A Croatian picture dictionary : the February 2017 Slavonic item of the month

We have recently started to catalogue various reference works transferred to the University Library from the Modern and Medieval Faculty Library’s Balkan section.   Most are academic dictionaries, but among them is the delightful 1938 Croatian picture dictionary Sta je sta (What is what).  Each opening provides often quite complex terminology facing illustrative pictures.  Produced by two academics and writers, Iso Velikanovic and Nikola Andric, the 685-page dictionary covers a huge number of topics in quite extraordinary detail.  Even cricket is included.


Velikanovic and Andric use the introduction to thank a great many academic colleagues and specialists in non-academic fields for their help in the dictionary’s compilation.  The collaborative effort was clearly enormous.  As the examples below show, the dictionary spans from quite standard terms (types of motor vehicles on the left) to extremely technical ones (detailed car parts on the right).


It’s a fascinating book, and an interesting and fairly early example of a picture dictionary.  Most books of this kind are produced for children or students, but the extent and depth of coverage here makes this a publication for a much larger audience.  The dictionary is divided into the following 11 sections:

  • Man, family, home
  • Work and profession
  • Physical exercise and fun
  • Knowledge, research, artistic creation
  • State and church
  • Army and navy
  • City and village
  • Economy and traffic
  • People then and now
  • Animals and plants
  • Earth and space

The 310 plates (containing many hundreds and probably thousands of separate illustrations) make the illustrative content here so significant that it warrants the book a place in the S950 sequence which is normally used for more standard art books.  Yet the only contributor to Sta je sta not mentioned in the introduction or anywhere else is the artist.  The book’s entry in the National Library of Croatia’s catalogue also fails to shed light on their identity.  The style, though, is perfect for the job – clear line drawings to show easily what the vocabulary means.  Sometimes the artist’s flair for drama is quite striking, as is seen in one of the ‘Help in accidents’ sequences, where we see diagrams and words for saving a man from drowning.  The first two images show help being given to someone in trouble in the water.  The third looks rather the violent opposite.  The vocabulary explains, however, that what we are shown here is how to disentangle oneself from someone’s desperate grip in order to take control of the situation and be able to help them properly.  Judging by his expression, the man in the suit has not yet quite gathered this.


The book stands at S950.d.9.378 and can be called up and consulted in the West Room.

More examples, showing (from top left): film production, book details, the seaside, men and hair, and a garden centre.

Mel Bach

1 thought on “A Croatian picture dictionary : the February 2017 Slavonic item of the month

  1. “Yet the only contributor to Sta je sta not mentioned in the introduction or anywhere else is the artist.” Pictures are from the “Der grosse Duden. Bildwörterbuch der deutschen Sprache”. It’s mentioned in the introduction, somewhat vaguely, that this edition is according to German Duden. I’m not sure that all pictures are from Duden, but mostly yes. Only the text is changed in pictures which have it. There is a Yugoslav flag in the flag section, that is probably not from duden, and some Yugoslav coins in the money section.

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