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Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase & Fable (Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable) [Hardcover]

Terry Pratchett , Ebenezer Cobham Brewer


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 1523 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers; 17 edition (25 July 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061121207
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061121203
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 18.1 x 23.1 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,956,476 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Ayto is a freelance writer and lexicographer. He has written many reference works such as The Oxford Dictionary of Slang, Dictionary of Modern Slang, and the Oxford Dictionary of English Idioms. He was a contributor to the Oxford Companion of Food. John has always had a profound interest in language and cookery. He lives in London.

Product Description

Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable is one of the world's best-loved reference books. First published in 1870, this treasury of 'words that have a story to tell' has established itself as one of the great reference classics-the first port of call for tens of thousands of terms, phrases and proper names, and a fund of fascinating, unusual and out-of-the-way information. At the heart of the dictionary lie entries on the meaning and origin of a vast range of words and expressions, from everyday English phrases to Latin tags. Alongside these are articles on people and events in mythology and religion, and on folk customs, superstitions and beliefs. Major events and people in history are also treated, as are movements in art and literature, famous literary characters, and key aspects of popular culture, philosophy, geography, science and magic. To complete this rich mix of information, Brewer and his subsequent editors have added an extraordinary and enticing...

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extremely Interesting and Quite Invaluable 26 Sep 2007
By Sanjay Agarwal - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I picked this book up mainly because of John Ayto's name on the cover. I had been using his 'Dictionary of Word Origins' for some years, and had found it invaluable.

The book turned out to be rather different, but in a pleasant sort of way. Essentially, the book is compilation of interesting references and words that you come across when reading, or that you need when you are writing something. Most of the information is extremely interesting, though often you get knocked from one page to another because of cross-references. In the process, you end up finding something else, which may be even more interesting! For instance, there is an entry on nose tax, and another on a tax on beards. I also found out that the banyan tree is so named because Indian traders (baniyas) used to worship under a fig tree on the Iranian coast. And that the three Magi who visited Lord Jesus Christ in Jerusalem may have been linked to the Brahmins from India!

Sometimes you don't find what you are really looking for, which is quite frustrating, especially when you think of you may be missing out on. I do wish someone would bring out a bigger edition, may be in 12 volumes?

The book is fairly big, and organized like an encyclopedic dictionary. The paper is of good quality, and the binding is quite durable.

The book is not written by John Ayto - it is a very old book (1870). This seventeenth edition has been updated by Mr. Ayto. This means that he had a great deal to say in the picking and choosing of words.

An invaluable writing tool, and quite interesting on its own. Highly recommended for the curious.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable 29 Feb 2008
By K. INGRAHAM - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Ever hear a phrase or a word that you can't quite place or would love to know the derivation of? I stumbled across this book in the bookstore one day and had to have it. It sits next to my computer right beside Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. Just about any word or phrase is listed in alphabetical order. I've even spent an hour or two on a rainy afternoon thumbing through the pages til something catches my eye. Then while reading one entry, something else will come to mind and I go to that page. You could spend hours wandering through this book and not even realize how much time has gone by! Very educational in a Trivial Pursuit kind of way and great fun!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I immediately fell in love with this 27 Nov 2009
By Caraculiambro - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
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.
3.0 out of 5 stars Great Content 9 Mar 2014
By Clare - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Yes, this is a wonderful collection for facts. I'd give it five, even ten stars but for one important matter. It's so heavy that I can't lift it.
5.0 out of 5 stars Keep it handy while you're reading 2 Oct 2013
By rmh - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I love books that educate you on when/where/how phrases came into being. It arrived promptly and in excellent condition. It is stamped as a Reference book from a library, and it must not have seen much use.
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