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German scholars started work on the ultimate Latin dictionary in 1894, and they’ll be done in four decades

Flickr/Owen Massey McKnight, CC BY-SA 2.0
No slip ups please.
By Thu-Huong Ha
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

The Thesaurus Linguae Latinae is a reference book 122 years in the making. And at long last, the scholars of the comprehensive Latin dictionary are (sort of) nearing their finish line—in 2050.

The project, commissioned by a collection of German academies in 1894, has the stated goal of documenting every known use of every known ancient Latin word up through 600 AD.

The team of 20 international linguists based out of Munich’s Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities has been poring over an archive of 10 million slips of paper that Latin scholars used to record all known Latin words and their uses, and trying to write comprehensive meanings for each.

And as NPR reported last week, the team is worried they’re running out of time. Researchers finished the “P” section in 2010, meaning they’re only about two-thirds of the way through the work.

And that doesn’t include “N,” which the team previously skipped, saying the letter simply contains too many long words.

Image by Owen Massey McKnight from Flickr, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

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