Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable Centenary Edition, Revised by Ivor H. Evans. Harper & Row, 1981. 0060149035.
Brewer’s Dictionary of 20th Century Phrase and Fable. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1991. 0395616492.
Sarah: There was a small bookcase in the dining room when I grew up…
Gene: This is another of those “when Sarah was growing up” books?
S: Uh huh. One of the things my dad would do when my brother and I asked kid questions during mealtimes is he’d say, “Let’s find out!” and grab a book off a shelf. And we’d look up the answer. We had the compact Oxford English Dictionary and this. I’m sure there were other books, but those are the two I remember. That’s a really happy memory for me, approaching questions like that. I hope I can pay that forward.
G: That’s nice.
S: Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable is one of those things for when you read a phrase or hear a phrase and need to know what it means and where it’s from. Later in life I learned that some people look down their nose at Brewer’s idea of phrase origins, so maybe it isn’t super-reliable? I have two editions, one is the one I grew up with and the other is more modern, called 20th Century Phrase and Fable. The old one leans more towards classical stuff.
G: So what do you look up in this?
S: Someone says, “That’s like the Sword of Damocles,” and you look it up to find up what it means.
G: (reading) “impending evil or danger”
S: And then it tells you the story of Damocles so you get the meaning and the context. This is good when you’re a kid and don’t know what anything means. (laughs) Because this is not individual words, you can’t get this from a dictionary. There might be an entry based on a word sometimes, though, like here’s a section on “deaf:” deaf as an adder, deaf as a beetle, deaf as a post, deaf as a white cat, none so deaf as those who won’t hear.
G: So they have phrases with the word deaf, and fables.
Continue reading “Browsing Reference”