The Chicago Demotic Dictionary 

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The Demotic Dictionary of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago
Janet H. Johnson, editor
2001 The University of Chicago

Introduction to The Demotic Dictionary of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago

The Demotic Dictionary of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago (CDD) is a lexicographic tool for reading texts written in a late stage of the ancient Egyptian language and in a highly cursive script known as Demotic. In use from ca. 650 B.C. until the middle of the fifth century A.D., Demotic served as the medium for a wide variety of text types. These include “documentary” texts, such as business and legal documents, private letters and administrative inscriptions, and “literary” texts, including not only works of literature per se, for example, narrative texts and pieces of wisdom literature, but also religious and magical texts and scientific texts dealing with topics such as astronomy, mathematics, and medicine. Demotic texts thus not only provide important witnesses for the development of ancient Egyptian linguistic and paleographical traditions but also constitute an indispensable source for reconstructing the social, political, and cultural life of ancient Egypt during a fascinating period of its history.

The CDD is intended to supplement and update W. Erichsen’s Demotisches Glossar, which was published in 1954 and has been the only large-scale dictionary of Demotic available to the scholarly world. The CDD is formatted in a way to make it as compatible with Erichsen’s Glossar as possible and is based mainly on texts published during the first twenty-five years after the Glossar appeared (i.e., 1955–1979). The coverage of texts published between 1955 and 1979 is intended to be comprehensive. In addition, the CDD contains some vocabulary from texts published before 1955, especially gleanings from Wilhelm Spiegelberg’s manuscript dictionary. The CDD also includes a few items from texts published after 1979, especially new studies of texts that were originally published between 1955 and 1979, but no systematic attempt has been made to include words from all texts published after the latter date. Whenever possible, references to more recent secondary literature (i.e., that published in 1990 or later) have been incorporated into the dictionary’s entries, though coverage of such references is not complete. The CDD includes both new meanings or significant new orthographies for words cited by Erichsen and words that are absent from the Glossar. It also contains far more extensive examples of compounds, title(-string)s, and idiomatic expressions than the Glossar. Otherwise, if the CDD does not have significant new information to add to that adduced by Erichsen, a reference is given to the appropriate page(s) in the Glossar.

This preliminary publication of the CDD, an online version, is offered as a series of PDF files—one for each letter. Further letters will be added as they are completed.

Problematic Entries
Problematic Entries 2

The Chicago Demotic Dictionary (CDD)


Demotic is a very cursive script and reflects extensive differences in handwriting; these differences, in turn, reflect different types of texts (private letters, economic and legal documents, administrative documents, religious, literary and scientific texts, etc.), different proveniences of texts (especially noticeable are differences between texts from the Fayum and area around Cairo and those from the Thebaid), and different dates of texts (Demotic was used for a thousand years from the 7th century B.C. until the 3rd century of our era [occasional graffiti occur even later]). Thus, the Dictionary must show actual orthography for words cited. Originally we had intended to make hand copies of every example of every word cited in the Dictionary (there are approximately 10-15 words per page and there will be about 1000 pages). These would then have had to be manually inserted on the printed copy of the manuscript. However, the use of an Apple Scanner has allowed us to replace hand copies with scans, which can be inserted directly into the Microsoft Word document. This new procedure allows the entire manuscript (both text and graphics) to be included in the same document (a document which can be circulated electronically as well as in printed fashion) and it avoids the time and possible errors involved in manually attaching all the hand copies to the printed document. The final version of the Dictionary will be printed on tabloid paper on the 1200dpi Laser printer in the Publications Office and it will be printed at approximately 90%, in order to produce a volume approximately the same size as Erichsen’s Demotisches Glossar, to which it is intended to be a supplement.


Annual Reports
2014–2015 Annual Report

2013-2014 Annual Report
2012-2013 Annual Report

Oriental Institute Demotic Ostraca Online (O.I.D.O.O.)

The Oriental Institute Museum houses a large collection of nearly 900 Demotic ostraca, pottery sherds upon which ancient scribes recorded a wide variety of text types. The vast majority of the corpus concerns economic matters and consists of receipts, contracts, memos, and lists, but there is a small selection of other genres such as votive and astrological texts. With few exceptions, the material derives from the environs of Thebes and over half of the collection derives from the Oriental Institute excavations at Medinet Habu. Attested dates in the documents range from the early Ptolemaic Period (circa 285 B.C.E.) to the early Roman Period (circa 80 C.E.). Less than one third of the corpus has been published:
The O.I.D.O.O database was developed as both a scholarly research tool and a means for the publication of the unpublished Oriental Institute Demotic ostraca. It is our aim to make available all of the Demotic ostraca in this collection, both published and unpublished, to scholars worldwide in a format that will allow for complex searching and sorting criteria as well as quick and easy updating. This will be accomplished through periodic updates as additional texts are edited and entered into the database.

O.I.D.O.O Database


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