words that have a tale to tell

Discovered at a used book sale: a vintage copy of Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable

I’ve often found dictionaries to be interesting reads, especially the older ones, providing multiple definitions, the history and background of words, usages, and cool pictures and illustrations.  Brewer’s Dictionary takes this a step further, providing fascinating insights into culture and history through the use to which words and phrases were put.

Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable is:

…one of the world’s best-loved reference books. First published in 1870, this treasury of ‘words that have a tale to tell has established itself as one of the great reference classics-the first port of call for tens of thousands of terms, phrases and proper names, and a fund of fascinating, unusual and out-of-the-way information.

At the heart of the dictionary lie entries on the meaning and origin of a vast range of words and expressions, from everyday phrases to Latin tags. Alongside these are articles on people and events in mythology and religion, and on folk customs, superstitions and beliefs. Major events and people in history are also treated, as are movements in art and literature, famous literary characters, and key aspects of popular culture, philosophy, geography, science and magic. To complete this rich mix of information, Brewer and his subsequent editors have added an extraordinary and enticing miscellany of general knowledge-lists of patron saints, terms in heraldry, regimental nicknames, public house names, and famous last words.

Take at look at the listings for the common name Tom or Tommy:

Tom, Tommy   Short for Thomas:  used of the male of certain animals (especially the cat), and generically–like Jack (q.v.)–for a man.  It is also a generic name for a little boy.  When contrasted,  Jack is usually the sharp, shrewd, active fellow, and Tom the honest dullard. No one would think of calling the thick-headed male cat a Jack, nor the pert, dexterous, thieving daw a Tom.  The former is almost instinctively called a Tom-cat, and the latter a Jack-daw.

Other usages of Tom:
Great Tom of Lincoln
Great Tom of Oxford
Long Tom
Tom and Jerry
Tom Collins
Tom, Dick, and Harry
Tom Fool

Old Tom is “A specially potent gin.  The story goes that a Thomas Norris, employed in Messrs. Hodges’ distillery, opened a gin palace in Great Russell Street, Covent Garden [London], in the late 18th century, and called the gin concocted by Thomas Chamberlain, one of the firm of Hodges, “Old Tom,” in compliment to his former master.”

An online copy is found at Bibliomania

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One Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Navleen
    Jul 27, 2012 @ 04:30:53

    THE author was dumped by a smart girl , so he is blaming d girls who are illiterate.
    God , plzzz open ur mind Mr.

    being illiterate means u can rule her like on ur tips…. Lol
    Upgrade ur knowlege and thinking !!!!


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