Meanings: Assyrian

June 14, 2011

Unaccountably, Tim McLarnan teaches mathematics at Earlham and raises splendid children in his spare time, rather than devoting himself to being what he was clearly cut out to be, this generation’s S. J. Perelman or Robert Benchley.  Want proof he has it in him (mathematicians always want proof)? Here’s Tim on the completion of the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary:


I was pleasantly surprised today to open the BBC’s news feed and to find
on the first page an article about the final completion of the Chicago
Assyrian Dictionary, a project on which my sister Linda worked for 25
years, but one which (unaccountably) is not always at the top of the
world news.  Here’s Mother Beeb’s account of the dictionary:

The CAD has been described as the last of the great Victorian dictionary
projects, although work on it actually didn’t begin until the 1920s.
From that time until quite recently, it has consistently been described
as a 10 year project.  The true attitude of the participants, though,
may be better captured by what I think of as the project’s icon, a
stopped clock in the Dictionary Room with a sign hanging beneath it
bearing a quotation from the first director of the CAD, “Only millennia
matter here.”

Although completing the CAD took about 80 years longer than the
originally projected 10, the dictionary was managed with resplendent
frugality.  As each letter was finished, the cards in the files filling
the dictionary room were recycled, so that many of them were written
front and back, right side up and upside down.  To self-indulgently
start a new card was to raise eyebrows.

The 21 volumes make a tasteful addition to anyone’s library, though the
occasional user may prefer the freely downloadable PDFs at

Prospective buyers should be aware that the title of the Chicago
Assyrian Dictionary is slightly misleading.  It is actually a dictionary
from Assyrian to Chicago, not from Chicago to Assyrian.  Those eager to
find the right search term for “influence peddling” in Hammurabi’s Code
or to learn what was known in the ancient Near East about the Illinois
State Fish (the Chicago Floater) will need to look elsewhere.  Perhaps
there is a bibliography.

Friends of Assyriology may wish to gloat that in a decades-long grudge
match between 10-year projects, the CAD has surged to victory despite
spending less than 0.1% of the budget of its principal competitor, .  Best wishes, NIF!  Can we send you
the sign?

About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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