Thursday, November 06, 2008

Heaven, sheer heaven. A magnum opus of triviality and titbit.

One of my overseas, second-hand book purchases arrived today.

And thus i present to you, Brewer's Dictionary of Modern Phrase and Fable.

I couldn't find a picture of the elusive Rev/Dr. Brewer, but let's imagine maybe a man with a pipe, in 1864, carrying his manuscript to London publishing house Cassell, Petter and Galpin. He is a retired school master, and had already published a few books, titles such as Guide to Science, which have obviously been relegated to dusty shelves of yore.

But this reference work, oh, it is glorious.

As the intro says, the book (on its publication in 1870) "immediately found a wide market eager to learn from its 'improving' mix of linguistic, and general knowledge, and to revel in the pleasures that Dr Brewer's 'alms-basket of words' afforded to the casual browser. The dictionary not only sold 100,000 copies of its first edition, but remains very much alive and kicking 130 years and sixteen editions later."

I have realised that the book I am now proud owner of, is the modern version, and is a compilation stretching only from 1900.

Now I realise too that I need the earlier edition, the non-modern one.

Listen to this, again from the intro:

"Anecdotes testify to a character in which genial eccentricity allied with mild testiness of the habitually excellent scholar, and to working methods that bespeak the highest standards of industry and diligence. In Brewer's study at Edwinstowe Vicarage, there was... 'a long wooden box arrangement" with an open front 'divided into pigeon-holes lettered from A to Z in which were the slips of paper on which were written the notes he made and continued to make daily.'

Ah, a man after my own heart. While his filing system utilised a proper wooden box, with dividers, and mine was just lists on scraps of paper and slips of bits, all shoved anywhere and everywhere, I find it deliciously ironic that his book was on one of my lists, and his book was birthed from his lists on scraps and slips of bits.

Are you following me?

All right then, it's not that earth shattering. But I am just excited to present you some snippets from the dictionary. The man himself described his work as " 'a sweep-net of a book' drawing in 'curious or novel etymologies, pseudonyms and popular titles, local traditions and literary blunders, biographical and historical trifles too insignificant to find a place in books of higher pretention, but not too worthless to be worth knowing.' "

I give you, randomly, a list of entries on pp 88-89:

Bobbsey Twins
Bobby socks
Bodmin Moor, Beast of.
Body, The.
Body art
Body bag
Body beautiful
Body blow
Body count
Body double
Body language
Bodyline bowling
Body piercing
Body popping
Body search
Body Shop
Body stocking
Boer War
Bofors gun

and pp288-289:

Golden parachute
Golden Raspberry
Golden Ring of Russia
Golden Share
Golden Shot, The
Golden Triangle
Goldfish bowl
Golightly, Holly

* "The US film producer Samuel Goldwyn (1882-1974) is credited with uttering a number of unwitting witticisms, often in the form of an absurdly mixed metaphor or a colourful contradiction. Some are undoubtedly apocryphal, but the following is a selection of the better known...

Include me out.
A verbal contract isn't worth the paper it's written on.
In two words: im-possible.
Every director bites the hand that lays the golden egg.
Anyone who goes to a psychiatrist should have his head examined.
I had a monumental idea last night but I didn't like it.
Tell me, how do you love my picture?
We have all passed alot of water since then.
I'll give you a definite maybe.
We're overpaying him, but he's worth it.
I never liked you, and I always will.
Don't talk to me when I'm interrupting.
I may not always be right, but I'm never wrong.
The scene is dull. Tell him to put more life into his dying.
This book has too much plot and not enough story.
It's more than magnificent - it's mediocre.
A bachelor's life is no life for a single man.
Go see it and see for yourself why you shouldn't see it.
It's spreading like wildflowers!
If I could drop dead right now, I'd be the happiest man alive!
You've got to take the bull by the teeth.
This makes me so sore it gets my dandruff up.
When I want your opinion, I'll give it to you.
Colour television! Bah, I won't believe it until I see it in black and white.
I read part of it all the way through.
William? What kind of a name is that? Every Tom, Dick and Harry is called William.

I've just flicked through a few more pages - the diversity of topic is vast. Anything that has four pages of Second World War operational code names as well as referring to "Slick Willie", "the Comeback Kid" and "the Oral Office" in Bill Clinton entries is my type of tome.

God I love this sort of stuff.


pepsi the pimp said...

Folio Socety ?

pepsi the pimp said...

my typing sucks


Melba said...

say what, pepsi the pimp?

pepsi the pimp said...

Where your magnum opus of triviality and titbits came from,

thats all.

Melba said...

is folio society one of those companies that sends you books almost randomly, or offers to?

no, i hunted down this particular publication, and ordered and paid for it, and it arrived from some second-hand bookshop in deepest, darkest america.

Pepsi said...

You pick what you want to buy, and you also get lots of really nice freebies.

I have some stunning books in my collection.

The one you mentioned has appeared on occasion, I have a literary puzzles one, it came free last year. Its quite entertaining, in a stiff upper-lip sort of fashion.

Melba said...

i think i once got some books from somewhere like that, and didn't pay. you know, when they send you them on a trial, and i just kept fogetting to pay? i'm serious. i still have them. one is chinese cuisine, and the other is guide to sex, or something really useful.

squib said...

I've had my Brewer's a few years now. I love it to bits though my Shorter Oxford with its two heavy volumes of onionskin pages is still my favourite

Melba said...

onionskin paper