“Quomodo dicitur Latine…?”: Looking up modern vocabulary

These were my recommendations to a post on the Rusticationis Alumni group, for finding modern vocabulary for use in the classroom.

Finding Latin vocabulary, for students to talk about their lives, can often be a bit tricky. There’s no end of debate and disagreement on the “correct” words for certain things. Here’s a short list of the resources I use, when searching for vocabulary not easily found in most dictionaries.

David Morgan’s Lexicon


Lexicon Latinum fontes tam antiquos quam recentiores continens, was first assembled by David Morgan (beatae memoriae) and is currently being hosted and maintained by Patrick Owens at Wyoming Catholic College. It’s extremely well researched, with notes about sources. David tried, as much as he could, to really find vocabulary that fit the “sense” of what he was defining, rather than a translation. For “soda” we find “mulsa spumans.Mulsa is a drink sweetened with honey, which more closely matches “soda” as we know it is, rather than translating “soft drink.”

Vocabula Picta, Anna Andresian


There is a digital version of this book available, but I would highly recommend having a class set (or at least half a class set) in your room. It’s basically a collection of vocabulary, organized into categories, with beautiful, full-color pictures, many of which were drawn by Anna herself. It’ll fit very well into theme based curricula, and allows students to find their own vocabulary, without recourse to English. Obviously not as extensive as David’s Lexicon (what could be), but its utility and appropriateness for the class room make it well worth it. She provides “assula patatae” for “potato chip.” Cookie (of whatever kind) is “crustulum,” which is what I’ve used for years (and I think is sufficient, no matter the type). For something like “brownies” I would also use “crustula,” perhaps “crustula socolâtae” or “crustula theobrômatis.” (I particularly like latter, because it means “food of the gods,” nodding to its importance in Mesoamerican cultures. Dogfish Head occasionally puts out a chocolate beer called “Theobroma” based on an ancient recipe.”)



It’s the Latin version of Wikipedia. You can look for stuff in English, and then see if “Latina” shows up in the languages on the side-bar. Being a crowd-sourced, open source endeavor, it can be a bit more hit and miss than David’s Lexicon or Anna’s Vocabula Picta. That said, there are some real gems in here, which make it worth checking out. I frequently use it for place names, and have also used articles as reading assignments for students.

Some thoughts on translating proper names…

When it comes to proper names for things, it’s mostly a judgement call. At times I wonder if the strict adherence to translating everything becomes too much of an obstacle to comprehension. If when answering “Quod genus mulsae spumantis est tibi praeoptatum?” you respond with “Ros Montis,” it elicits a lengthy explanation of the word “ros,” which might not have the pedagogical or linguistic pay-off you want. That said, it could also be a very useful thing to do. If you have sign that says “Ros Montis” in front of a case of Mountain Dew, the meaning is readily apparent, and the students who really like it will quickly have learned another vocabulum with basically no effort. For me though, “Coca Cola” is good enough – it’s a brand name that declines easily in the first declension. You will also see many modern languages simply adopt the brand-name as is.

There are of course plenty of other resources at your disposal, both on- and off-line. These are simply the ones I use most frequently, and have found sufficient.

What other places do you look for new vocabulary?

UPDATE March 12, 2015:
An earlier version of this post indicated that Anna drew all of the pictures for Vocabula Picta. According to the front pages of the book “All other images are either used in accordance with the licensing terms of clipart.com and shutterstock.com or are the work of Anna Andresian.”

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