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A Dictionary of English Folklore [Hardcover]

Jacqueline Simpson , Stephen Roud
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 Aug 2000
Are there any legends about cats? Is Cinderella an English story? What is (or was) a Mumming Play? The subject of folklore covers an extremely wide field, with connections to virtually every aspect of life. It ranges from the bizarre to the seemingly mundane. Similarly, folklore is as much a feature of the modern technological age as the ancient world, of every part of the country, both urban and rural, and of every age group and occupation. Containing 2000 entries, from dragons to Mother Goose, May Day to Michaelmas, this reference work is an absorbing and entertaining guide to English folklore. Aimed at a broad general readership, the dictionary provides an authoritative reference source on such legendary characters as the Babes in the Wood, Jack the Giant Killer and Robin Hood, and gives entertaining and informative explanations of a wide range of subjects in folklore, from nosebleeds and wishbones to cats and hot cross buns.


Product details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1st edition edition (1 Aug 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019210019X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192100191
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16 x 3.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 782,009 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Amazon Review

Popular opinion might side with academic prejudice in thinking that there is hardly such a thing as English folklore, and certainly nothing worth studying--just a few superannuated old customs such as morris dancing. Certainly nothing to compare with the rich folk heritage of the Celtic countries. A Dictionary of English Folklore triumphantly proves that viewpoint wrong. It is a wonderful book--lively, authoritative and packed with fascinating information. It both collates the work of many scholars over the last 150 years, and establishes a new ground level for research and comment in the future.

Bot of the authors are leading folklorists who know the field inside out, and readers can have confidence that their views are based on the most reliable sources. They--sometimes reluctantly--debunk various common misconceptions about the origin and meaning of folk customs and superstitions. "Ring-a-ring-a-roses" is not anything to do with the Great Plague--the first English versions were recorded in the 1880s; the New Year ceremony in Allendale, Northumberland, in which the men march through the village with blazing tar barrels, is not a pagan custom--it only started in 1858.

By displacing romantic fancies with hard facts the authors do not take the fun out of their subject. Instead, they bring out with shining clarity the vitality of folklore, and its remarkable ability to adapt to new means of transmission such as the Internet. There are entries here on all kinds of ancient folk customs such as well dressing and harvest festivals, but also on photocopylore, the Tooth Fairy and the folklore of sex.

This is an indispensable reference book that does for English folklore what Jan Harold Brunvand's American Folklore: An Encyclopedia did for that of the USA--providing a reliable summary of modern scholarship in a form that is itself entertaining and provocative. --Neil Philip

Review

"admirable and necessary volume ... There's a danger, as a result of a handsome volume like this, of falling in love with folklore ... counsels against mere enthusiasm, promoting instead knowledge, respect and compassion." -- Independent on Sunday, 30/7/00

"excellent, scholarly but non-technical Dictionary" -- Noel Malcolm, The Sunday Telegraph 16/7/00

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
46 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars English folklore brought to the 21st century 26 April 2001
Format:Hardcover
This book is so interesting and is a must to discover where all of those superstitions, beliefs, traditions and sayings came from!
I originally loaned this book out of my local library for research purposes and I read every item listed. It is so interesting and makes you realise how much you are affected by folklore, the little things you say, the superstitions you believe in, it goes on!
Folklore surrounds us and is in our everyday life, whether it is me or somebody else and once you are aware of this you mentally take note. Like how many of us believe in Friday the 13th?
The book is extremely informative and I would imagine this must be a hard subject to research, folklore being as it is! The book focuses on English folklore which makes it more personal for the English enquirer and it is interesting to see places in the book that you know or have visited and had no idea of the history of folklore attached to them. Although I am using this book for a project, it inevitably became of personal use also, I found myself searching for things like "touch wood" something that I've said, and the meaning is there in the book, and very informative with further links, so you find yourself totally engrossed.
As the book is a dictionary it is easy to find what you are looking for, but I read it like a book so discovered many things I knew nothing about. There are entries from Ram Roasting to toothache and from Devil's Dyke to Valentines Day! Subjects to interest everybody. However, due to the reservations made for the book at the library, I have now purchased it through Amazon at a very good price which I think is worth every penny.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth Its Weight In Corn Dollies! 21 Oct 2007
By Mr. M. P. Duffy VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover
I have read issues of the Folklore journal, and have always been allured by the true origins of folklore, rather than the fanciful relics of ancient practice theories. It's a shame people still believe in this type of theorising whereby one explanation can be stretched to explain everything from corn dollies to the rising price of fish, but hopefully books like this might counterbalance the trend. I find the main culprits are to be found in the fields of neo-paganism, where all too many authors accept & propagate complete rubbish about the past.

This book is an excellent resource of folklore, much of which I have been brought of with or come across. This book has contributed greatly to an understanding of the reasons behind so many things that seem commonplace, such as maypole dancing (which I did as a child at school!), making daisy chains, not stepping on the cracks in pavements etc.

It's one of those books which I tend to flick open, read one entry, refer to another & then find myself wanting to explore the subject further.

One other attraction of this book for me is that it's about my home country. It seems a real shame that so many people in England have completely neglected the vast heritage that resides in the soil of the land that sustains them. This book goes some way to redressing this, and will hopefully re-introucde some our customs back into the popular consciousness.

This book also takes into account the fact that folklore is not dead, it carries on creating itself in the forms of urban legends, rumours etc, and that todays gossip could become tommorows legend.
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5.0 out of 5 stars English Folklore. 15 Jan 2014
By Sharon
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is an essential tool for this subject. there were one or two subjects not covered. But is was still very much worth the money.
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4.0 out of 5 stars So much information. 3 Nov 2013
By les w
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Fascinating & useful at the same time.It fills a huge gap in my reference library. startle people with amazing facts.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth it's weight in corn dollies! 11 Jan 2002
By Mr. M. P. Duffy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I have read issues of the Folklore journal, and have always been allured by the true origins of folklore, rather than the fanciful relics of ancient practice theories. It's a shame people still believe in this type of theorising whereby one explanation can be stretched to explain everything from corn dollies to the rising price of fish, but hopefully books like this might counterbalance the trend. I find the main culprits are those in the field of withcraft, paganism etc where all too many authors accept & propagate complete rubbish about the past.
This book is an excellent resource of folklore, much of which I have been brought of with or come across. This book has contributed greatly to an understanding of the reasons behind so many things that seem commonplace, such as maypole dancing (which I did as a child at school!), making daisy chains, not stepping on the cracks in pavements etc.
It's one of those books which I tend to flick open, read one entry, refer to another & then find myself wanting to explore the subject further.
One other attraction of this book for me is that it's about my own country. It seems a real shame that so many people in England seem to find other countries so alluring that they completely neglect the vast heritage of their own, turning instead to the East, the Indians etc. This book is a real celebration of our country, and hopefully will bring our customs into the popular consciousness.
However, this book also takes into account the fact that folklore is not dead, it carries on creating itself in the forms of urban legends, rumours etc, and that todays gossip could become tommorows legend.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding and scholarly reference guide 6 April 2001
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Don't let the review below mislead you into to thinking that this is a piece of new-age fluff. Though neo-pagans may also get something out of it, "A Dictionary of English Folkore" is a work of serious scholarship and eruditon, compiled by two internationally recognized folklore scholars and published by Oxford University Press. As such, it is best compared to other reference guides published by academic presses (e.g. "The Oxford Dictionary of Saints", "The Concise Dictionary of American History", "The Norton Dictionary of French Literature", etc.), rather than to books on how to perform Wiccan sex magic.
Essentially, this is an alphabetical dictionary of English (not British, just English) folklore. The editors use a fairly broad definition of folklore and the 1000+ entries deal with nursery rhymes, fairy tales, folktales and legends, superstitions, holidays, customs, and even folk medicine and folk music and dancing. Topics discussed include: Mother Goose, Robin Hood, wassailing, the tooth fairy, Michaelmas, splitting wishbones, kissing under the mistletoe, and Morris dancing. The folkloric origins of many colloquialisms and other turns of speech (i.e. why is a ne'er-do-well refered to as "the black sheep of the family") are discussed, and there are even entries for a a few modern urban legends as well.
The entries are arranged alphabetically rather than thematically (it is a 'dictionary' after all) and tend to be fairly brief (a few sentences to one paragaph long). They do, however, have cross-references to related entries and come with citations so that those seeking more detailed information about a particular item can go find a source that treats it at greater length.
This isn't necessarily a book that everyone needs, but it is an *outstanding* reference guide and will be very useful to those interested in English culture, literature, and history. And frankly, even folks who don't really need a reference guide to English folkore will probably still find this a lot of fun to browse though. (The short entries actually make it great for casual 'bathroom reading' as it were). I don't give out five-star reviews lightly, but a well-researched, well-presented reference work like this deserves it.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent, scholarly book of British folklore 16 Oct 2011
By Dennis Hendrix - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This book has a focus on folk beliefs and customs, but there's plenty of space devoted to children's games, legends, obscure festivals and the various "bugaboos" rumored to haunt the English countryside. Some folklorists are covered, but fortunately don't take up a lot of room. This book is not as deep as some others like the 1,200~ page "Funk and Wagnall's Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend" or the 1,000~ page (excluding index) "Facts on File Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend" -- although that one has many articles I'd say they're of less depth.

What makes this book shine is the focus specifically on Britain and the feel of true scholarship. Also the authors fit a lot of information into well-written articles, occasionally with books of this sort it feels like the authors are filling up space with wordiness instead of facts. I also like how the author references older books, tracing the origin of certain beliefs, superstitions and practices. A good example of this is sin-eating, which he traces to a book from the 1600's. There are ten plates in the center of the book on glossy paper, mostly of various festivals. The bibliography is extensive.

Definitely a great book, a little expensive when one compares it to other books available on this topic -- fortunately I found it for $1.50 at a library book sale. Couldn't resist mentioning that!)
4.0 out of 5 stars Fun way for an anglophile to while away the afternoon. 6 May 2014
By Kensingtonian - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
There is a little bit of everything, and if you are like me you find one entry leading to the rest. I especially liked the article on Bees. You must bring them the news, and if they are really happy they will hum hymns on Christmas day. I hope someday I can make bees hum. Find out about this and many other interesting stuff from the most fascinating island in the world.
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrifying cover, excellent content 24 Feb 2014
By Mulberry - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I almost didn't buy this book because the cover is aggressively awful. But, I bit the bullet and got it anyway and it is an invaluable resource. That said, I am still sitting here mulling knocking off a star for that leering Punch figure. Yikes! Who thought that was a good idea, when English folklore has so many more appealing images that could have been selected? Oh well. Maybe it will be reissued with more intelligence from the designers and editors at some point in the future.
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