A Thesaurus of Traditional English Metaphors

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9780415075237: A Thesaurus of Traditional English Metaphors
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In this original Thesaurus, the author's definition of "metaphors" is usefully broad and covers a wide variety of figurative language. Offering explanations and derivations, the volume contains around 20,000 traditional English sayings - including metaphors, similes, proverbs, catch phrases, idioms and slang expressions. With scholarly analysis and commentary, the material presented is comprehensive, and includes much which cannot be found in any other printed source. All the expressions have achieved a common currency, even if confined to a locality, particular trade or social group.
Avoiding `literary' metaphors, the Thesaurus reflects folk wisdom as encapsulated in a living language, and from this perspective it will be of interest to all folklorists and cultural historians. The Thesaurus will also be an important resource for dialectologists and language enthusiasts.

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This is a folklore-based, British-oriented collection intended to "assemble those social or traditional metaphors that have become current in the English language." Wilkinson drew on "extensive contact with the rural cultures of Lancashire, Dorset, and Cornwall, amongst others, to provide a comprehensive survey of English folk wisdom as it has been encapsulated in the common currency of metaphorical expressions." For the purposes of the thesaurus, metaphors include similes, proverbs, idioms, slang, and catchphrases. Excluded are euphemisms, puns, rhyming slang, and ephemeral expressions. Wilkinson does include metaphors restricted to particular dialects or districts, especially in Britain.

The 20,000 expressions are arranged according to the categories in the children's rhyme "Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor / Richman, poorman, beggarman, thief," plus the additional categories "At Home," "At School," and "At Play." Each section is further divided into numbered subsections and sometimes even narrower categories. "Sailor," for example, is divided into 19 subsections, which include "Ships at Sea," which is further divided into five sections. Placement of expressions is determined by the words they contain rather than the meanings they imply. It is difficult for the user to guess which category might contain the desired metaphor, especially if the exact wording is not known. "At Home" includes references to domestic animals such as dogs and cats, and "Richman" to animals kept by wealthy persons (e.g., horses) or hunted for sport (foxes). While creative, this arrangement does not facilitate use of the thesaurus.

Metaphors are listed under each subsection in no apparent order. Additional information about each metaphor ranges from none, when the meaning is obvious, to brief explanations ("smell a fox": become suspicious) and an indication of provenance, date of use, or publication date of a collection in which the expression was included. A bibliography of about 150 items "for further reading" helps the reader link publication dates to sources.

A thematic index lists all categories alphabetically from Accordions to Zoos. The keyword index is most useful. It lists 40,000 words from the metaphors and lists the subsection number for each. Under the keyword dog, for example, the reader finds listings for "love me, love my dog" in the "At Home" section, "tired as a dog" in the "Richman" section, and "dog-and-pony act" in the "At Play" section.

Many libraries will find that dictionaries of slang, proverbs, or similes in their collections help users identify metaphors more easily than Wilkinson and provide more information about etymology. The Similes Dictionary (Gale, 1988), for example, is much better than Wilkinson for identifying similes by concept rather than by specific words in the expression. Wilkinson does include some expressions from the U.S. as well as some metaphors drawn from contemporary literature. American phrases include "web-foot" (environmentally friendly and sensitive); contemporary metaphors include "Lake Wobegon effect" (tendency to overestimate quality).

Because of its emphasis on British folk metaphor and the adequate coverage of metaphor in other standard reference works, Thesaurus of Traditional English Metaphors won't be necessary for most public library collections. Academic libraries may want to purchase it for its documentation of this specialized area of language history.

Review:

"...This work is well organized, serves a useful purpose, and is a delight to peruse." -- American Reference Books Annual - 1995

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Wilkinson, P.R.
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P.R. Wilkinson
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