Archaeopress (2020) h/b 142pp £24.99 (ISBN 9781789697629)

This is a well-presented book, packed with information for teachers, students and anyone interested in language, and Latin in particular.

M. says the idea for the book came from the times she spent with her pupils as they strove to learn their Latin vocabulary for GCSE examinations. She would play a game involving thinking of English derivatives of the Latin word. This is an exercise that any teacher of Latin worth their salary (from sal ‘salt’) would and should already be employing. The difference is that M. has put the game, and some answers, into a book.

There are three main sections in the Introduction: ‘Notes for GCSE students’, ‘General notes’ and a ‘Glossary of Latin words and phrases in common usage’.

In the ‘Notes for GCSE students’ section, M. explains that there are 360 of the 450 OCR Defined Vocabulary List words in the book, with some extras such as irregular comparative and superlative adjectival forms. Presumably the 90 unlisted words are less likely to have English derivations. M. then rather states the obvious, saying that learning all the vocabulary by heart will enable the student to tackle translations and comprehensions with confidence and flair. M. also recommends Taylor’s Essential GCSE Latin as a good grammar book to accompany her work.

There follows a series of notes on how parts of speech are listed, the names of the cases; some ‘General notes’ on the derivatives and how they were chosen, Latin phrases and their abbreviations e.g. exempli gratia (‘for the sake of example’); and finally a ‘Glossary’ of over 50 words and phrases in common usage, some more common than others, e.g. carpe diem ‘seize the day’ and quidnunc ‘an inquisitive, gossiping person’ (literally, ‘what now?)’. These are all very useful, though ‘AD’ is noted as annus dominianno, surely?

We now come to the meat of the book, the Latin Lexicon A-V. Each page is counted in Roman numerals—a nice touch—and is simply set out, giving the Latin word, what part of speech it is with its declension etc., its English meaning and six derivations. There is also space for readers to add their own derivatives, e.g. ‘amo, amare, amavi, amatus verb (1st) “love, like”: Amanda, amiable, amorous ……. (cf. amor)’. The divisions between each listing are marked by a drawing of a laurel branch. It is all very easy to follow and, if you know your Latin grammar and have read M.’s preliminary notes, the term ‘noun 3rd’, for example, will hold no fears.

The illustrations which enhance the look of the whole are nicely drawn, appealing to the main target reader. They also add an extra clue to remembering the accompanying Latin word. For example, insula (‘island; block of flats’) has an illustration of both these meanings in one picture.

In summary, this is a useful and attractive book. Whether it meets all three of its aims, as stated in the Preface, is arguable. Nor am I sure that it is all that much of a ‘secret weapon for anyone tackling crosswords or word games’, though it makes an enjoyable enough trawl through the English language. I did, for example, come across at least two words new to me, ‘dormy’ and ‘uxorilocal’. As far as the main target readership—the GCSE student—goes, the teacher could just as easily download the OCR Defined Vocabulary List from the Board’s website and then add a column to the Excel spreadsheet for their own derivations.

I think this book might sit better on the teacher’s desk in school or on a coffee table at home as a talking point, rather than in the rucksacks of individual GCSE students, who may consider its £24.99 price tag a bit much for a vade-mecum.


Mike Smith