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Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase & Fable, 18th edition (Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable) Hardcover – 4 Aug 2009

4.8 out of 5 stars 61 customer reviews

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  • Click here to read acclaimed author Philip Pullman's foreword to Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. [pdf file]

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 1488 pages
  • Publisher: Chambers; 18 edition (4 Aug. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0550104119
  • ISBN-13: 978-0550104113
  • Product Dimensions: 24.9 x 16.4 x 5.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 51,735 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Amazon Review

An early highlight of this fully revised millennium edition of Brewer's is Terry Pratchett's short, sweetly ironic preface. It's entirely appropriate, given Brewer's has been the bread-and-butter of curious, self-educated working men and women for 130 years, and that this decade's great demotic writer should be invited to watch the dust settle on yet another deposit of curious knowledge. ("It's an education in itself, seeing [the Fab Four] take their place with old Roman senators and mythological fauna ... ").

Brewer's is famously, fabulously useless. There is not the remotest possibility that it contains anything you might actually be looking up at the time. In this, it closely resembles that great modern intellectual irritant, the World Wide Web. Where it bests the upstart Web is in its wit, its erudition and in its disposability. Mind you, frustrated users should wield the new edition with caution. Adrian Room has introduced French jargon, inkhorn literary terms and many more historical and fictional characters to the familiar "alms-basket of words".

But it is through the number of extra phrases and quotations that Room truly distinguishes this edition--and who can resist passages of verse like the one which accompanies a new entry for Technogamia, a 1618 play of such mind-crushing tediousness that James I "made several efforts to leave after sitting out the first two acts"? By complete contrast, there's never a dull moment to be had with this great, daft, pointless, wonderful brick of a book. --Simon Ings --This text refers to the Paperback edition.


Of all the dictionaries in the world [Brewer's] is the most like a treasure-hunt, where one phrase leads to another, and that to a third, and before you know what's happened, it's time for lunch. (Philip Pullman)

An idiosyncratic adventure, pulling you in and saying: "this is, in fact, not what you were

looking for; but it's much more interesting."

(Terry Pratchett)

Brewer's head-words are so enticing and his definitions so eloquent that it's impossible to stop at one. An addiction may develop. (Carol Rumens, The Independent)

'By judicious updating and editing and by dint of its elegant design and printing, this latest edition retains as strong a place in its reference market niche as it ever did; long may that continue.'

(Stuart James, Past Editor, Reference Reviews, and formerly University Librarian, University of Paisley, UK)

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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Hardcover
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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By A Customer on 6 July 2000
Format: Hardcover
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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