Sum: Watkins's IE dictionary

Larry Trask larryt at
Tue Dec 14 17:35:39 UTC 1999

----------------------------Original message----------------------------
Yesterday I posted a query about this well-known dictionary of PIE roots
represented in English.  I've already received a large number of replies,
for which I am grateful.  Jim Rader has already posted a very detailed
summary of the history of this publication, but I might add a couple of
points stressed by some other respondents:

1. The first edition contains a number of errors -- presumably for the
reasons Jim gives.

2. These errors were at least partly corrected in the separata version.

3. The version of the PIE dictionary in the third [sic] edition of the AHD
was heavily pruned from the original.

4. Houghton Mifflin didn't merely let the separata sell out; they actually
recalled the unsold copies and pulped them, fearing that it was cutting into
the sales of the dictionary.

Here are the full publication details:

The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots, revised and edited
by Calvert Watkins. 1985.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin.  ISBN 0-395-36070-6
(pb); 0-395-37888-5 (hb).  xxvii+ 113 pp.  No prices available.

All sources agree that the separata is out of print, and the HM website
doesn't mention it.  Presumably there are no plans to reissue it.

By the way, a (new?) edition of the American Heritage Dictionary (formerly
published in Britain as the Heritage Dictionary) has recently appeared in
the bookshops over here, or rather in Borders.  It comes with a CD-ROM, but
all copies are sealed, so I can't readily find out whether it's a genuinely
new edition or merely a flashy repackaging.  The cover mentions the Watkins
dictionary, but what version I can't tell.

Anyway, my reason for inquiring was this.  An acquaintance of mine has a
retired father who has conceived a passion for IE.  He is desperately
searching for some kind of IE dictionary, without success.  His daughter
asked me to suggest something as a Christmas present, and, since the father
can't read German, I suggested the Watkins thing, which ought to be nearly
perfect for his purposes.  For some reason, I couldn't get through to yesterday, so I posted my query instead. make their usual offer to search for a secondhand copy, but
things don't look obviously promising: one respondent checked a few
used-book websites, but couldn't find it.  So we may have to fall back on a
photocopy of the original AHD version, which I have on my shelf -- though
another respondent reports that he has seen copies on sale in US bookstores.

Thanks again to Paul Hopper, Ross Clark, Thomas Cravens, Alexander Vovin,
Marc Picard, Michael Morrison, Lyle Campbell, Yongnam Um, Bobby Bryant, Jade
Corn, Gordon Whittaker, Robert Stockwell, Martin Huld, Patrick Ryan, Robert
Rankin, Alice Harris, Peter Michalove, and Jim Rader for their responses.

Larry Trask
University of Sussex
Brighton BN1 9QH

larryt at

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