Dictionary Use


A few times in the Latin-speaking world, I've run into people who are afraid to use dictionaries. They want to learn everything via comprehensible input. "The dictionary is a poor substitute for learning the word in context."

I think that's silly. A good dictionary is a big toybox of comprehensible input. Take this entry from Lewis and Short on a use of dumtaxat:

To this extent, so far, in so far, as far as this matter is concerned: sin autem jejunitatem et siccitatem … dummodo sit polito … in Attico genere ponit, hoc recte dumtaxat, Cic. Brut. 82, 285: nos animo dumtaxat vigemus, id. Att. 4, 3 fin.: sint ista pulchriora dumtaxat adspectu, id. N. D. 2, 18, 47; id. Div. 2, 43, 90; id. Deiot. 1, 1; Hirt. B. Afr. 90; Dig. 4, 3, 17, § 1: dumtaxat de peculio, as far as relates to the peculium, Edict. Praet. ap. Dig. 15, 2, 1; Dig. 14, 4, 7, § 5.

When I started learning Latin, that was a useless block of text. I was both too young and too inexperienced with language learning to use it. Now I know better.

Look at what's in there. We have a definition. That's establishing meaning. We have examples in the form of quotes. Those are your comprehensible input. We have citations, pointing you to clear, in-context uses of this word in this sense.

Everything you need to master this word is in there. A good dictionary is a big box of comprehensible input. It doesn't have to be a monolingual dictionary to be valid. Use your tools.