I have a lot of abbreviations that I can't work out the meaning of from an old etymological dictionary and I'm looking for a reference that will explain them all.

I have a copy of an etymological dictionary about the Sinhala language, written in English by Wilhelm Geiger (a German), published in 1941. It has a table at the front to explain the abbreviations used for each language's name used but not for the different parts of speech.

E.g. (italicised text transliterated from Sinhala into English):

pahan, pasan a. pprt. pleased, glad

temanavaa v., prt. temuvaa to wet, moisten

mala s., st. f. mal flower

I have highlighted the abbreviations in bold. I have omitted the actual etymologies because they are not relevant to my question.

I can work out that a. is adjective and v. is verb and he also uses adv. for adverb but he uses s. for nouns (the majority of the entries are nouns) and st. f. and st. ff. for single and multiple plural forms respectively (i.e. one mala, two mal using the example above). I'm guessing that he's using the same convension as p=page and pp=pages for the "f"s, st. f.=one plural form, st. ff.=multiple plural forms. I have no idea what prt. and a. pprt. mean. It must have been common enough knowledge for his intended audience that he didn't need to explain these terms. Could it be that even though he has written the dictionary in English that he is using the German abbreviations (s.=substantiv noun)?

Where can I find out what all these (and the others I haven't mentioned) actually mean?

  • 2
    My guesses: prt. = participle; pprt. = past [or present] participle; a. pprt. = adjective and past/present participle; ff. = (and the) following [or perhaps folios]; f. = feminine; s. = substantive [which is a legitimate alternative designation for a noun in English, not only in German]; st. = stanza. If you can't decipher the abbreviations sufficiently, perhaps a university with a department that covers Sinhalese may be able to help: I would assume they'd be familiar with this particular work.
    – Erik Kowal
    Commented Jul 22, 2014 at 5:43
  • 1
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_grammatical_cases Maybe obl. c. is Oblique case: all-round case; any situation except nominative or vocative. It's so hard to understand without a single source that explains them all!
    – CJ Dennis
    Commented Jul 22, 2014 at 6:30
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    In Merriam-Webster dictionaries for the first half of the 20th century, p. pr. meant "participle present," p. p. meant "participle past," and pret. meant "preterit." But there appears not to have been agreement throughout the field of lexicography on standard abbreviations for the various parts of speech and other explanatory or descriptive terms. Given the absence of any real consensus on abbreviations, the author's failure to provide a list of long forms for the abbreviations he employs imposes a rather grave limitation on the usefulness of his work.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Jul 23, 2014 at 7:01
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    Ironically, Julius de Lanerolle, who wrote the prefatory note to the 1941 edition of Geiger's Etymological Glossary of the Sinhalese Language, observes that "I have also added a list of Abbreviations indicating the languages referred to in the book. The other ordinary abbreviations used by the author were considered to be too well known to need a similar list." Moral of story: Don't omit lists of abbreviations from a reference work on grounds that the abbreviations are "too well known" to need one.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Jul 30, 2014 at 4:06
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    @SvenYargs I have seen this happen many times before, where the author has failed to include an explanation of abbreviations in a reference book from a long time ago. I believe I’ve even answered questions here about such. What might be even worse here is that the writer himself was German, and so may think “commonplace” a philological working-set that is different than the ones more commonly known in English, particularly a layman’s English of the early 21st century. I’d like to think no one writing today would ever omit an element so important to deciphering their work, but you never know.
    – tchrist
    Commented Aug 5, 2014 at 2:21

1 Answer 1


sq., sqq. sequentia f., ff. [und] folgende [Seite]; [und] folgende [Seiten] http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liste_lateinischer_Abkurzungen

however noun f. is Feminine substansive (noun - in German capitalized)

ie following (page or ff pages) common in German and because of the word similarity , why explain!

s. singular - much more important to a German but he may also have used s. as neuter (sesslich in German). Sinhalese has apparently 3 gender cases


in general, I suggest to look for Latin abbrev. based around English, and what is possible within Sinhala

  • See link posted by @DanBron Look at books.google.com/books?id=FTi9geZ1WbEC page 22, entries 343 & 344 for examples of st. f. and st. ff. "f." could be following (single) word, "ff." could be following (multiple) words. I haven't seen any examples to contradict this but I still don't know what "st." stands for, only that it's marking plural forms. It could possibly be the adjective form of the noun as explained in Teach Yourself Sinhalese by A.W.L. Silva, p 180: mala flower, mal flowers, gaha tree, gas trees, mal gaha flowering tree. He mentions the plural nominative case.
    – CJ Dennis
    Commented Aug 8, 2014 at 1:45
  • In the link you provide go about half way down to Morphology and compare gender with number. You'll see why number makes much more sense than gender for "st." "book" pota (p 155, entry 1724) is not going to change from masculine to feminine (poti?) but from singular to plural (pot).
    – CJ Dennis
    Commented Aug 8, 2014 at 1:56
  • I just found out that he uses "fem." for feminine. Page 195, entry 2945: horā, s., st. f. hora, thief, robber, rogue; fem. hera. Does anyone have a really good guess what "st." means? I can't think of any synonyms for "plural" that would abbreviate to "st".
    – CJ Dennis
    Commented Aug 13, 2014 at 5:06
  • @user3306356 It was lovely of you to award some bounty points, however, the only part of this answer I can agree with is that "f"/"ff" is following (although word/words rather than page/pages). So far the most useful contribution has been the comment from Erik Kowal, although I would still only agree with about half of his guesses.
    – CJ Dennis
    Commented Aug 13, 2014 at 5:19

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