on August 31, 2000
The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs, although very well organized and with so many useful entries, fails to explain the meanings of practically most of the proverbs. But if you're really good at guessing meanings by reading examples given (there are plenty of them), you should have no difficulty at all. Not for me.
on June 27, 2001
THE CONCISE OXFORD DICTIONARY OF PROVERBS. Edited by John Simpson. with the assistance of Jennifer Speake. Second Edition. 316 pp. Oxford & New York : 1992. ISBN 0-19-866177-0 (hbk.)
Although we may think of the proverb as a thing of the past, and tend to associate it with what we naively suppose were 'simpler' rustic folks, the editors assure us that this is far from the case. New proverbs are continually being created, and the modern computer industry, economics; aeronautics, and even show business have all enriched language with their own contributions : 'Garbage in, garbage out;' 'There's no such thing as a free lunch;' 'If anything can go wrong, it will;' 'The best things in life are free;' etc.
The present book is a collection of over 1000, and every major proverb in use today is included, with explanations of its meanings and use _whenever they are obscure_. What this last means, of course, is that the editors felt no need to explain the meaning of a proverb when the meaning ought to be perfectly obvious to the native speaker of English.
Instead of this, what we have been given are numerous illustrative quotations, all precisely referenced and dated, which show how the proverb has been used down through the ages. Actual quotations are given from a wide range of sources, and dating from as early as the thirteenth century through to today.
To some, and especially to readers of pre-modern literature, these quotations will seem a far more valuable use of space than a mere restatement of the meaning of a proverb in modern prose. Each proverb is followed by six or seven of these illustrative examples which give full contexts and can be fascinating to browse through.
Another important feature of the book is its new thematic index which allows the reader to quickly find quotations on a wide range of subjects : idleness, bee-keeping, stupidity, stress, disappointment, etc.
The book is extremely well-printed in double columns on excellent paper, but is neither stitched nor cloth-covered as it deserves, having instead a glued spine and paper-covered boards, such being the price, I guess, of progress.
All in all, this is an excellent book, but don't go to it expecting it to tell you what your own native intelligence should be able to figure out for itself. It has set itself a higher and far more interesting and useful goal, and seems to me to have succeeded admirably.