Today’s Perseus post will explore the dictionary and word study tools (also called the parsing tools) on the Perseus Project. This is the third in the series of posts on the Perseus Project. The first gave a general overview of all the things that Perseus has to offer, and the second was a close look at all the great search tools that you can use on the Perseus texts. This week’s post will look more closely at the Dictionary Entry search and the Word Study tools and how to best use them.
There are two ways to access the Dictionary Entry Lookup and the Wordy Study Tool. The first way is from the main search page that we became familiar with in last week’s post (you can click back for a refresher):
The Dictionary Entry Lookup
The Dictionary Entry Lookup lets you look up words in the dictionary. It is designed to find words the way that they are normally listed in a lexicon. Perseus has two dictionaries for Latin (the Lewis and Short and the Elementary Lewis) and four Greek dictionaries (the LSJ, the Middle Liddell, Slater, and Autenrieth). The last two, Slater and Autenrieth are specialized dictionaries: Slater for Pindar and Autenrieth for Homer. (We’ll explain more about those in our upcoming dictionary post.)
The best way to use the dictionary is to search for the words that are part of the dictionary entry (so for nouns, use the nominative; for verbs, use the first principle part). We will being our search with something relatively simple: the Latin word cognosco.
Because we know the word that we are looking up, we can use the exact word search option to return only the result that we are looking for:
The dictionary lookup can also be very useful if you are looking for a word and you are not quite sure how to look it up in the dictionary. By searching ‘words starting with‘ you can find a list of words that might match. If you came across conlatae sunt and couldn’t remember if conlatae was the fourth principle part of a verb or if it was an adjective, you might do a ‘words starting with’ search for ‘conlat‘.
Searching for ‘conlat‘ returns two results. The first one you can rule out because conlatae could never be a form of a noun conlatio but the second option is the participle of the verb confero (oh, that’s right, you now think: fero, ferre, tuli, latus!). You can then click on the link to the Elementary Lewis (which unfortunately does not provide a definition).
Luckily, you can search for confero by using the search box in the upper right hand corner to go straight to the definition in the Elementary Lewis for confero.
The search is very similar in Greek. Remember that you can type in Greek or use Perseus’ betacode instructions:
We can search by ‘the exact word‘ for λὀγος by transliterating to lo/gos:
If by chance the search did not produce the results that you were looking for, you have the ability (in dictionary searches of any language) to refine the search on the right hand side. Notice under the search that Perseus has helpfully provided the table showing how to enter Greek (just in case you need it again).
Once you have found the dictionary entry for the correct word and opened it, the entry has a lot of extremely helpful information.
The entry looks like you would expect but with an added bonus: all of the references in the Lewis and Short entry for cognosco are links (as long as a copy of the text in the original language, in this case Latin, is on the Perseus site). That makes understanding the meaning of a particular word much quicker because you can click on the links to read the context of the quote right from the entry.
Perseus also lists all of the references from its text database for that particular word in any of its inflected forms (see red underlining above), making it easy to see in list form if there is special mention of a particular passage that you may be reading.
Word Study Tool
What if your dictionary search produced no results because the form is irregular and not listed in the dictionary? What if you found what the word means but you cannot figure out its form? That is where the Word Study Tool comes in. This is the tool that is often referred to as the parsing tool. Again we will start with a simple example, the Latin word existimavit. If you look this word up in the dictionary tool, you’ll get an error. But the Word Study tool can help you out:
The parsing tool in this case reveals that there is only one possible form that existimavit can be:
But what happens if, like our earlier dictionary search for ‘conlat’, there is more than one result? How do you decide which one it is? The simplest answer is context, and I am going to take advantage of this opportunity to transition into the second way that you can access these dictionary and parsing tools: the Perseus texts themselves.
As you know from our first post, the Perseus project is also a collection of texts. In fact, many upper-level students of Greek and Latin are all too familiar with Perseus’ text collection for the very reasons I plan to outline below. Starting with a text (in Greek this time, because I don’t want to lean too much on Latin here) allows you to use all of the resources discussed above. For no particular reason at all here, is page 100a of Plato’s Phaedo.
Each of the words in the passage is, in fact, a hyperlink. Clicking on any of the words will take you to the word study tool results page. Let’s click on ὣρμησα, which provides an excellent example of what happens when you parse a word that could be more than one thing.
ὣρμησα can be either the First Person Singular Aorist Indicative Active of ὁρμἀω, which means (according to this Perseus screen) to set in motion, urge on, or cheer on. It could also be the First Person Singular Aorist Indicative Active of ὁρμἐω, which means to be moored or to lie at anchor. This is where things get a little tricky, and why students should not just blindly trust the results from the parsing tool. Trying to fit the given definitions for either urge on or be moored unfortunately makes no sense in this passage. But clicking on the link for ὁρμἀω to the LSJ entry shows that while ὁρμἀω does mean to urge on, the second definition, which is listed as ‘more freq. intr.’ (more common in when the verb is used intransitively) means to start.
There will be a much more detailed post on the responsible use of the parsing tool in a future post. For now, let’s move on the some of the other interesting features present in the Perseus text interface.
There are three interesting features that I’d like to draw your attention to on the right-hand side. First there is a section at the top called classroom annotation. Clicking on it opens a pane of user-generated commentaries for the passage:
The next item on the right-hand side lets you view the English translation. Notice that there are two links on the right-hand side. Clicking Focus will reload the page with the English translation in the main pane (note that the option to switch back to Greek is now on the right side):
If you click Load instead of Focus you can see the English translation open up in the side pane. Last but not least, you can load the References pane. This shows the list of cross- references to texts in the Perseus library. Note that five of the Greek words present in the passage are mentioned specifically in the LSJ entry, implying that these words have very specific meanings. Clicking on the links will take you to the relevant parts of the dictionary entries, helping you decide what the words mean in the context of this particular passage.
Perseus has so many great tools for studying ancient languages. The dictionary lookup and word study tools are very useful for translating texts (and translating them quickly, too). It’s important to use them intelligently, though, and not to rely on what Perseus first suggests. You should always follow through with the dictionary entry when using the parsing tools or the dictionary lookup because these Greek and Latin words often have more than one meaning (and in Greek the forms often have multiple possible right answers). You should always try to figure the form out for yourself first and enter the word into the dictionary search yourself, because that will keep your language skills sharp. Perseus can help you, however, if you get stuck — as long as you are careful with the tools.