I am interested in the etymology of words in Latin. Is there a resource available that could help me determine if a word is specifically from Old, New or Vulgar Latin etc. according to a time it is first attributed to? I have already looked at Wikitionary and I have found it lacking in the information I am seeking. I am also wondering if a dictionary exists for every stage in the history of the language as this would enable me to notice and learn how or if the language has changed for certain words.

  • In general any word in a dictionary of Latin can be assumed to be Classical Latin unless specifically noted otherwise, and Old Latin will not usually be included in most dictionaries (with a few exceptions; most dictionaries will have quom). I don't think you're going to find any dictionaries listing the earliest attestation of words the way some English dictionaries do, since that's often impossible to say and rarely particularly useful for anything. The best way to learn how Latin evolved is to read one of the many accounts of how Latin evolved, not to reinvent the wheel on your own.
    – Cairnarvon
    Commented Apr 14, 2021 at 1:20
  • Thank you for explaining this to me, by quom do you mean origin or when?
    – aitía
    Commented Apr 14, 2021 at 1:23
  • 1
    Yes, I mean the word that later became the conjunction cum, when -om changed to -um generally (and not the preposition cum, which came from Old Latin com). I'm not sure why it's usually included; probably because it's short. This isn't an answer to your question so I'm not going to post it as one, but if you want a specific recommendation I'd say try James Clackson's The Blackwell History of the Latin Language. It's not exhaustive but it's an accessible introduction.
    – Cairnarvon
    Commented Apr 14, 2021 at 1:27

1 Answer 1


Classic etymological dictionary:

  • Etymologies, St. Isidore of Seville (c. 560-636 A.D.)

Modern etymological dictionaries:

  • 6
    Suggesting St. Isidore to someone interested in real etymologies is pretty ridiculous.
    – Cairnarvon
    Commented Apr 14, 2021 at 1:02
  • 5
    Connected to reality and supported by comparative and/or philological evidence, not pulled out of some bishop's backside^Wfreewheeling imagination. Etymology is a science, and it really only became a science in the 19th century—the work of St. Isidore is to legitimate etymology as alchemy is to chemistry: connected, sure, and a kind of precursor, but you wouldn't recommend John Dee to someone asking about chemical reactions. Didn't we already have a demonstration of the inadequacy of Isidore's approach when you asked about the etymology of frater a while back?
    – Cairnarvon
    Commented Apr 14, 2021 at 19:56
  • 1
    @Cairnarvon So more modern, the more true?
    – Geremia
    Commented Apr 14, 2021 at 20:28
  • 4
    Someone who doesn't even know Latin and Greek have a common ancestor is considerably less likely to hit on a meaningful explanation of a word's origins than a framework that not only does know that, but actually worked out, through comparison of sound correspondences in a large number of languages, what that ancestor looked like and how it evolved into its various daughter languages, yes. Isidore's "etymologies" are uninformed guesses; even if some happened by chance to be right (and not a single one is), the fact that he doesn't even have a coherent methodology makes them worthless.
    – Cairnarvon
    Commented Apr 14, 2021 at 20:53
  • 2
    Nobody should ever be discouraged from discovering Isidore of Seville.
    – Hugh
    Commented Apr 16, 2021 at 14:30

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.