I think I can speak for philonoists and logophiles everywhere when I say that Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable is 1480 pages of sheer delight; open at any page and awaiting is an instant hit of wickedly wonderful wordiness! From The Gruffalo to the Deathwatch beetle, the content of this almighty phrase bible stretches from ancient times to modern day and covers topics to fascinate even the hardiest of google worshippers.
Yes it’s larger than your average dictionary and heavier than your average bag of sugar, but that’s what makes it oh so juicy. It is to be respected for its size, not penalised.
Perhaps this book has made me a little giddy both with excitement and energy expenditure from carrying it upstairs, but it’s worth it.
As ever, words speak for themselves, so here are a couple of my favourite entries:
Dressed up to the nines. Dressed elaborately or even over dressed…’Nines’ is said by some to be an alteration of eyne, the Old English word for ‘eyes’. However, the phrase has not been recorded earlier than the 18th century. Other authorities claim that ‘nine’ indicates a high degree of excellence, perfection itself being ‘ten’.
Museumchester. A nickname latterly given to Manchester, in recognition of its recent proliferation of museums.
Rule of thumb. A rough, guesswork measure, practice or experience, as distinct from theory, an allusion to the use of thumb for rough measurements. The first joint of the adult thumb measures almost exactly 1in (2.5cm).
Paying through the nose (Nose Tax). It is said that in the 9th century the Danes imposed a poll tax in Ireland and that this was called the ‘Nose Tax’, because those who neglected to pay were punished by having their noses slit.