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Red Herrings and White Elephants [Hardcover]

Albert Jack
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)

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Book Description

8 Oct 2004
Bold as brass, cold feet, cock and bull, off the cuff, red herrings and white elephants. We use these phrases every day and yet have only the vaguest idea of where many of them come from. The origins of hundreds of common phrases are explained in this irreverent journey through the most fascinating and richest regions of the English language. Once you've read one, you'll be diving back in to look up all the others. Red Herrings is full of amazing definitions that take us all over the world, including military traditions and famous people who lent their names to describe familiar situations. From the drop of a hat to the bitter end - you'll never speak English in the same way again.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Metro Books,London; 1st Edition edition (8 Oct 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1843581299
  • ISBN-13: 978-1843581291
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 12.7 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 140,852 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author


Albert Jack is a writer and historian. His first book Red Herrings and White Elephants explored the origins of well-known idioms and phrases and became an international best-seller in 2004. It was serialized in the Sunday Times and remained on their best-seller list for sixteen straight months. He followed this up with a series of other books including Shaggy Dogs and Black Sheep, Pop Goes the Weasel and What Caesar did for my Salad.

Fascinated by discovering the truth behind the world's great stories, Albert has become an expert at explaining the unexplained, enriching millions of dinner table conversations and ending bar room quarrels the world over. He is now a veteran of hundreds of live television shows and thousands of radio programs worldwide. Albert lives somewhere between Guildford in England and Cape Town in South Africa.


LAST MAN IN LONDON albertjackchat (facebook and twitter)

Product Description

About the Author

Albert Jack is a writer and researcher in pop culture whose favourite phrase is 'doolally'. He is 39 years old and has two children.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good fun 15 Feb 2008
Albert Jack's books have been unfavourably compared with Michael Quinion's 'Port Out, Starboard Home'. I have books by both authors. Jack's are well thumbed "bog books" - perfect for passing the time in the lav. Quinion's lies largely unread in a cupboard.

Quinion's is almost certainly the more accurate and learned. But it's so dull. His approach tends to be to dismiss the wonderful folk tales around words and phrases in a very superior way before confessing he doesn't really have a better explanation.

Jack doesn't let the facts get in the way of a good tale and he presents a much more entertaining read.

The choice is simple - if you want a few funny tall tales to entertain a group of mates in the pub, buy Jack. If you want to be the lonely pedant in the corner muttering "well that's not strictly accurate" get a copy of Quinion.
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119 of 132 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A poor entry in the market 15 Dec 2004
I had a flick through this the other day and in those few seconds I spotted two entries which simply repeated folk etymologies have been discredited in other texts. This is the linguistic equivalent of publishing a book full of urban legends as true tales!
By the author's own admission this book was put together simply to cash in on the Christmas/casual purchase market, and it shows in its sloppy research. If you, or your gift-recipient, are genuinely interested in the history of words and phrases, I would suggest Michael Quinion's far superior 'Port Out, Starboard Home'. It may not be piled high by the tills in your local bookshop, but you'll be well rewarded for seeking it out.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
This is an easy book to dip in and out of. It explains the sources of many common expressions. Some of the explanations are based on folk stories or myths; some are based on fact. I note that other reviewers challenge the accuracy of the book. As a casual reader I find it fine and am intrigued to learn for instance that 'Bob's your Uncle' comes from the promotion in 1886 of someone whose uncle was the Prime Minister, Robert Gascoyne-Cecil. It is packed with such trivia.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Quriky 28 Dec 2005
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I bought one of these books as a present for my brother,however I thumbed it so much before wrapping it that I didn't give it to him in the end. I only meant to have a quick peep but ended up taking it to read in bed over the next few weeks as I found it so very interesting.
As the title suggests it has the origins of all those well known sayings and you will find yourself saying out loud "oh wow, that's where that comes from". If you like things that are a little different you will really enjoy this book.
We keep it in the lounge and the amount of guests that pick it up and can't put it down is quite funny.
An absolute must have!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
I could not disagree more with the reviewer below. I also bought this book as a present and have read it (carefully!) myself all the way through, and got 2 more copies for others. The author must have spent ages and ages on research! This is a book aimed at a general audience - it isn't written for experts; but I have a strong interest in history and I find it eminently readable. No doubt there are a few areas in which his assertions are a bit over-confident but since this isn't a treatise, more light-hearted entertainment, I think it is silly to quibble. Have a look at the excerpt for yourself and make up your mind - if you like what you see, you won't regret buying it as it's the same sort of thing all the way through.
Highly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bought as a gift 2 Aug 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Bought for my dad to read on holiday, he loves history and he found this book really interesting and perfect to read on holiday.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great fun 1 Sep 2010
By Elfie
This is a great coffee-table book! You wouldn't really read it as such, but we find ourselves dipping in and out of it when we hear a saying that we want to find out more about. Who knows if it's completely accurate - can anyone really be sure? But it's good fun, provides a good source of entertainment and isn't too expensive. I like it.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Informative, interesting and accessible 2 Feb 2010
Informative, interesting and accessible. It goes into just the right amount of detail for anyone wanting to improve their English or just their knowledge
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A BRILLIANT BOOK TO HAVE
Great for when you have five or ten minutes to fill up. Once you start to read the meanings of the saying, you just keep going.
Published 1 month ago by Mrs. J. Stark
5.0 out of 5 stars Good book
Interesting book to read with lots of trivial in it, but very good read and would recommend it as a light read
Published 2 months ago by Judith Ann D'Arcy
5.0 out of 5 stars Great!
Purchased as a Christmas gift for someone & the recipient was very pleased with it - makes a very interesting read. Fast delivery too, thank you.
Published 2 months ago by Miss_B
4.0 out of 5 stars Nice to know
Not vital but very interesting to know where everyday usage phrases come from. Nice to pick up and put down. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Mark Cribb
5.0 out of 5 stars very interesting
A very interesting read it gives you an insight into British phrases and sayings. Easy to read and fun. Well worth the money.
Published 3 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Good
This book is really interesting. I am thinking of getting it for some friends and family, as I think that they would appreciate this book too.
Published 3 months ago by Ms. Dw Clarke
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting.
It's the kind of book that you can just dip into whenever you get a spare minute or two and then you find yourself reading it for ages, lots of interesting tales that you'll just... Read more
Published 4 months ago by N. Anderson
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good
Arrived promptly and is just what I was looking for. A book you can just dip in and out of and who knows you could even learn a few things along the way!
Published 5 months ago by Janet Wigley
4.0 out of 5 stars What's That Mean?
Lots to find out about, how sayings originated. I learned a lot. Delivered on time in perfect condition. A handy source of reference on many subjects.
Published 6 months ago by Geoffrey C. Ball
5.0 out of 5 stars Quote Book
A great book, all the phrases you use everyday and wondered where they originated from. They're all listed in here, great to pick up for a few minutes and out back down.
Published 11 months ago by Debbie71
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