Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable

A couple of weeks ago I received what is officially the biggest tome I have ever gotten for review.

brewer's dictionary of phrase and fable
Do you like the comparison with the chair?

Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable 19th edition, edited by Susie Dent, has just come out on the 27 September 2012. 19th edition! I had never heard of the dictionary prior to this, but apparently the first edition came out in 1870, published by the Reverend E. Cobham Brewer. It was aimed at the growing number of people who did not have a university education, but wanted to understand the origins of phrases and historical or literary allusions.

Obviously I did not read this back to back, but I’ve spent a good couple of hours on it, just randomly reading bits here and there. The book is laid out in alphabetical order and is like a cross over between dictionary and encyclopedia.

If you sometimes do “wiki-walking” like I do (“wiki-walking” is a term that I coined myself describing one’s experience of getting lost in Wikipedia, following one link to another, and the end topic is guaranteed to be completely unrelated to the starting point.), this book could be the equivalent of that in paper form with more succinct information per item.

Just in the past couple of hours I’ve read about how the places in London get their names from (something I was always interested to find out) like Elephant and Castle, Piccadilly, Pimlico, Bond St, etc; Popes, Greek gods, fairy tale characters. Then there’s a whole section about Pretenders and Impostors in history. (Not sure if I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m crazy about history!)

In the newest editions they have added new items like iPod (Did you know that the ‘i’ may be short for Internet while ‘Pod’ stands for ‘personal on demand’?), Harry Potter, and Star Wars like where name Jedi and Chewbacca are from (Did you know that George Lucas took Indiana Jones name from his dog Indiana?).

The contemporary items seem super trivial for us now. Like who needs to look up Harry Potter? But this book has survived over a century. Imagine if it does for over a century more. People a couple of hundreds years from now will probably have to look up Harry Potter and iPod! What is this gadget thing that got so popular in the early 21st century?

So, yes, fun! If there could be one wish, I just wish the book has more illustrations in it. It reminds me that I spent countless hours as a kid reading the family’s Disney illustrated encyclopedia series. I guess I have not changed very much!

Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable by Chambers


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