Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable

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9780060162009: Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable

Celebrating the 125th anniversary of its first publication, an updated edition provides more than twenty thousand expertly researched definitions of typical phrases and words and explains their historical origins. National ad/promo.

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About the Author:

Dr. Ebenezer Cobham Brewer, the son of a Norwich schoolmaster, was born in 1810. He graduated in Law from Cambridge in 1836 and two years later was ordained, before returning to teach at his father's school. There he compiled his first major work, A Guide to Science. It proved immensely popular, perhaps funding the extensive European travels he subsequently undertook.

Returning to England in 1856, he slowly put together the work that was to become Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. Much of the nucleus of the dictionary derived from correspondence with readers of his earlier works, beginning a tradition of readers' involvement with the new book that continues today. The first edition was published by Cassell in 1870 and sold over 100,000 copies. In 1894 Brewer compiled a completely revised and substantially enlarged edition. He lived for another three years, long enough to see sales of the revised edition 'far exceed our utmost expectations'.

Adrian Room, who has revised the Sixteenth Edition of Brewer's, is the author of over fifty popular reference books, mainly on the origins of words, and, in particular, names. He is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and a member of the English Place-Name Society and American Name Society. He was a Senior Lecturer in Russian with the Ministry of Defence until 1984, when he took up full-time writing.

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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