Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2014.07.11 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2014.07.11

Christine E. Meyer, Latin Synonyms for Language Lovers: A Select Thesaurus.   Mundelein, IL:  Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, Inc., 2013.  Pp. xi, 264.  ISBN 9780865167940.  $29.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Rebecca Harrison, Truman State University (


The book is, as its title indicates, a select thesaurus of Latin synonyms. It is arranged by part of speech under English headings. The listings are fullest for verbs and nouns. It includes some early Latin and poetic usages (not indicated as such) and alternate forms; it does not include “modern” vocabulary. It differs from the usual thesaurus or English-to-Latin dictionary in that instead of giving a continuous, semantically ranked list, each word appears on a separate line (alphabetically by conjugation/declension) with its lexical information (principal parts, genitive and gender, etc.) and a list of meanings. Because it fails to indicate distinctions between synonyms (other than the list of some possible meanings), those using this book will need to consult other resources to make appropriate choices about usage. Its stated purpose is to be useable by a broad range of persons, from armchair Latinists to teachers, for reading, speaking, and composing prose and poetry, a challenge which the book does not successfully meet, in my opinion. There is an Appendix of Expressions and two indices: one comprehensive index of all English word(s) in the headings; the other by part of speech. General categories are illustrated by black and white line drawings, which function primarily as space fillers. Instead of a bibliography, there are pages at the end of advertisements for books from the publisher. To judge from the translations and certain forms and errors, the main source for this book seems to be Charlton Lewis’ An Elementary Latin Dictionary.1

The categories are generally of appropriate breadth: e.g. “Going,” “Arms,” “Seas, Bodies of water.” The biggest challenge is often finding the category heading one is looking for. There are at most three words/phrases in the category heading; 84% of the verb categories, 75% of noun, and 80.5% of adjective categories have only one word/phrase, and this is not always the most common in English. For example, verbs of wanting appear under “desiring;” verbs of crying, weeping, lamenting, and grieving are listed only under “mourning;” verbs of bringing are under “bearing.” Sometimes the most successful method of finding a category is reading through the index. Cross-references would have been useful, such as between “asking” and “praying,” or “death,” “destruction,” and “slaughter.”

The order of meanings for words is usually changed from the source dictionary to put the heading word first; sometimes the order of meanings is completely reversed, and sometimes the basic, original, or most commonly used meaning is not included at all, making distinguishing and using words properly, especially for prose or conversation, difficult for those who are not already familiar with the word. For example, impotēns (p. 233) gives “violent, headstrong, without self-control,,” reversing the order given in Lewis and without the basic meaning of “powerless, impotent”; pulvīnar has only “shrine, temple, sacred place” (“shrines” p. 189; cf. the basic meanings under “seats,” p. 186). A benefit for verse composition (and fun for students) is the inclusion of some words by metonymy or synecdoche, e.g. mārs “war, conflict, battle, engagement” (p. 126). However, the occasional lack of capitalization and/or omission of the basic meaning may lead to misunderstandings.

Verbs compose the first and, as one might expect, longest section: 87 categories over 104 pages. They are listed by conjugation: first to fourth, then deponent, then irregular. Principal parts are written out in full, even for regular verbs. The form of the fourth principal part, –us vs. –um, gives an indication of transitive or intransitive use for some verbs, but not deponent verbs. There is only sometimes indication that a verb takes a certain case or construction.2

The second section is nouns: 77 categories over 91 pages. They are arranged by declensions, with sub-listings by gender (m/f and neuter) and for third declension –i stem nouns. Greek form first declension nouns with a genitive in -ēs are put last, but nouns with nominative –as are put with regular first declension nouns. The book is generally very good at noting common gender: e.g. hostis m/f (p. 149) and sacerdōs (181).3

While the verbs and nouns have only one category per page, the adjective categories are shorter and there are one to three per page, with most pages having two (41 categories over 25 pages). The words are arranged by declension type, with separate sub-groups for third declension one-termination, two-termination, and three-termination adjectives. There are no indications of cases used with adjectives, such as inimīcus (p. 223), which does not indicate “+ dative.”

A fortuitous benefit of the semantic groupings by conjugation and declension is revealing patterns. For example, the category “trying” (p. 105) has mostly deponent verbs, “flourishing” (p.34) has many second conjugation intransitive verbs and three with the inceptive –scō suffix,4 “cruelty” (p. 140) has many abstract nouns in –tās, “fear” (p. 154) has three with the –or suffix, and p. 215 has four adjectives with the –ōsus suffix.

The last two regular sections are adverbs and conjunctions: twelve pages, 35 categories; and three pages, eleven categories, respectively. Seven of the categories overlap between the two sections, and a number of the words listed under adverbs are relative adverbs or conjunctions, causing some duplication and uncertainty regarding under which section to look.5 Postpositives are not indicated as such.6

The Appendix of Expressions is select, only four pages, but provides some material for limited conversations. It is less useful in that these are listed alphabetically by the Latin, not the English. The division into “Idioms, Phrases, Expressions,” “Interjections/Commands,” “Interrogatives,” “Responses,” and “Time Expressions” makes some sense, but the divisions, especially between the first two, result in some instances like the separation of “please” (quaesō, better than the more limited, often given amābō tē)(under the second category) and “thank you” (listed under the first).

One can think of more categories or words that one would wish the author had included, such as verbs of obeying, nouns referring to animals, and adjectives expressing “many;” arbitror (“deciding, judging” and “thinking”), suscipiō (“beginning”), and cūr (“why”). Especially liable to cause misuse is the absence of certain direction words. Page 241 “here” has hīc and hūc, but not hinc (from here); p. 246 “there” has illīc and illūc, but not illinc, inde (from there), or (to there); p. 247 “where” has ubi and quō, but not unde (from where). Page 239 undique is also misleading in having “on all sides,” but not the more precise “from all sides.”

The number of mistakes makes the work unreliable as a reference work, especially for less experienced Latinists and for verse composition. The seriousness of the mistakes depends in part on the level of knowledge of the user and the purpose of use (and sometimes the particular form to be used). Errors in inflected forms and gender are few. Most noteworthy are p. 34 florēscuī and nitēscuī (for flōruī and nituī or omitted for the inceptives); p. 75 īrāscārī (for īrāscī, with omission also of the perfect īrātus sum). By haplography: p. 60 dēserō, dēser[er]e; p. 82 disserō, disser[er]e; p. 169 virid[it]ātis. Penātēs (p. 142) should be masculine, not neuter; profectiō (p. 166) should be feminine, not masculine; p. 201 gives dies as only masculine, although it is usually femininemeaning “set day,” whose meaning is included; p. 157 gives barbarus, ī m/f, but the feminine form should be barbara, -ae under first declension; the same page should give aliēnigena, -ae as masculine as well as feminine. Vectīgal (p. 172) should be under –i stem; appendix p. 253 should have conformāre + accusative animum/mentem (instead of + animus/mens). Among the more noteworthy errors in definitions are rumpō (p. 36) including “make by force” with the needed “a way or passage” omitted and mūrāle pīlum (120), “used when fighting walls,” should be fighting “from” walls. The most numerous errors are in vowel quantity, many of which affect meter, as well as pronunciation.7 Inconsistencies, besides those noted above, include, for example, the capitalization of proper adjectives and nouns, inclusion or not of sum in the principal parts of deponent verbs, inclusion or not of alternate/contracted forms and declension patterns (useful for meter) and of limited or irregular forms (such as for āiō and vīs), and the use of assimilated vs. unassimilated forms. More alternate forms could have been included, as could clearer indications of poetic or secondary/figurative usages. 8

Despite these reservations, this book is a useful addition to the resources available for active Latin. The price is affordable and students that I know have found it appealing (although without having actually used it much). However, in attempting to make the book useful for composing poetry by including alternate forms and poetic usages of words, generally without indications as such, and inconsistently including some (but not all) information for novice Latinists, it compromises its usefulness for many users. It is best used in conjunction with other resources. A revised edition that cleaned up these inconsistencies and corrected errors, expanded its content judiciously, and included a bibliography would be more useful still.


1.   The books included in the ads do not include the standard Latin dictionaries or works on distinguishing between synonyms, such as Ludwig Ramshorn, Dictionary of Latin Synonymes: For the Use of Schools and Private Students, with a Complete Index.
2.   For example, p. 2 noceō + dat., but not p. 19 studeō, and for some compound verbs but not others; p. 77 fruor + abl., but not pp. 39 or 89 for potior; p. 78 meminī lacks “+ gen.” For intersum (p. 54), the “+ dat.” is included with the particular English meaning, but not for cēdō p. 44 “yield to.” “And ut/ne” is given for faciō + certiorem (p. 71), but not for cūrō, imperō or mandō on the same page. “(+ infin)” is given for mālō (p. 14) but not for any other verbs. Indications are regularly included in the Expressions in the Appendix.
3.   However, p. 157 should include the feminine peregrīna, -ae (as well as the masculine peregrīnus).Page 181 vatēs can also be feminine, and appendix, p. 254, gives only the masculine adjective form for sēmisomnus.
4.   Unfortunately, the inceptive meaning is often not included for other verbs with the –scō suffix.
5.  p. 237 proptereā quod (cf. p. 251 without proptereā), quandōquidem, and quoniam (also on p. 245 “since”); priusquam (pp. 237 and 246), p. 246 quoad; p. 247 quotiēnscumque, ubi “whenever” and ut.
6.   The verb inquam p. 83 is indicated as such.
7.   Long vowels that should be short: p. 163 axīs (for axis; incorrect also in Lewis’ Elementary Latin Dictionary); p. 201 tempus, tempōris (should be temporis). Most noteworthy (least predictable based on regular patterns or related words/forms on the same page) of unmarked vowels that should be long: p. 14 malō (mālō); p. 46 tutus (tūtus); p. 48 fourth principal part casum (for cāsum); p. 49 futurus (futūrus); pp. 71 and 82 faciō certiorem (certiōrem; p. 71 and ut/nē); p. 112, p. 118 the second time, and p. 196 copia (cōpia); p. 119 vires, - ium (vīrēs); p. 143 libidō (libīdō); p. 152 maiorēs (māiōrēs); p. 166 peregrīnatiō (peregrīnātiō and genitive); p. 182 pātrona (patrōna, with long or short a in first syllable) and praetorianī (praetōriānī); p. 184 oceanus (ōceanus) and prata Neptunia (prāta Neptūnia); p. 186 spectaculum (spectāculum); p. 199 notiō (nōtiō); p. 207 negotium (negōtium); p. 221 alienigenus (aliēnigenus); p. 253 morem (mōrem). There are also a number of macrons omitted in closed syllables that affect pronunciation, but not meter.
8.   For example, third declension masculines (e.g. lepōs p. 133, honōs p. 159 but labor 207) are given as either –ōs or –or, but without the metrically useful alternate; p. 220 gives only dexter, dextra, dextrum, without the alternates dextera, dexterum. Words that can have genitive plural in either –um or – ium (useful for meter, e.g. parēns, p. 153, serpēns, p. 192) are not noted, and vatēs (p. 181) is put under the rarer –i stem.

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