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Did the word didactic go through Latin before arriving in English? How could it not have? Yet Websters says it came to English directly from Greek! I think they are wrong.

There is a Latin word, didacticus, which means didactic and was widely used in Latin texts. How can we find out what is didactic's true etymology?

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    You are free to believe whatever you like; asking us to argue with the dictionary seems a little much. Why does the etymology of didactic (which is clearly a Greek word) matter? Feb 6, 2014 at 19:35
  • The OED gives it as being straight from the Greek as well. Where have you seen didacticus? It isn’t in Lewis and Short. Feb 6, 2014 at 19:39
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    Which "Websters" are you using? There are lots of "Webster's Dictionaries" en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Webster%27s_dictionary each produced by very different organizations.
    – nohat
    Feb 6, 2014 at 19:59
  • @nohat It gives that etymology in my copy of Webster's Third New International (1963 printing, 1961 copyright). Feb 6, 2014 at 20:15

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Did the word didactic go through Latin before arriving in English?

No.

How could it not have?

Some people learn Greek. ("I would make them all learn English: and then I would let the clever ones learn Latin as an honour, and Greek as a treat." — Winston Churchill).

Yet Websters says it came to English directly from Greek!

It is correct.

I think they are wrong.

Why? Can you cite it being used in English prior to Milton, and then demonstrate that this source was familiar with Latin, but not with Greek?

There is a Latin word, didacticus, which means didactic and was widely used in Latin texts.

And Danish has didaktiske, but that doesn't mean it came into English from Danish.

How can we find out what is didactic's true etymology?

It came into English as a coinage of John Milton's (and a true coinage, as διδακτικός means "apt at teaching" rather than "a didactic author or treatise", as he used it—the adjective sense coming later).

Milton knew Greek, he wrote in it and about it (in particular his idea Christian tragedy should combine the legacies of Greek Tragedy and Hebrew Scripture).

With his strong command of both Latin and Greek, in turning to them for a word, he would have known διδακτικός and needed no intermediary.

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  • (You don't really need the final -e in the Danish word—it's just the marker of the plural/definite form of the adjective. If you were aiming for the noun, it's didaktiker.) Feb 6, 2014 at 21:15
  • @JanusBahsJacquet I'm normally happy with my Danish if I manage to order a pølse and a beer without the seller replying in English.
    – Jon Hanna
    Feb 6, 2014 at 21:34
  • @JonHanna Last time I was in a bar in Copenhagen, some young people who had heard me trying to get the waiter to understand English, asked me if I was Finnish!
    – WS2
    Feb 6, 2014 at 21:56
  • @WS2, good heavens. Was this in the 18th century or so, by any chance? I can’t imagine anyone here nowadays a) not understanding English, or b) getting English (even with a Norfolk twist) confused with Finnish of all things! Jon—that’s often how I feel about my Irish when I’m in Ireland, too, except I’m mostly happy if I manage to order without them replying in English that they don’t speak Polish … Feb 6, 2014 at 22:35
  • @JanusBahsJacquet where in Ireland? You likely have more Irish than they do anyway (I have more Danish than Irish, even with the above description of how little I have).
    – Jon Hanna
    Feb 6, 2014 at 23:30
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The Romans took over a lot of Greek words, especially in the field of science. didaktikós is originally a Greek word, when you find it in the Latin dictionary then it is the Greek word in latinized form. I think you may really ask whether etymological dictionaries are right in saying "directly from Greek". But I can't verify your statement that the word didacticus was widely used in Latin texts. - By the way, I can't find didacticus in my Latin dictionaries or online dictionaries either.

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    "I can't find didacticus in my Latin dictionaries". Same here, I've checked in 10 Latin dictionaries ranging from 1552 to 2008. No trace of didacticus. Feb 6, 2014 at 22:25
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Webster has the support of the OED which shows 'didactic' as having been a relatively modern entrant into English from Greek. The earliest recorded use is 1644.

According to Etymoline it came to English from Greek via the French word didactique. But this is clearly a relatively modern acquisition. There is no suggestion that it was part of Norman French.

The OP mentioned a Latin equivalent. Is this from medieval Latin, or classical Latin?

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  • Etymonline mentions only the adjective, and also says it came in in the 1650s. While it's possible that the adjectival use was separately influenced by the French, Milton's noun predates it.
    – Jon Hanna
    Feb 6, 2014 at 20:47
  • @JonHanna The word is recorded in French in 1554. Feb 6, 2014 at 22:29
  • @AlainPannetierΦ ooh. So the noun and adjective are indeed likely to be partly independent in origin; the adjective being influenced by both the English noun and the French adjective. Cool.
    – Jon Hanna
    Feb 6, 2014 at 23:27

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