[B-Greek] How to use a Hebrew -- er, Greek -- Dictionary

Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu
Sun Sep 2 06:33:21 EDT 2007

The blog to which I want to call attention this morning is John  
Hobbins' "Hebrew Poetry." He has an entry dated Sept. 1, 2007  
entitled as above (but, of course, I'm the one who added ".. er,  
Greek--." If you change "Hebrew" to "Greek" at all points where  
that's appropriate, I think every bit of it will apply to Biblical  
Greek. One item that doesn't apply is his reference to a dictionary  
by word-roots; I wish there were such an animal for Biblical Greek,  
but even the etymological dictionaries of ancient Greek with which  
I'm familiar have the usual alpha arrangement of words. The URL:


The first two of seven admonitions on use of the dictionary are ones  
that I have, in my time, reiterated ad nauseam with regard to  
Biblical Greek. It won't hurt to reiterate them still yet once again,  
especially in this much blunter and more exhaustive formulation:

"(1) Don’t use it. That’s right. Stay away from the dictionary until  
you are really stuck. Always try to determine what a word means from  
context and from whatever other Hebrew you know first. Verify the  
understanding of the text you have come to on your own as a last step.

"(2) Remember, you can’t just plug in the gloss from the dictionary  
that appeals to you most. The meaning a word has is determined by  
patterns of usage and by context. The gloss from the dictionary that  
is most likely to approximate the sense the word has in the text you  
are reading will be the one it has in similar syntactic and  
paradigmatic contexts. By syntactic context, I mean the prepositional  
phrase a verb co-occurs with, the verb that governs the noun in  
question, etc. By paradigmatic context, I mean the specific contents  
of the prepositional phrase a verb co-occurs with, the specific verb  
that governs the noun one is looking at, and so on."

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Ret)

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