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4.8 out of 5 stars59
4.8 out of 5 stars
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on 11 January 2006
Once upon a time, Brewer's used to sit on my bookshelf gathering dust. It was, I felt, the sort of book that, as a lover of reference books, one ought to own … but, I realised, I never actually USED it. Then, one day, I took it down, blew off the dust and looked up something, I think I was truing to glean some additional in formation about heraldry. Four hours later, I came up for air, having spent a blissful afternoon doing the literary equivalent of “surfing” - following one cross reference to another from Greek mythology, through theology, Harry Potter, sporting slang, Tudor eating habits, demonology, pop groups, Somerset folk lore and much more besides.
I then took the book to bed and proceeded to read it cover to cover (not at one sitting I hasten to add). I know of no other reference books with which one could do this without eventually dying of fatigue or terminal boredom. I emerged exalted, educated and converted. There may be little logic or reason behind the eclectic, eccentric, inconsistent criteria for inclusion and exclusion but, once you have grasped the spirit, if not the law, behind them you will fall in love with the book, occasional inaccuracies and all. This explains why it defies the internet, literary competition and remains in print to this day, loved like a faithful if slightly dippy ancient family dog by all those who have taken the time to explore between its idiosyncratic pages.
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on 6 July 2000
This book is essentially a dictionary of all the peculiar words and phrases in the English language which are in common use. One outstanding feature of this book is that it is clear and well laid out. If the item you are looking for is in the book (and it usually is), then you will find it. The descriptions for each entry are clear, giving both the meaning and origin of words and phrases. As a Briton working abroad, this book is invaluable for answering questions on English idioms. The danger with the book is that, once picked up, it's hard to put down and one tends to scan through the pages discovering both new and old phrases alike.
Not a cheap book to buy, but well worth it for those who have any interest or pride in the English language.
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on 19 December 2004
I would like to thank the previous reviewers whose enthusiastic reviews persuaded me to click the "Add to Shopping Basket" button. I would also like to thank them for their warnings about how you are likely to get caught up in it once you open the book. I must have disappeared into it for a couple of hours the first time I opened it, the day it was delivered, completely mangling my time-table for the rest of that day. A couple of days later, at the weekend, I had a visitor who homed straight in on it almost before getting his coat off and I got nothing but incoherent grunts in reply to offers of cups of tea, cake and biscuits after that. Not normally a rude person. It's definitely a trap for the unsuspecting casual browser. It's impossible (or at least very difficult) to plot a straight course through the book. I've tried and failed. First, you go to look up something specific, then you follow a cross reference to another page, then you get ambushed by something interesting that catches your eye between this page and that and before you know what time it is, people are demanding their dinner and you haven't even peeled the potatoes.
Highly recommended, but beware! Exercise caution. Dip into it when you have plenty of time to spare or be prepared to employ more self-discipline than I've yet managed -- harden your resolve and snap it shut when you've found the information you were seeking (if you're will-power is strong enough).
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While the title of this book would seem to indicate that it contains only passages or phrases from fables, it offers an awful lot more.
The references inside cover a multitude of different things. There are references to mythology, ancient history, everyday expressions, and new or relatively new words that creep into the language - words like Paparazzi, or Godzilla. The book is really a mix of language and general knowledge.
There are entries for real people, and also for characters from legends, fairy tales and plays. If you're like me and are full of useless information and trivia, then you'll love this book, because it's full of stuff like that. This is where it differs from an ordinary dictionary, or encyclopaedia. You can pick it up any time and find something of interest. Many of the entries are like very short synopses or stories in their own right. This book is a great tool for anyone needing a prompt, or ideas, to write an essay, or article. Because of it's broad range of subjects and the way they are presented.
Open the book at any page and something will catch your eye. You'll find yourself saying, "I didn't know that" or " Oh that's why we say that"
The book is well laid out and each entry includes the origin of the phrase or word. It's a large book at almost 1300 pages but it does cover an awful lot of different subject areas. While it is basically sold as a reference book it's far more than that, it's also enjoyable and good fun to read.
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on 15 February 2010
i have a copy of this book dating from the `70s which sits on a shelf in the loo, constipation aiding education, but I thought it was time to catch up with life and so purchased the 18th edition. First thought was, where is the preface from the sainted Terry Pratchett? My copy has a foreward by Phillip Pullman. Secondly I was disappointed at the lack of pronunciation for the entries this time round. And it appears that, according to the entry "Hajj", the Kabaa is in Cornwall. Very handy for UK muslims. The phenomenon that is Harry Potter gets far too many entries for my taste but the information will no doubt please others.
Despite these niggles, this is still a magnifcent book, my choice should I ever become famous enough to be stranded on a desert island with a dozen records and Sue Lawley. It is also very up to date, so much so that I could probably now hold an intelligible conversation with a teenager.
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VINE VOICEon 10 March 2003
First, the feel of the book. This is a book that reminds you of the tactile pleasures of reading. Paper, type, fonts and colour have all been well utilised.
Then there's the reassuring wieght of the book. This hefty door-stop belies an incredible weight of publishing history (the book has been developed through successive editions from 1870) and information. And what information. This is a truly unique cultural compendium of events, organisations, names, and characters, all of which cross and re-cross various boundaries, such as the worlds of fact and fiction. The book encourages strangely enriching journeys through its' contents. As you follow up a reference for some phrase or name, you'll get hooked by a cross-reference, or your eye will be caught by something completely unrelated. Either way you'll be spent spinning on various weird and wonderful tangents. Also useful and entertaing are quotations and illustrations which put the information in context.
Its' uses must be diverse. From my own experience as a habitual crossword solver, it's shed light on some clues that, for example pre-suppose a knowledge of 'Giotto's O' (see page 496) and of the nature of a 'Tail-end Charlie' (see page 1150)!
Terry Pratchett in his short foreword gives a witty and illuminating decription of the books' unique character. It is, he says, "'An Education' in the truest sense."
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on 3 June 2002
I never thought I'd describe a reference book as unputdownable, but once you open this book to look one thing up (say, a peculiar expression that someone has just said, "Now why *do* we say that?" about), you'll find yourself reading all the entries in sight! Very useful for anyone with an interest in literature, history, or language and great fun to use, with a distinctly tongue-in-cheek feel to it (the hilarious section on "Famous Last Words", for instance).
It makes a really lovely present for young and old: it looks suitably impressive, has fairly universal appeal provided they're a fan of the written word, and is far livelier than the standard reference books that get trotted out on Important Occasions. I have given this to my best friend, my step-dad, and a second cousin who has just come of age; the latter (aged 13) hasn't been heard from yet (we calculated that there's a pretty good chance he's going to read it, unlike most of the books he's bound to have received), but the other two have adored it, and friends who have been introduced to my copy usually end up spending a good hour leafing through it. A huge number of phrases, expressions, and characters from myth, history and literature are there, but I still want to know where the word "codswallop" comes from...
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The most interesting property of owning this goldmine of a book is that once people know you have it they are forever asking for the answer to the origin of an expression or phrase in common use.

Its a great conversation maker with friends(or strangers)and does often settle an arguement and very often enlightens the group.

As such its become an important reference in my household.
Highly recommended.
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I first came across this book while reading some Oscar Wilde. I wanted to understand some reference to Greek Mythology that he was making, went to the library and picked up this fascinating tome. I didn't find out what I wanted to know, but I was immediately sucked in to a wonderful world of knowledge and fact and spent the rest of the day reading this, the original Wilde story long forgotten.

This is a great miscellany of cultural references, phrases and names, explaining who what where and when with clarity and humour. It's an invaluable reference work allowing you to look up with ease all those snippets of information that everyone else seems to be conversant with. But more than a reference book, it is a great read that will entertain and inform you. Every book lover should own a copy.
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on 31 May 2015
I was recommended this book recently as something to dip into but that it is very expensive to buy even in paperback. I ordered this used book 16th edition for a 1p. olus postage at £2.80 and did not expect too much. I was more that pleasantly surprised. The book arrived quickly after ordering. This paperback book is in perfect condition. It is fairly large and heavy. I am amazed to get such a good buy. It is an interesting and amusing book that you can have on the coffee table at hand and can be used when in the mood to browse through and to pick up to check out on fables and expressions. This is a very good buy. I would recommend it.
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