BMCR 2021.05.04

A Latin lexicon: an illustrated compendium of Latin words and English derivatives

, A Latin lexicon: an illustrated compendium of Latin words and English derivatives. Oxford: Archaeopress, 2020. Pp. 142. ISBN 9781789697629 £24,99.

According to its preface, the purpose of A Latin Lexicon: An Illustrated Compendium of Latin Words and English Derivatives is threefold. First, it is designed to be a study aid for the Oxford Cambridge and Royal Society of Arts General Certificate of Secondary Education (OCR GCSE) syllabus. The GCSE is a national qualification exam for students who leave school at age 16 without pursuing academic study for other qualification exams or university degrees. A Latin Lexicon is also written to be a help to those attempting crosswords or other word games as well as to be a source of general enjoyment, and it accomplishes each of these three goals with great satisfaction.

The book achieves its first purpose by including 360 of the 450 prescribed words on the OCR GCSE Defined Vocabulary List, ten irregular comparative and superlative forms of adjectives, and the cardinal numbers from 1 through 10, 100, and 1,000. In addition, the book contains an introduction with general notes about grammatical terminology and the presentation of derivatives. It also offers a glossary of fifty-five Latin words and phrases that have passed into common English usage.

The body of the book’s 118 pages, numbered with Roman numerals, presents the Latin words in bold type followed by key grammatical information for each word (gender and declension for nouns, conjugation for verbs, and complementary case for prepositions), the word’s definition, and derivatives. Each entry is separated by the image of an olive branch, and twenty hand-drawn illustrations of words appear throughout the text.

This presentation is precisely what many younger, pre-university students would want. Unlike many other resources, this book does not abbreviate lexical entries. For example, it is common for a book to list the number one after the first entry of a first conjugation verb or to give only the genitive singular ending for the second entry of a noun. This lexicon lists the full form for each word, thereby making this a resource of greater use for students early in their studies or for those who are returning to Latin after an absence.

Including derivatives for each word serves both the first and second purposes of the book. Derivatives help the Latin student better remember the definitions of Latin words by connecting them with familiar words in English and they are of great value to those who play word games in English, whose foundations are clearly in Latin.

A book of this size could not list all derivatives for each word, but it does offer as many as six or seven for a particular word, thus indicating the range of influence for each entry. For derivatives based on more than one Latin source, the book includes the second in parentheses. For example, under the main entry nox, the book gives “noctambulist” and includes ambulo in parentheses.

This feature will more than help word enthusiasts as they play various games since the secondary roots are also words listed in this lexicon. Of particular use as well to this audience is the glossary of fifty-five Latin words and phrases toward the beginning of the book. Latin may be less commonly taught than it once was, the words and expressions listed here are in frequent use in academic and everyday life as well as in crosswords and other word games.

The author identifies a third and final purpose for this book to be enjoyment, and it succeeds in this quite well. Logophiles enjoy discovering new things about words, discovering new words themselves, and discovering new connections among words well known. The simple, clear presentation of words and derivatives allows readers to spot connections readily and perhaps to have the eureka moment. Even those boasting a large vocabulary may find an unknown gem or two, or at least ones that are ablatitious in their currency.

A Latin Lexicon achieves its threefold purpose through its clear presentation of information. It neither wanders into distraction nor omits what is necessary. A handsome hardback with heavy, slightly glossy pages, it has the feel of a substantial volume without intimidating the reader in tone or format. The only thing to be wished is a second volume in which the author presents another list of useful Latin words and derivatives.