Dictionary Review


(Latin, English, French, German and Italian)

Author: Murray Wrobel

ISBN: 0-444-51374-4

Publisher: Elsevier B.V.

Europe, Middle East & Africa: Linacre House, Jordan Hill
          Oxford OX2 8DP, UK

          US & Canada: 11830 Westline Industrial Drive
          St. Louis, MO 63146

Publication date: 2004

Price: €150.00 (406 pages)



After his collaboration with Geoffrey Creber and their Dictionary of Plant Names, and his solo triple crown of Dictionary of Entomology, Dictionary of Butterflies and Moths and Dictionary of Bird Names (all published by Elsevier and enthusiastically reviewed in this same column), the latest Elsevier's Dictionary of Amphibians by Murray Wrobel was supposed to put him one step closer to a well deserved knighthood.

From the very start, 5367 head words form a monster récueil, especially when we consider that all three orders of amphibians are represented by about 5700 species altogether.

The value of this datum is further enhanced by the relative stability of the field, well organized by John E. Gray in the 1820s and '30s, Edward H. Taylor in the late 1960s and Ronald A. Nussbaum from the second half of the 1970s on.  Caution is nevertheless in order, because even the stablest order, the Urodela o Caudata, has seen the emersion in 2003 of 5 new species, thanks to a deeper genetic analysis the 518 specie already known, as stated by a source of much knowledge, Jessica J. Miller, the founder and senior editor of the absolutely best amphibian site in cyberspace: www.livingunderworld.org.

Inured by my previous experience with Butterflies and Moths, I expected fewer vulgar renditions of Latin beyond English and was confirmed by Amphibians' indexes.  Specifically, the English listing is 66 pages long and has about 6800 entries.  German is covered in less than 12 pages and possibly 1000 items.  French follows with 8 pages and around 1000 entries as well, while Italian is last with a smudge more than 1 page and 145 terms.  Basically, we are looking at a very large Latin-English dictionary with some French and German and very little "formaggio grana" on top.

To be sure, the English is first class.  The Apodae are the obvious comparison ground, with only 5 families and 165 species, mostly in the Americas and SE Asia.  Wrobel shines with the Gymnophionae: Dermophis mexicanus is related as Mexican caecilian and Typhlonectes natans as rubber eel (a pleasant fellow often seen in pet stores) as well as Rio Cauca caecilian.  Potomotyphlus kaupii and Schistometopum thomense, whose common names are unknown according to JJ Miller, are indicated as Kaup's caecilian and Sao Tome (sic!) Caecilian, respectively.  Ichthyophis bannanicus or banna caecilian is absent, but I share the feeling.  To see such a massive worm-like creature in a cask of bananas must be quite a sight, no matter that it is most serene and unarmed.  In exchange, 31 other Ichtyophiidae are represented out of a total of 38, and so are nine Rhinatrematidae out of nine, two Crotaphatrema out of three and all three African Scolecomomorphi or tropical Caecilinas originally described by the great George A. Boulenger in 1883.


Looking for different accents, Pierre Yves Vaucher's site (www.batraciens-reptiles.com) offers a French starting point, complete with songs.  Hyla arborea, the rainette verte so common in Southern Europe is rendered in all four combinations, Agalychnis callydrias or rainette aux yeux rouges lacks only the trite Italian raganella dagli occhi rossi, and Amazon's milk frog or Phrynohyas resinifictrix is rendered as rainette kunawalu without German nor Italian pairs.  To compensate, the Southern Mediterranean Discoglossus pictus or grenouille peinte is mentioned in all four combinations, exactly as the grenouille persillée or Pelodytes punctatus.  While the equally common French triton marbré or Triturus marmoratus has to do without its well known Italian equivalent (tritone marmorato), the antonomastic pleurodèle or Pleurodeles waltl is rendered in all four languages.


The Amphibian and Reptile Inventory of Fribourg Canton, developed by the Museum of Fribourg, Suisse (www.fr.ch/mhn/expositions/r-batrep.htm), offers Wrobel's multilingual pairings, allowing the following horizontal check:








Salamandra atra

Salamandre noire, salamandre alpestre

Alpensalamander, Mohrensalamander, Regenmolch

Salamandra nera, salamandra alpina


Alpine Salamander, European black Salamander


Triturus cristatus

Triton crêté


Tritone crestato, salamandra acquaiola

Crested Newt, Warty Newt, Great Newt

R and more

Alytes obstetricans

Crapaud accoucheur

Geburtshelferkröte, Fesslerkröte, Glockenfrosch

Rospo ostetrico

Midwife Toad, Bell Toad

R minus Italian

Bufo calamita

Crapaud calamite

Kreuzkröte, Scharrkröte

Rospo palustre

Natterjack, Running Toad, Goldenback

R in Italian: only rospo calamita and rospo crociato

Rana ridibunada

Grenouille rieuse


Rana verde maggiore

Marsh Frog, Lake Frog

R and more

Salamandra salamandra

Salamandre tachetée, salamandre terrestre

Feuersalamander, Erdmolch, Regenmännchen

Salamandra pezzata

European Salamander, Spotted Salamander, Fire Salamander

R and more

Triturus helveticus

Triton palmé

Fadenmolch, Leistenmolch

Tritone palmato

Palmated Newt

R minus Italian

Bombina variegata

Sonneur aux pieds épais, sonneur a ventre jaune

Gelbbauchunke, Bergunke

Ululone a ventre giallo

Yellow-bellied Toad

R and more

Rana dalmatina

Grenouille agile


Rana agile

Agile Frog, Leap Frog, Nimble Frog

R only English and German


Further comparisons with www.reptilarium.ca/batraciens.html, www.fnh.org/naturoscope/Faune6.htm, and the Belgian rbcm1.rbcm.gov.bc.ca/end_species/es_franc/amphtax.html confirm the overall trend: Almost all common species are listed, not just in French but in German as well.

Italian is sorely neglected, sometimes without apparent reason, as it is the case with the missing raganella kunawalu, the already mentioned Phrynohyas resinifictrix. Perhaps we should ignore the fact that almost every world language but English has simply stolen the noun kunawalu from the Wayapi lexicon.

Still, brooding over what is not there is useless, almost as much as focusing upon the extant.  Wrobel is a laureate lexicographer of superior class and substance, but it seems that Amphibians' research is skewed and its Italian sources doubtful.

The already mentioned Salamandra salamandra has two secondary entries, Scaramàndla and Scaràmandla, which are unknown and apparently unknowable, although zealously applied to Triturus vulgaris, T. carnifex and T. alpestris as well.

Rana esculenta, a fine Northeastern delicacy when battered and fried, is also called Ranòcc.  This lemma is not Italian but belongs to a much older Padano Romagnolo, as it is the case with the Rosp of Bufo bufo.

According to Wrobel, that same B. bufo or rospo comune is also called Birinaza, while its cousin B. viridis or rospo smeraldino is also termed Zampèlgh.  In either case, I have searched, and cannot find a shred of supporting evidence for these most un-Italian renditions.

More surprisingly, the Spanish sapo partero de cisternas is peddled as an Italian version of Alytes cisternasii.  Even if we embrace the fullest Italian koiné, from proto-Russian as spoken in Val di Resia to Calimera's Classical Ionian Greek, the only Iberian domestic language is Catalan, and both in Oristano and Barcelona the Spanish Midwife Toad is called gripau, not sapo.

Brekekè koàsk koàsk, as Aristophanes' frogs used to say, there are two typos out of 147 entries.  Pelobates fuscus should be paired with Pelobate fosco, not with Pelobate foco; and rana remporaria or rana rossa should be rendered as Rana temporaria both in Latin and in the "dolce idioma."

Perhaps humor might help.  Where can I find a most improbable tritone alpino della Calabria or "Calabrese alpine newt"?  There are about 600 miles of hard Apennines Mountains between Calabria and the Alps.  It is not much, just the whole length of the country.

In conclusion, Latin-English pairings are reliable, illustrative and very significant.  Also, the much less numerous German and French dyads are solid and probably helpful.  I urge those who work from or into Italian to go to a site such as www.ittiofauna.org/webmuseum/anfibi and save themselves 175 bucks.