A big thick reference book, totally perfect -- beyond belief excellent. Six stars. (Attention Amazon: If I had known what this was, I would have paid hundreds for it. Hundreds.)
For years, Amazon had been recommending this based on my purchases, but I had never heard of it (apparently the last man on earth to do so). Finally I decided to buy it sight unseen.
I don't think I've ever been this happy with a reference book, except maybe when I discovered Roget's Thesaurus at the age of eleven. It's one of those reference works that is so engrossing that you want to read it straight through, although it's not designed for this.
It's a collection of the origins of expressions. Have you ever wondered, for example, where the expression "chip on his shoulder" came from? If you consult even the largest unabridged dictionary, you'll get the definition of "chip" and likely the meaning of the phrase, but something I constantly wonder about is how certain words morphed into certain phrases, something that dictionaries -- even dictionaries of etymologies -- never give you. This book fills that gap. I've been poring over it myopically for a week.
Ever wonder where such expressions as "mind your p's and q's," "living high on the hog," and "the whole nine yards" come from? This is for you. But this dictionary has a lot else besides: definitions for Nicene Creed, Sir Walter Raleigh, Salmagundi, German measles, criss-cross, boondoggle, etc. I can't imagine any literate, book-loving person being unsatisfied with this tome.
Only warning I have is that it's British, so many of the interesting expressions might not seem so interesting to you if you're American, since you've probably never heard of them. To be fair, the dictionary tries not to be country-specific, including many, many exclusively American expressions. Nevertheless, there's a persistent English tilt to the lion's share of the entries. Here's an example:
"Bits and bobs": Odds and ends; a diffuse assortment of small items. Weather forecasters sometimes refer to 'bits and bobs of rain' meaning simply scattered showers. (p. 149) Uh, not in the U.S. they don't.
Note: Currently this is in its 18th edition. The one with the unicorn on the cover is the 17th edition. I hope they did a better job on the binding with the 18th: with my 17th, the binding fell apart before I even got to the B's.