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Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable Hardcover – April 5, 2000

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

The first edition of this dictionary was published in 1870; the 15th in 1995. The 16th edition contains 1000 new entries, including ?paparazzi,? ?full monty,? ?couch potato,? and ?millennium bug.? It also adds more quotations and subentries (examples of usage) while eliminating a few entries from previous editions because of obscurity. As the foreword points out, ?to be considered obscure by a Brewer!s editor is a real badge of obscurity,? and the dictionary is, indeed, astonishing in its coverage. It is not, of course, perfect. The arrangement is strictly alphabetical, and, though See and See also references are given, intuitive searching may be difficult. For example, the phrase ?to climb on the bandwagon? is under ?climb? rather than ?bandwagon.? In addition, the book continues to be Anglocentric, though the editors appear to be making an effort to include other cultures. Nevertheless, there is no other reference quite like Brewer!s; if you need to know what ?hendiadys? means or figure out which hawk to buy for a prince, you!ll find it here and probably nowhere else. Libraries that do not own a copy of an earlier edition should certainly consider acquiring this reference.?Katherine K. Koenig, Ellis Sch., Pittsburgh
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

This entry advances the Thorndike-Barnhart^B line into the serious-looking dictionary that adults will recognize. Line drawings and small black-and-white photos replace the color illustrations found in the junior books. Definitions still include example sentences but are more complex and use a higher range of vocabulary. There are more personal names from history and fewer from popular culture than can be found in the Thorndike-Barnhart Junior Dictionary . There are also fewer boxed features, and those that remain ("Word Source," "Word Family") tend to be more detailed. A style manual takes into account the older, more sophisticated user. Test words are well defined; set and take include more than 15 definitions each. Another look at... Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and FableOne of the defining characteristics of an enduring reference source is the stamp of personality. Famous First Facts and Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians wouldn't be the same without Joseph Nathan Kane and Nicolas Slonimsky. Another work that owes much to an attentive and even obsessive compiler is Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. Mid-Victorian British publisher John Cassell wanted to supply his working-class readers with material both entertaining and improving, and Dr. Ebenezer Cobham Brewer was just the person for the job. Their partnership resulted in numerous popular works, among them the famous dictionary, which was first published in 1870. The preface to the first edition described it as an "alms-basket of words," that "draws in curious or novel etymologies, pseudonyms and popular titles, local traditions and literary blunders, biographical and historical trifles too insignificant to find a place of higher pretension, but not too worthless to be worth knowing." Brewer, who was born in 1810, claimed that the dictionary evolved from his boyhood habit of note taking. Around 1841, while still a Norwich schoolmaster, he wrote a popular compendium called Guide to Science, which "brought me in a large number of questions on all imaginary matters." These questions and their answers formed the basis for the dictionary, so successful that the first edition was reprinted 18 times. It was designed to meet the needs of a new class of readers who did not have the advantage of a classical education. It also exemplified that impulse toward collecting and classifying that seemed to distinguish so much Victorian scholarship. The Victorian flavor was retained through many editions. In fact, as reviewers have pointed out, there was not much difference between the first edition and the fourteenth, published in 1989. Beginning with the fifteenth edition, revisions have been in the hands of Adrian Room, himself a prodigious compiler of facts, being the author of Dictionary of First Names (Cassell, 1995), A Dictionary of Pseudonyms and Their Origins (McFarland, 1997), and Placenames of the World (McFarland, 1997), among many other titles. In the preface to the newest edition of Brewer's, Room states that there are "changes on four fronts." One of these changes is the addition of 1,000 new entries. These range from older words and phrases that appear here for the first time (hysteria, I Ching ) to terms of more recent vintage (blockbuster, dress down [as in dress-down Fridays], main squeeze, millennium bug ). There are more subentries, such as down time listed under down. Many of these new subentries actually refer the reader to main entry headings (Hulk, the Incredible, see under Incredible), and the much greater number of see references is the most obvious difference between this edition and the last. The third change is the addition of new quotations. The fourth is that some entries have been dropped. Although most of the missing are arcane terms, there is plenty left to delight the lover of the odd and obscure. In what other single volume will you find, for example, a list of the 50 Nereids listed in Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queen; descriptions of famous Fakes, from Piltdown Man to the Hitler diaries; and almost five pages of Famous last words ? Not to mention patron saints and saints' symbols, the 12 oldest British public schools for girls, and British public house signs? The last two examples remind us that the book still has a very British emphasis. This emphasis helps account for some of the errors (e.g., the Chicago Bears is "a record-breaking American football team, with a home base at Wrigley Field") that continue to make their way from one edition into the next. Despite the revisions, libraries that already hold the fifteenth edition of Brewer's may not need to change. Updating information and rectifying omissions, two of the most compelling reasons for trading in an edition that is only a few year old for a newer model, are not major considerations in this case. Meanwhile, a full hypertext version is available on the Web, generally bundled with other titles as part of a basic reference collection (for example, at Bib liomania [http://www.bibliomania.com]). This is the 1894 revision, however--how many students browsing its contents will know (or care) that editions far newer and more useful for research may sit on the reference shelves nearby? That said, we feel sure that Dr. Brewer, with his fascination for stray facts, would feel right at home on the Internet, the ultimate miscellany. REVWR
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Series: Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable
  • Hardcover: 1298 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; 16th Revised edition (May 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006019653X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060196530
  • Product Dimensions: 2.2 x 7 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,108,041 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

43 of 43 people found the following review helpful By "radagasty" on May 12, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This book is simply one of the best dictionaries of its kind ever to have been published, and, I might add, Brewer's work has already become a classic. It contains a wealth of entries from divers areas, including mythology, history, classics, language, as well as common sayings, phrases and legends. Useful as a reference though it is, this dictionary is eminently suited to a casual browse, which one will invariably find interesting, entertaining and edifying, containing many obscure tidbits of trivia that catches one's eyes. This edition, unfortunately, omits a few entries that were present in previous editions, and this is a sad loss, but, all in all, the book is worth every penny, and is a valuable reference on anyone's bookshelf, especially to those with literary pretensions.
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34 of 34 people found the following review helpful By saliero on March 25, 2000
Format: Hardcover
A must-have reference book for every shelf. Contains answers to the most arcane questions you might ask - be they profound or prosaic. Entries range from the derivation of well-known colloquial phrases to lengthy entries on figures from mythology, as well as origins of superstitions and beliefs. First published, we are told on the dust jacket, in 1870. Why is Britain sometimes called Albion? A possible explanation is found here. What was the Cliveden set? Perfect for trivia lovers, as well as a seriously useful work for students and scholars.
* Fable - from latin fabula 'narrative story'
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Klytemnestra on March 8, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I never thought I'd describe a reference book as unputdownable, but once you open this book to look one thing up (say, a peculiar expression that someone has just said, "Now why *do* we say that?" about), you'll find yourself reading all the entries in sight! Very useful for anyone with an interest in literature, history, or language and great fun to use, with a distinctly tongue-in-cheek feel to it (the hilarious section on "Famous Last Words", for instance).
It makes a really lovely present for young and old: it looks suitably impressive, has fairly universal appeal provided they're a fan of the written word, and is far livelier than the standard reference books that get trotted out on Important Occasions. I have given this to my best friend, my step-dad, and a second cousin who has just come of age; the latter (aged 13) hasn't been heard from yet (we calculated that there's a pretty good chance he's going to read it, unlike most of the books he's bound to have received), but the other two have adored it, and friends who have been introduced to my copy usually end up spending a good hour leafing through it. A huge number of phrases, expressions, and characters from myth, history and literature are there, but I still want to know where the word "codswallop" comes from...
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By "celestemcc" on June 16, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable is, without question, a wonderful reference book. All reviews agree that it's unique in scope and content. Read the other reviews for details. I can't really add anything there.
But interestingly, no one focuses on what a great read this book is. I love it because I can just pick it up, open the book to any page at random, and instantly lose myself in the contents of the pages. It's delightful in that you never know what you'll learn (but you always learn something interesting), and you can read as much or as little as you wish, depending on your time or interest. Later on, you can pick up where you left off, or just flip the pages to some other random place in the book
We jokingly refer to it as the world's best "bathroom book."
So, by all means use it as a reference, but don't stop there - read it!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By William Bultas on March 1, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The full version of this edition of Brewer's is available free online (public domain), and in PDF format comes in at well over 900 pages (I believe close to 1,000). This abridged print edition has 876 pages. I cannot determine who edited this version, and no date of publication for the original full material can be found (in the online or this print edition), but it was no earlier than 1951, and no later than 1971. I established this because I quickly found a 1951 date for an event in the past tense in the book, but Memorial Day is not listed as the last Monday in May, and that was established by federal law in 1971.

Every entry I checked in the print version is an exact copy of what you'll find in the public domain PDF version, but I found several entries in the PDF which are not in this print version. Still, it's a lot of fun, as well as educational. Soon I'll buy one of the more recent editions (at this time the current edition is the 17th, published in the last 2-3 years) and compare the 2; this will likely produce hours of pleasureful geekitude.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Guerrilla Reader VINE VOICE on July 11, 2006
Format: Hardcover
As a resource for any student or scholar, Brewer's is a unique and indispensible resource of esoteric or little known information. I possess the Centenary Edition of 1970 which was discarded from London's Homerton College Library.

Brewer's picks up where other reference books leave off. With approximately six-thousand unusual quotations, the reader will be well read and prepared to take on the day; be it an opening toast, or a debate between orators. I rate it at five stars plus with no hesitation or reservation.
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