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Phraseology: Thousands of Bizarre Origins,…
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Phraseology: Thousands of Bizarre Origins, Unexpected Connections, and…

by Barbara Ann Kipfer

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7719156,384 (2.13)10
  1. 10
    Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Allusions by Elizabeth Webber (bragan)
    bragan: More informative, detailed, reliable, engaging and interesting. By far.
  2. 10
    Dictionary of English Down the Ages: Words and Phrases Born Out of Historical Events, Great and Small by L. Flavell (antisyzygy)
    antisyzygy: Much more enjoyable is the Dictionary of English down the ages. Although it covers fewer topics, its unusual approach makes it a much more substantial read. It links the origins or words and phrases to particular events, so that for example the founding of Oxford University in 1167 brings us University, Graduate degree, Stationer and Library… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I'm confused as to the purpose of this book - it is supposed to provide etymology and origins of words, or act more as a casual dictionary?

There are definitions of English mustard (mustard), english breakfast (a large fry) and English Breakfast tea (surprisingly, tea). To me these words are nouns, not phrases.

I suppose I should have guessed that it might not be the best when I saw the defition of the phrase "pushing the envelope" that features on the cover. "A pilot's term for flying an aircraft at or beyond its reasonable limits". That's the definition alright, but what about the origin as promised at the top of the cover?

I went straight to the definition of one of my favourite phrases - "mind your p's and q'". Kipper gives the definition as being an admonishment used by teachers monitoring students' handwriting. There's no mention of two other widely-accepted theories. Firstly, a warning to typesetters in the days of printing presses when the letter 'q' did not feature its characteristic tail, and hence could be mistaken for a 'p' in reverse. The second hails back to the days of drinking pints and quarts in public houses and recording of such on the slate.

For me this was the acid test, and the book failed it.

Ultimately, it's a novelty book, and you probably will learn something from it. But you'll probably be better off searching on the internet. ( )
1 vote dudara | Sep 16, 2009 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I'm very interested in language and in the origins and meanings of words and phrases, but I found this volume more annoying than entertaining or enlightening. Some entries feature definitions with no etymology, some etymology with no definitions, and others random trivia facts which may or may not actually be interesting (or, for that matter, reliable). The subject matter ranges from phrases whose meaning is so common and obvious that I wonder why the author bothered to terms so obscure and technical that, uh, I wonder why the author bothered. It may be diverting to spend a few minutes flipping through it, as some of the entries actually are informative, but the utterly haphazard nature of the thing makes it useless as a reference book and frustrating to spend any real amount of time with. Also, for some bizarre reason, either the author or the editor appears not to believe in capital letters or periods at the end of sentences. Which is not only faintly irritating, but also makes it kind of difficult to take the whole thing seriously. Learn to punctuate, guys, and then you can come and teach me about the English language.

Instead of this book, I recommend Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Allusions if you're looking for an interesting and detailed book on the origins of common phrases, or Bill Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words for a readable and informative discussion of word usage with dos and don'ts. ( )
  bragan | Feb 28, 2009 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I love phrase books. Really I do. I read them through and learn new things about words and phrases - I'm a lexophile and amateur etymologist. But this one is just awful. I managed to slog my way as far as the Bs (in 3 months) and I quit.
The problems are many and varied. Some - most, even - of the phrases and definitions given are unexceptionable - which means both that I think they're right and that they're not fascinating. And then you come upon things like:
"Abel-wackets: Blows given on the palm of the hand with a twisted handkerchief, instead of a ferula; a jocular punishment among seamen, who sometimes play at cards for wackets, the loser suffering as many strokes as he has lost games." Oookay...what's a ferula? Have you ever heard this phrase/word? So I googled it - and found a dozen sources that list it exactly as above - same definition, word for word - with the addition of the citation: 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. Can you say plagiarism? It's not, obviously, a copyright violation, but if she didn't have anything to say about this phrase (other than copying the one time it was written down), why put it in?
Another, even more annoying.
"Above the fold is the content of a Web page that can be seen without scrolling down; also called above the scroll". Excuse me? This is the origin of the phrase? It _might_ be the (or a) way it's used today, but that illuminates nothing whatsoever. No mention, even, of newspapers? Come on.
The end result is, even on definitions that make a great deal of sense I doubt her explanations. So it's not useful, it's not interesting, and it's highly exasperating. NOT a winner. ( )
1 vote jjmcgaffey | Jan 24, 2009 |
This is a collection of information about English phrases where entries vary from explanations of idioms to usage notes to interesting trivia.

The entries cover the range from curious to common. I learned that “the medical term for an ice cream headache is spheno pulatine ganglio neuralgia.” I learned that in the expression raining cats and dogs, the “cats symbolize rain storms and dogs symbolize wind storms.” I learned the proper pronunciation of chaise longue is shayz-long (I speak French so I disagree, but the common chaise lounge is wrong too) and that cell phone, e-mail, and video game should be kept as separate words (does anyone write them as one … other than e-mail?). Oh, and a sparrow-fart is daybreak in case anyone is wondering.

I’m a language geek so I like this kind of thing. I have The Flip Dictionary by Barbara Ann Kipfer, which is a unique and handy reference for anyone who writes anything, but Phraseology can’t decide what kind of book it is (which explains the subtitle). Usually reference books either stick to being a usage guide (like Garner’s) or strictly idioms or strictly trivia. This one is all three, but not in a systematic fashion. One entry may be an explanation of an idiom, one entry may be a bit of trivia, and the next entry may be a usage note. That makes this an entertainment book, rather than a reference book because you never know what you’re going to get when you look up a term.

For an entertainment book there are a lot of mundane entries: per capita, corn dog, life sciences. Some entries are dictionary-like definitions rather than interesting factoids. There are quite a few entries that I assume are Americanisms (like sparrow-fart) that I’ve never heard of, which are interesting though I have no way of knowing how common these terms are. The choice of entries seems rather random as does the formatting. The word being defined or discussed is not always the first thing in the entry, sometimes it is half-way through (though it is always in bold).

I have to admit to being rather confused as to who the intended audience is for Phraseology. There’s an interesting tidbit or two for language lovers flipping through the book, but the occasional interesting fact is buried among a number of less interesting entries, and the inconsistency of the entries makes it a confusing book for general use.

You can find more of my reviews at Booklorn.com. ( )
  anysia | Jan 15, 2009 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This is an entertaining enough book to flip through, but I frequently found myself wanting something more. The definitions provided often don't go into nearly enough depth; rather than leaving me with a satisfied sense that I'd learned something interesting, I was more frequently left with the sense that there was an interesting story behind the word, if only I'd take the time to look it up somewhere else. For example, Kipfer often tells us the Shakespeare play in which a phrase originates--and that's it. While that's worth knowing, I want at least a brief description of its context in the play as well. Failings like that left me generally disappointed with the book.
2 vote _Zoe_ | Jan 4, 2009 |
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The ultimate collection of everything you never knew about the wonderful words and phrases found in the English language. It contains information about word history and etymology, unusual or lost or uncommon words, grammar instruction and usage, word trivia, differences between confusable words, how phrases are formed, and over 7,000 facts about popular English phrases. Practical enough to be used as a reference book, but so much fun that every word or book lover will want to read it.… (more)

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