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Old Wells vs. New Wells - A review

pdenisowski's picture

Old Wells and new WellsOld Wells and new WellsOne of my first Esperanto dictionaries (purchased sometime in the mid-late 1980s) was the "Teach Yourself Esperanto Dictionary" by J.C. Wells (ISBN 0340275766). Along with Butler's Esperanto-English dictionary (still my favorite) and the Plena Vortaro de Esperanto kun Suplemento, these were my primary dictionaries for about 20 years.

As someone who is very interested in dictionaries (see my ESPDIC project), I was very excited when I saw the revised edition of Wells' dictionary, published by Mondial (ISBN 9781595691507). Having now spent some time using the "new Wells," I thought I would write a review comparing it with my trusty "old Wells."

To begin with, the new Wells is larger and available in both paperback and hardback. An easily-obtainable, affordable hardback dictionary is long overdue. The print size in the new Wells is also substantially larger and the pages are lighter : welcome changes for those with older eyes.

The "Advice to the Student of Esperanto" section of the old Wells is largely preserved in the new Wells as a "Reference Grammar" section. The foreward to the new Wells says the new version contains 10,150 Esperanto roots and about 22,000 English headwords, whereas the old Wells gives 9,000 and 19,500, respectively. The biggest change, however, is the addition of more "modern" terms in the new Wells : interreto (internet), retpoŝto (email), etc.

Without doing an exhaustive study, I have noticed that words have also been dropped from the old Wells : just looking at the first part of the B's I noticed that Baĥo, bakanalo, and even baledo (!) were dropped in the new Wells, and some corrections/changes have been made as well (like bacteriofago vs. bacteriofaĝo).

One change I would have liked to have seen in the new Wells is more phrases/figures of speech. For example, under "jaro" you will find : (ĉiu)jara, jarcento, jarkolekto, dekjara, kiomjara, and superjaro, but no phrases like "dum la tuta jaro," "antaŭ kelkaj jaroj," etc. Examples like these are common in most larger foreign language dictionaries, and I would have gladly sacrificed some white space/larger fonts for more examples. [This is something I'm trying to address in the ESPDIC project : more examples/phrases].

Although I personally prefer Butler's Esperanto-English Dictionary for everyday use, Butler's dictionary is long out of print and does not have an English-Esperanto section (although the companion volume by Fulcher and Long is still available). That said, my opinion is that the new Wells dictionary is the single best dictionary available for the beginning or intermediate student of Esperanto : it's comprehensive, easy on the eyes, readily available (the Esperanto-USA retbutiko or Amazon, etc.) and sturdy (available in hardcover). If you can only have one Esperanto-English/English-Esperanto dictionary, this is definitely the one to get.


by pdenisowski


The main problem with it

russ's picture

The main problem with it is that it's just a list of words and equivalents in the other language, with no definitions or explanations or usage examples, so words with more than one meaning are often ambiguous or misleading.

E.g. just a few days ago I saw someone translate "fabulous" (in the common current English sense of "wonderful, superb, really great") as "fabela" (the less common older English sense of "related to fables"), because that's the only Esperanto equivalent given for "fabulous" in Wells, with no explanation or definition or usage examples given.

Butler is much better in this regard, albeit only in one direction.

August 25, 2011 by russ, 5 years 47 weeks ago

Yes, usage examples are very important

pdenisowski's picture

I agree completely : there really should be a dictionary with more usage examples. Of course, there's always the PIV for examples ...

Incidentally, Fulcher and Long, the CEED, and the ESPDIC project all only give "fabela" for "fabulous."

It's hard to say without more context, but I'm not sure I would entirely disapprove of the use of "fabela" to mean "great." The PIV 2005 gives both "(1) apartenanta al fablo" [wrong here] as well as "(2) eksterordinara, nekredebla." [maybe okay, in my opinion, depending on context].

At least I haven't seen anyone using "epopea" in this way yet -- "epopea malsukceso" for "epic fail" :)


August 26, 2011 by pdenisowski, 5 years 47 weeks ago

Wells, Butler, etc.

Lee Miller's picture

Butler is indeed very useful and valuable. It is dated, the range of vocabulary is somewhat limited (you won't find many terms for sexual functions or cursing, for example), and it is sadly out of print with no plans on the part of EAB to reprint it. But it is full of great information and insights into the language. If you happen to find a copy at a reasonable price, grab it.

Wells is also useful as long as you recognize its structure and limitations. It doesn't pretend to be more than a rather complete word list . . . I've always used it as my "at hand" dictionary, but I'm also cautious about double-checking for meaning and usage.


August 26, 2011 by Lee Miller, 5 years 47 weeks ago

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Landa Kongreso * 2017 June 30 - July 3 * Annual Congress

EO Esperanto: La Landa Kongreso 2017 okazos en Raleigh, Nord-Karolino, Usono, 2017 ekde la 30-a de junio ĝis la 3-a de julio, 2017.
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EN English: The Annual US Esperanto Congress 2017 will be in Raleigh, North Carolina, USA, Jun 30 - July 3, 2017.
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