I’m in love…with dictionaries!

 I’m in love with this dictionary…really, it’s a two volume set that my sweetheart bought me for christmas. He picked it up at the second-hand store because he liked the font. I have a very fancy Italian-English dictionary, brand new 3″thick…”Oxford / Paravia” complete with online reference resource included.

The dictionary in the picture was published in 1951 as the revised edition of a revision that had started in the 1940’s and then stopped because of the war. The editing house, F. Casanova & C, explain this in the introduction and then go on to talk about how they’ve not only finished the revision but added hundreds of new entries that:

“…bring to you the very latest words and modes of speaking, the result of the rapid changes that both languages have undergone in the course of the conflict.”

On the other side of the frontispiece is the name of the publishing house beneath which is an emblem, stamped by hand in red ink, a lion rampant standing on a globe.

 So, you might think, well Nuovissima in 1951 has to be out of date by now, but it’s really not that way. Today I was looking up the verb “dole” as in “to dole out”. In the fancy new dictionary they offered the following: dare, distribuire in piccole quantità (to give, to distribute in small quantities). Pretty straight forward but I was translating a poem. I was looking for something more subtle. I went to find Volume One of Dizionario Lysle e Gualtieri. They told me that this word was not used much in English anymore, that today people said “distribute” but they gave me a new verb: scompartire (to divide into parts). I glanced up at the noun form, gold! parte, porzione, elemosina, pietanza, spazio lasciato senza aratura, piccolo pezzo di pane (part, portion, alms, pittance, a space left unploughed, a small piece of bread) Now, the next to last one I’ve never heard…but I found the word that fit into the poem, “elemosina”.  I made the noun form work by finessing the line a bit.
Although I have to give credit to Oxford/Paravia in that they went on to give an entry for “on the dole” (a phrase current in England since 1920 and yet not to be found in Lysle even in 1951); for the noun form of “dole” they only offered two synonymous Italian words for “pain”.
All this to say that old dictionaries are a treasure trove for both the translator and the word hound and that the latest up-to date version doesn’t always tell the whole story…

By bonniemcclellan

Mother, poet, american ex-pat from Texas living in Northern Italy.

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