Given the importance of Pauly's work (Wikipedia, Wikisource), I assume it wasn't written in gibberish by a madman. That said, what secondary or tertiary sense does the German real or Real have that makes the titles Real-Encyclopädie der classischen Alterthumswissenschaft in alphabetischer Ordnung and Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft make any sense at all?

The only Wikis that seem to provide a gloss are Spanish and Russian, which both use cognates. Spanish real could obviously mean royal, which would make sense. The Russian translation and Wiktionary's treatment of German real and Real don't seem to allow that possibility, though. Cursory googling turns up a few other books with similar titles, so it's not just Pauly's eccentricity.

So what's going on? Is it just an archaic way of saying "scientific dictionary"? or what would a decent modern English gloss of these titles be, distinguishing the intended sense of a "real encyclopedia" against whatever it considers its inverse to be?

  • 5
    On the bonus points, antiquity refers to anything in the distant past, but Classical antiquity refers to the cultures of Ancient Greece, Rome, and related areas. So Chinese antiquity would not be considered "Classical". Meanwhile Classical does not refer to age but to a certain aesthetic considered to be a characteristic of Ancient Greece, Rome, etc.
    – RDBury
    Jan 19 at 15:01
  • 1
    It's mostly guesswork, so just a comment, but there's a distinction between "formale Bildung" and "reale Bildung". Sometimes, the distinction is between "humanistische Bildung" and "reale Bildung". The Wikipedia article on 'Realschule' explains that "reale Bildung" referred to education about "real things", education that was considered "useful". I'd reckon that an "Realenzyklopädie" followed similar principles, to teach only what was considered "necessary". It's beyond my expertise to dive deeper into this, but maybe somebody can continue from here. Jan 19 at 15:24
  • 1
    Perhaps relevant: »reell« vs. »real«
    – RDBury
    Jan 19 at 16:12
  • 1
  • 1
    @lly Say hello to the Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde ;-) (Truth be told, it is newer and its title may be inspired by the Pauly.) Jan 21 at 21:45

4 Answers 4


I concur with the other answers in that real (from latin res, via realis; sachlich) means dealing with more than the meaning of words, instead presenting knowledge in a summary format. Realwörterbuch was actually used as a synonym for Enzyklopädie; see for instance Deutsche Encyclopädie oder Allgemeines Real-Wörterbuch aller Künste und Wissenschaften.

Meyers Konversationslexikon has an article Encyklopädie which contains the following statement.

Ihren Vorläufer hatte die E. in lexikalischer Form (Realencyklopädie) bereits in dem "Lexikon" betitelten Realwörterbuch des Suidas (10.-11. Jahrh.) gehabt; eine weitere Pflege erfuhr sie aber erst im 17. Jahrh.

From this I conclude, in contrast to the other answers, that Realenzyklopädie was actually not pleonastic for a certain period of time: it was an encyclopaedia written in the form of a dictionary or lexicon, i.e. with knowledge presented in articles that are arranged alphabetically. Note that the full title of Pauly's work is Real-Encyclopädie der classischen Alterthumswissenschaft in alphabetischer Ordnung.

Examples of encylopaedias that did not have the format of a lexicon are Enzyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften im Grundrisse and Allgemeine illustrierte Encyklopädie der Musikgeschichte.


Spanish real ("royal") stems from Spanish rey, which roots in latin rex ("king"). The Real-Prefix in your word stems from latin res ("thing"), which is, by the way, also the root of the word republic. A Realwörterbuch or Real-Encyclopädie is an "encyclopedia of things", as opposed to a Wörterbuch which is simply a dictionary, or "an encyclopedia of terms". (The English word real and the German word real also root in Latin res through the Latin adjective realis "of things".)

Differentiating between things and notions is an import distinction in history of thought. When the hammer was invented is a totally different question from when the word hammer was invented. You might find the latter in a dictionary, the former in an encyclopedia.

While the term Realwörterbuch fell out of fashion, the same prefix is still used in the term Realschule, referring to a school where the focus is on practical rather than on academic education (you learn "things" there, less "ideas" or "theories").

Same as its English counterpart encyclopedia, the German word Enzyklopädie used to have a broader meaning, referring to a "collection of knowledge"; the distinction between encyclopedia and dictionary which is common today, is of a younger age. That is why the specification of an "encyclopedia of things" might have made sense at the time the book was written.


It's another name for a so called Realwörterbuch, or by modern laymen terms a Lexikon. In English this would be an encyclopedia.

The contrasting term is Sprachwörterbuch. Those explain the word rather than the things described by that word. The layman term for those is Wörterbuch. In English this would be a dictionary.

And yeah, Realencyclopädie sounds like a pleonasm in hindsight.

  • bin geneigt diese wie die anderen Antworten abzuwählen, weil es einfach nur ein Link auf eine zweifelhafte Quelle ohne Quellenkritik ist. Aber immerhin: ein Link und eine Aussage, wenn auch eine falsche.
    – vectory
    Feb 4 at 23:09

Realia means “things”. This contrasts with dictionaries and lexica concerned with other matters. The form simply follows function. “Scientific” or better real in the sense of "true" is a legitimate interpretation.

Realia heißen "Sachen". Der Titel Reallexikon stammt in diesem Sinne vermutlich von res ~ rem "Sache".

Die Abgrenzung zu spanish real "royal", ferner im Zusammenhang stehend bspw. Recht, ist nicht leicht, da die Zusammenhänge zum Teil unbekannt gewesen, zum Teil falsch hergestellt sein könnten. Siehe nur englisch realestate zu res, ursprünglich im Sinne von Mobiliar, beweglichen Sachen, später Immobilien, der Hof mit dazu gehörenden Sachen, und demgegenüber deutsch Regal ... was ungefähr den Umfang eines anständigen Lexikons beschreibt.

Für eine genauere Betrachtung ist die deutsche Etymologie wahrscheiich nicht verantwortlich. Es ist völlig offensichtlich, dass real ungefähr als wahr- oder richtigkeit verstanden worden sein wird. S.a. Rechtschreibung wie ortho-graphie, aber im Sinne von regulus (Regulator, König) vergleichbar noch the Queen's English, “as she is spoke”, jedoch auch real wie Sprachrealität im Sinne beschreibender Grammatik. Für royal spricht außerdem verallgemeinerung des Titels für Größenamgaben oder sonstige Überlegenheit, so Royal-TS, T-Rex, king-penguin, Königshappen, Frank-Reich, zumal Forschungsvorhaben sehr oft auf staatliche Förderung hin angewiesen sind. Siehe dazu insbesondere regesta imperii:

“Die REGESTA IMPERII verzeichnen sämtliche urkundlich und historiographisch belegten Aktivitäten der römisch-deutschen Könige und Kaiser”

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.