Friday, 25 January 2013

Liddell and Scott down the Rabbit Hole

Philip Harvey

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Students of New Testament Greek know that time is of the essence.

At lunch break during Greek Summer School one of them is reclining on the grass.

She looks up to see rushing past a Rabbit in tailored waistcoat and checking his fob watch.

More unusual things have been seen at university, but all the same it’s a lesson.

Soon she will have to follow her interests and return to class.

Fortunately she is sensible and well-educated, which means she uses devices.

One of them is the Liddell & Scott 9th edition on Kindle (2007).

Sometimes when she goes into L&S it’s like falling down a well at incredible speed.

Other times it’s like drinking something that makes her feel very big, or very small.

Other times though she comes up against utterly irrational situations.

At a tea party a March Hare says that his L&S is totally corrupted and unusable.

A Dormouse says he cannot even download his L&S, but then he’s always falling asleep.

Mine has never worked, announces a Hatter, let’s change the subject!

Her own copy isn’t all bad, but it has trouble reading inflected words.

That’s inflected, not infected, mutters a trippy Caterpillar who seems able to read her mind.

Everything the same is slightly different from the way it was before, the Caterpillar adds, enigmatically.

Where am I now anyway? she thinks to herself.

In fact she finds that about 70% of searches on her L&S do not return a hit.

“Low ratios are because Greek texts are not consistent when it comes to how unicode for polytonic Greek is applied.”

Who is that? she thinks, looking around.

“A unicode text can be encoded using composing diacritics, or precomposed diacritics,” comes a second voice. “The consensus today favours precomposed diacritics but within this subset, due to faulty duplication, we again have two choices. Vowels can be represented using acute or tonos with the consensus being in favour of the tonos. Most computer operating can disambiguate these variations but devices like the Kindle and Android based systems do not.”


It is a Turtle talking to a Gryphon.

Everything is very strange today, she thinks. Let’s take a reality check with Thesaurus Linguae Graecae.

“Digitization, markup and correction of L&S proved to be far more time consuming and demanding from a scholarly point of view than we anticipated, hence the entire project took five years to complete. The effort began by extracting identifiable sections of the text, such as headwords and meanings, that we could proofread using TLG correction software or by collating multiple digital versions. This approach was helpful but not entirely effective. Ultimately, the bulk of editing required a human eye. The final project contains a number of enhancements compared to the printed version. A number of lower case or ambiguous entries have been converted to upper case and a large number of typographical errors have been corrected. Sub-entries in the printed edition marked with hyphens, have been expanded and treated as headwords. Greek words (both headwords and Greek inside entries), and English definitions can be searched and L&S citations are linked to the TLG updated editions (when possible).”

Something of a mouthful and her eye keeps returning to the sentence:

Ultimately, the bulk of editing required a human eye.  

Say what?

The words say what I want them to mean, neither more nor less, declares a large Egg sitting on a Wall.

This whole business is getting right out of hand and reminds her of something her clergyman father once said:

“Of the making of e-book readers there is no end. And to get them all to do what you want them to do is a vexation of the spirit.”

Being sensible and well-educated, not to mention polite, she decides for the moment to be off with its headwords.

She is aware that with an original, if hefty, copy of the L&S book itself in front of her, the questions about the words of great price will be answered in two minutes.

Where to find one?

Abebooks has some, U$94.63 from a place in Bonn, U$163.12 at Cotswold Internet Books.

While Amazon spruiks the Kindle with the following Notes:

“1. An alphabetical index is not provided as the Lexicon has over 800,000 headwords. 2. The preface, list of abbreviations and bibliography have been removed to bring the file size within the Kindle eBook limit of 50MB.”

Curiouser and curiouser.

The fact that an e-book has a word limit seems altogether the most extraordinary thing to the budding Greek scholar.

It seems to somehow or other she knows not why contradict the thought that her device has limitless space.

Perhaps it is an urban myth, she thinks to herself.

Such is her muddle, she has even split an infinitive.

But no sooner has she had these unusual thoughts than she finds herself awake on the grass by the riverbank.

How glad she is that she has been to Wonderland, and not to a picnic at Hanging Rock.

The last thing she needs is to be sucked up into the vortex.

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