.”

    A point that marie-lucie has made here as well.

  4. Thanks for that valuable background (and forecast)!

  5. At a quick glance I find that it includes Venetian and Ligurian, but I’m not sure exactly how much included under “Italian”.

  6. The LEI has the best etymology (or lack thereof) for the family of English aril that is out there:


  7. Very interesting! They say arilli is of dubious Latinity and may be a learnèd back-formation, and other possible sources should be considered. I note that the AHD has:

    Medieval Latin arillus, grape seed, from a Romance source akin to Italian arillo, seed coat, from Vulgar Latin *arēnula, grain of sand, from diminutive of Latin arēna, sand; see ARENA.

  8. David Marjanović says

    So it crept in like the surangular bone, which Cuvier apparently coined as os surangulaire, and then for the next two centuries almost nobody has noted that sur- isn’t Classical Latin.

    (Humans don’t have it, if you’re wondering. …Well, it might actually form part of the tympanic part of the malleus.)

  9. The site lei-digitale.org is offline: it’s just an empty page, and all the links are broken.

    At least they’re still updating their Facebook page occasionally; most recently they’ve posted a couple of Youtube videos on particular Latin etyma, commercium and erysipelas, in Italian, with the presenter discussing (I’m guessing from the visuals) historical forms and different branches of the descendants. It’s nice to see images of some medieval sources, and to see the real lexicographer behind the pages, but it’s no substitute for a reference work.

  10. Bah!

  11. It’s back online, but now seems to go only up to the end of B, unless I’m doing something wrong. WTF?

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