Gough map of Great Britain

The DMLBS is inevitably a complex text, but we put a great deal of effort into ensuring that it is as easy to use as it can be, given the extent and complexity of the material it covers and the diverse information that readers will want to obtain from it.


The first fascicule of the Dictionary contained an introductory Note on Editorial Method setting out the principles according to which the Dictionary text has been prepared, followed by an extensive bibliography of the Dictionary's sources. The list of sources was reissued in a revised form with the third fascicule and the introductory note reprinted with the revised bibliography again in the final fascicule of Volume I. Much of the information in this guide for users of the Dictionary is contained within that note, which we would therefore urge all the Dictionary's users to consult.

We pick out here those points which we consider the most valuable to a user of the Dictionary wishing to understand better the content and arrangement of our entries. Moreover, we would add  the practice and style of the Dictionary has been refined gradually over the course of time since the preparation of the first fascicule, more in terms of presentation than content, but we therefore also take this opportunity to describe here some of the more recent features of our text.

In view of this especially, we would ask our users' patience where we have inevitably been less consistent in our presentation than we would wish: the research and editing of the Dictionary has been a long-term project and is the work of ‘many hands over many years’, for most of that time without the benefit of modern technological assistance.


The limits of the Dictionary are defined chronologically as AD 540 (Gildas) down to 1600, and geographically as the Latin of those writing in Britain and of Britons writing abroad during this period, together with (mainly documentary) material from territory under the English crown.

The Bibliography provides references for the works most frequently cited (see below) and it is important to note that this corpus has naturally not remained static over the course of the Dictionary's production with new texts and editions becoming available, adding to  the corpus or replacing existing items. Likewise research has occasionally revealed material not to fall within the definition of British sources, and in these cases use of such material has been discontinued (although it of course remains in earlier parts of the printed Dictionary). Account has been taken wherever possible of such new editions and information, but it has also been felt desirable to achieve a measure of consistency and stability through the Dictionary in respect of the references given.

The Dictionary does not generally have entries for place names or personal names unless these have some addition meaning or are of especial significance or interest.


In line with ordinary medieval practice, the Dictionary prints j and v for consonantal i and u throughout. On spelling in quotations, see below.

Entries and headwords

The division into entries necessarily reflects the complexity of the Medieval Latin language.


For the sake of convenience, a single form is chosen as the headword, but it should be stressed that this form is in principle an artificial construct as a convenient label for an entry, and the spelling or form given may be seldom or never found in the manuscript evidence. The form chosen is based largely on etymology, adopting the standard Classical or Late Latin form, where one had existed, or the form of the vernacular etymological source insofar as this can be reasonably determined. Occasionally a long-standing or well-attested alternative form for a word or part of a word is given in brackets too.

We give headword nouns in their nominative singular form, adjectives in the nominative singular masculine, and verbs in the infinitive.


We treat within a single entry all items that can be regarded as reflecting a single source. Inflected forms are typically treated together within a single entry, unless an inflected form has developed a complex secondary existence as a derivative. Thus participles used adjectivally will be found under their corresponding verbs, and adjectival forms used substantivally or adverbially will be found within the same entry as the adjective. This principle extends to the inflected formations of comparatives and superlatives, and of adverbs in -o (though not -e) formed from second/first declension adjectives.

More difficult are forms on the continuum between Latin and the various vernaculars, especially when the vernacular items are themselves reflexes of Latin vocabulary. In these cases we aim to present the evidence as helpfully as possible, whether by distinguishing two entries (one for the more Latin forms, another for those borrowed into Latin from a vernacular source) or putting the forms together into a single entry (typically with one or more additional headwords). In either case, we provide cross-references from the attested stems to the entry where they are dealt with.

Particularly for borrowed vernacular items, we normally treat in a single entry forms that differ only in gender without distinction in meaning since such forms are regularly indistinguishable in some of their case-forms and would often appear in abbreviated form ending in a suspension mark in manuscripts.


We give cross-references at the relevant alphabetical position to the corresponding entry or entries for every spelling of a word (or its stem, if it is an item that inflects). (If these cross-references are identical in form to any full entries, the entries are ordered alphabetically, with cross-references to earlier entries appearing before any full entries, and those to later entries afterwards.)


We give a brief indication of etymology for most entries (though coverage is less complete in the early fascicules of the Dictionary). CL and LL indicate that the item has been inherited and that unless otherwise indicated at least the first medieval sense given is an inherited one. Other etymologies vary in form, according to what can be determined for the particular history of the item. In general etymologies indicate either the derivational composition of the word from smaller units or the vernacular source(s) represented.

For items derived from other words with their own entries in the Dictionary, users should ordinarily consult those separate entries for information about the etymology of that part of the word and, more importantly, its range of senses.

For an item apparently from a vernacular source it is not uncommon for there to be a lack of an attested direct vernacular counterpart or to antedate the earliest vernacular evidence; in such cases, an indication is given of vernacular forms that might be compared (cf.). That said, there is more generally uncertainty about the relationship between source and borrowing even for entries where the vernacular counterpart is attested before the Latin form, and Dictionary users should be aware of this. Where we have treated separately a form that has come into Medieval Latin from a vernacular that has in turn inherited or borrowed that item from earlier Latin we ordinarily indicate the entry for the earlier Latin form for comparison too.


Since even the extensive evidence for British Medieval Latin is inherently patchy in its distribution it is not generally possible to establish any general ordering of senses by chronological development. Definition paragraphs instead proceed in a logical order from what is understood to be the basic sense of the item, taking account of its etymology and usage. The order chosen thus depends on the basic sense. Typical orders will include moving from general to more specific meanings, from concrete to abstract (or vice versa), from human to animal, from animate to inanimate, etc. Readers should be able to use this to identify rapidly the sense(s) of particular interest within any entry they consult.

Important determining factors for identifying the core meaning for each sense and thus the actual grouping of examples and subsenses into numbered senses are construction (e.g. whether a verb is transitive or intransitive) and context (e.g. whether a verb's objects are human, abstract, etc., whether a use is literal or in some way extended, i.e. transferred or metaphorical).

Within definitions, contextual and constructional information is given in brackets, while the unbracketed definitions themselves give guidance as to the meaning (typically a translation). It should not be assumed that every suggested translation could be applied to every quotation given within a sense or subsense, but rather that collectively they should be understood as indicating the range of usage covered by the sense or subsense in question.

In senses containing two or more subsenses, the Dictionary distinguishes between those where the first subsense is considered to be primary or general for the sense as a whole and those where the subsenses are essentially parallel to each other. The latter kind is indicated by the use of the subsense letter a.

We would draw attention to two formulaic abbreviations frequently used in definitions. The form ‘in quot.’ is intended to indicate that the information that it describes pertains to one or more of the quotations given but should not necessarily be taken as intrinsic to the (sub)sense in question: this is often used where a lack of evidence makes it effectively impossible to be certain whether a pattern has arisen by chance or is an essential part of the item's usage. Similarly, the indication ‘(in gl.)’ is used to indicate that the evidence is confined to entries from glossaries or the like, where the only evidence is a gloss that is also ambiguous between multiple senses (often ones that can be distinguished in the ‘live’ use of the word in non-glossary texts).


The limitations of space are such that we do not ordinarily give more than six quotations to illustrate any individual sense, and for words of classical origin used in inherited meanings we may give only two or three.

For items that are new in the medieval language we generally aim to give the earliest quotation we have as part of a selection of quotations across the history of the item in its different senses. We stress, however, that the available evidence is such that we do not hope to present a full account of every attested use even of these words but to give a guide to the reader who comes across them in a medieval text as to their meaning and resonances. No attempt has been made to give systematically the latest occurrence of the word known to us in our corpus.

Quotations are generally arranged chronologically, and dates, either exact or approximate, are given for documentary examples. Approximate dates for named authors and their works are given in the Bibliography.

Our chief departure from the limiting of quotations in number is in respect of variant spellings. Since Medieval Latin exhibits such a range of spelling variation, we provide quotation evidence (across the senses of an entry) for every alternative spelling we have evidence for, save those arising from two general practices in medieval orthography, namely the use of e for ae and oe, and the use of ci for ti before a vowel.

The Dictionary is acutely aware of the difficulties of manuscript transmission and interpretation. Where some doubt exists about the validity of a reading for whatever reason, the † symbol is prefixed to the doubtful form and we typically give some indication of possible alternative readings in square brackets following. In these we may cite parallel texts (with a reference), our own manuscript readings (or one reported by the edition, indicated as MS or v.l. (= varia lectio)), or our own suggested alternative (l. or ?l.lege or ?lege).


The following general principles are used, except where to follow them would be misleading.

  • We typically expand abbreviations and suspended forms (unless, e.g., there is significant doubt about the correct expansion).
  • We typically abbreviate names to initials (unless, e.g., the case ending is essential to clarify the grammar).
  • The digraphs/diphthongs ae and oe are normalized as e in quotations from around 1100 to around 1500.
  • The sequence ti is normalized as ci before a vowel from towards the end of the 13th century until around 1500.
  • In minuscule Roman numerals a final i is transcribed as j.

To save space the ~ symbol is used to represent an invariant part of a headword within a quotation. (It may also appear within secondary headwords and contextual information in definitions). It generally represents the same set of letters consistently throughout an entry (though in some verbs it may stand for an appropriate form such a participle within a particular sense). When used it represents at least three letters. The ~ is not used in verse quotations.


Every quotation is accompanied by a reference, usually abbreviated, indicating its source. 

In some instances the reference is a cross-reference to another entry. In early fascicules this practice was commonly adopted to save space in print. In more recent fascicules it is reserved primarily for instances where the reader will find useful additional information within the entry pointed to.

Generally, however, the reference is to a text listed in the Bibliography. The reader should be able to identify the author, if named, and work title from this. For documentary sources, the date of the quotation is often used as a method of indicating which of multiple published volumes are being referred to.

In references in general an upper-case roman numeral indicates a volume number and an Arabic number represents a page or column number (in prose) or line number (in verse in editions with line numbers). Many works, however, are cited by other reference systems (e.g. by book and chapter number or by folio), and these formats are expressly indicated in the Bibliography. Where newer editions have superseded older ones, the Dictionary has had to attempt to harmonize forms of references. In some instances the form of reference has been retained but quotations are derived from the newer edition. In others both old and new forms of reference are given, the text being taken from the newer edition. In other instances, the newer edition has been consulted but the text is unchanged and so the reference used is that of the older edition. The Bibliography entries typically indicate which policy has been adopted.


A guide to the intended arrangement of the fascicules of the dictionary as bound volumes can be found here.