The Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic

by Hans Wehr;  edited by JM Cowan 41zb5CQXgBL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_
Snowball Publishing, 2011
1110 pages, $47.50, hard cover
ISBN 9781607963684
Rating: ✭✭✭✭✭ 

This is the ne plus ultra of Arabic-English dictionaries, except maybe not this particular edition. Reports are that this edition is actually a reprint of the 1960 edition, and there have been at least two newer editions since then, with 200 more and better looking pages. There is also some muttering about Snowball Publishing not being quite reputable. I didn’t know all this when I sprung for mine.

It is very thick and 4.4 pounds, or two kilograms heavy. You do not want to be lugging this baby on the bus. Wehr first published it in German as the Arabisches Wörterbuch für die Schriftsprache der Gegenwart and from the get-go everyone fell over each other trying to describe how very excellent it is. It has never been bettered.

The Wehr is the OED of Arabic-English dictionaries. Quotations aren’t given, but he combed very wide-ranging sources for his entries, and not just musty ancient existing dictionaries. This has made a huge difference. Entries are ordered by their roots, and so if you can’t figure out the root you may be frustrated. But once you find what you’re looking for there’s a ton of information on the word starting with the perfect of the basic stem, the vowels of the imperfect of stem and on and on. There is transliteration but no vowel marks. And when you are even a little comfortable with roots this becomes a desert island tome of the first magnitude. Except this edition, I guess, but really I am not in any position to squabble over two hundred fewer pages when there’s over a thousand of them to wehrkeep me busy for several lifetimes.

Amazingly, some genius has made a searchable PDF of the Wehr. So you can go have a look and see what all the hubbub’s about.

Hans Wehr was a professor at the University of Münster from 1957 to 1974. He died in 1981.

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