Cover image for The Oxford dictionary of phrase and fable
The Oxford dictionary of phrase and fable
Knowles, Elizabeth (Elizabeth M.)
Publication Information:
Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2000.
Physical Description:
vii, 1223 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


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Material Type
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PN43 .O85 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
PN43 .O85 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
PN43 .O85 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Reference material
PN43 .O85 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
PN43 .O85 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable is a major new reference work, providing a wealth of fascinating and informative background detail for over 20,000 phrases and allusions used in English today. Drawing from Oxford's unrivalled bank of language and quotation on-line resources, thishighly browsable pot pourri of allusive terms includes entries from a broad range of topics, from classical mythology, history, religion, folk customs, superstitions, science and technology, philosophy, and popular culture. Biographies of both real people and fictional characters are included also. From Barbie doll to the big bang theory, 'Every dog has his day' to seven-league boots, the dictionary gives reliable, up-to-date insights into the origins and history of words and phrases. Numerous entries are enlivened with illustrative quotations, and ample cross-referencing.

Author Notes

Elizabeth Knowles is the Managing Editor of the Oxford Quotations dictionaries.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

For more than a century, the title "dictionary of phrase and fable" has been synonymous with the name "Brewer's." With the publication of this volume, Oxford introduces the first real competition to Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, which appeared in a sixteenth edition in 2000 [RBB O 15 00]. In her introduction to The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, Knowles, managing editor of Oxford Quotation Dictionaries, unabashedly acknowledges her work's indebtedness to the compilations begun by Ebenezer Cobham Brewer in 1870 but notes that the approximately 20,000 entries in Oxford's version have been drawn from Oxford's vast dictionary databases, quotations files, and other resources. According to Knowles, the words, names, and phrases featured in this dictionary "justify inclusion by having some figurative or allusive connotation, or by being central to the development of a civilization or culture." Drawn from folklore, history, mythology, philosophy, popular culture, religion, science, and technology, the alphabetically arranged entries include ancient gods and goddesses, biblical allusions, proverbial sayings, common phrases, fictional characters, geographical entities, and real people and events. A significant number of entries pertain to contemporary culture; for example, Generation X, Harry Potter, the People's Princess, rainbow coalition, and shock jock. Illustrative quotations and etymological details accompany many of the entries. The volume also features 50 boxed entries for special categories like "Last Words," "Muses," and "Plagues of Egypt." A generous network of cross-references facilitates use. In addition to an index to the boxed entries, the dictionary also provides lists of the entries that are reprinted from the Oxford Companion to American Literature and the Oxford Companion to English Literature. Unfortunately, this work's sweeping scope results in a rather amorphous, if fascinatingly eclectic, compilation. The inclusion of a large number of fairly common words (e.g., degree, music, tobacco) seems unnecessary, and the rationale behind many of the biographical entries (e.g., for Doris Day, Stephen Jay Gould, John Soane) is not clear. Greater concentration on the "phrase and fable" aspects of the dictionary would have been preferable. For instance, numerous entries for proverbs simply identify the phrase as a proverbial saying and note the time period when it was first introduced without providing any further explanation or amplification. Many readers will probably need more assistance with sayings such as a creaking door hangs longest and dreams go by contraries. The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable includes about 1,500 more entries than the sixteenth edition of Brewer's, which contains 18,500 entries. However, Brewer's makes such extensive use of subentries that the numbers are misleading. A side-by-side comparison of Oxford and Brewer's reveals that although there is considerable overlap between the two, each has a wide variety of unique entries. For example, only Brewer's includes back burner, fight tooth and nail, Gulliver, never say die, and pull out all the stops, while only Oxford has entries for Archie Bunker, Babi Yar, Beanie baby, close but no cigar, and snail mail. In contrast to Oxford, Brewer's always provides explanations for proverbs, and in many other instances, Brewer's entries are fuller. Whereas the Oxford entry for horses lists 20 famous steeds and their riders, Brewer's entry identifies more than three times that number, and although both dictionaries explain the expression the full monty, only Brewer's mentions the film by that title. Libraries on tight budgets that already have a recent edition of Brewer's will probably find that it is sufficient for their needs. However, libraries that can afford both dictionaries will welcome the rich diversity, scholarly authority, and additional information offered by The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.

Library Journal Review

Fables and commonplace phrases originate from the need to articulate concepts and circumstances that defy conventional phraseology. Evolving from both written and spoken sources (though more commonly from the latter), they bring together words, names, and expressions that have cultural resonance. These volumes provide ample documentation of such terms in the English language, citing both origin and common usage. Beyond simple definitions, the works also include quotations from classical and modern literature. Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase & Fable, first issued in 1870, has flourished for over 100 years and has been updated frequently. (See LJ 7/00 for a review of the 16th edition.) The current work, ably edited by prolific lexicographer Room, who also worked on the 16th edition, borrows the style and approach of the original dictionary but focuses on material from the late 20th to the 21st centuries. Arranged alphabetically, this approachable work contains more than 8000 entries. Vastly more comprehensive, The Oxford Dictionary references some 20,000 citations. Knowles, managing editor of the Oxford quotations dictionaries, draws upon Oxford's unrivaled bank of language lore and literary tradition to span a vast array of topics, including classical mythology, religion, folk custom, history, science, and technology. The entries, whether brief citations or longer discussions boasting colorful details and lucid text, are distinguished by unparalleled research. Illustrative quotations and thousands of biographies are also included. Both of these volumes are vital reference tools required by all meaningful reference collections. Richard K. Burns, MSLS, Hatboro, PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Knowles, a trusted name in reference publishing, contributes a valuable source for students, librarians, historians, journalists, and teachers at all levels. Broader in scope than Elizabeth Webber and Mike Feinsilber's Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Allusions (CH, Mar'00), it upgrades the venerable Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1870, frequently revised) with 1,200 pages of nonstop figurative language and allusive connotations--civilization's shorthand--a diverse collection of events and colorful wording (e.g., "chevalier," "pig Latin," "Hun," "Ferdinand the Bull," "e pluribus unum," "movable feast"). Notation is clear and cross-referencing tidy; 51 boxed entries embrace subsets ranging from treaties, battles, and minor prophets to falconry, Jewish months, and famous diamonds. These sidebars vary in complexity: the Confederate states, an alphabetic list of 11 Southern states, would be more useful if they were named in order of secession by date. Signs of the zodiac are in calendric order, but lack dates. City nicknames omit Paris ("City of Light"). A separate entry on Motown explains Detroit's connection to African American music, but not its identity as "motor city." There is no list of noms de plume. A weakness of the volume confines its grasp of British lore to Britain proper (omitting "cooee," the Australian cry that tips off Sherlock Holmes). Its clay feet rest on American soil, where "make my day" resonates as icily as "we are not amused." A thin account of trails names only six, omitting Sedalia and Bozeman. Also missing are Dr. Seuss, familiar fundamentalist terms ("altar call," "holy roller," "mourner's bench," "washed in the lamb"), and literary and cinematic terms from the Vietnam War ("lock and load," "semper fi"). Selectors might expect greater understanding of the UK than of its rebellious colonists. M. E. Snodgrass; independent scholar

Table of Contents

Examples of headwords are:
*angry white maleAndersonville
rebel without a *causeBrigadoon
Arthur *DaleyChernobyl
the *Evil EmpireDayton Accord
Lord LucanFrankenfood
Marlboro Man Mary Bell order the *People's Princess; the *People's William
*Robben Island; the *rubber chicken circuitHarry *Potter
*snakes in IcelandMiss*Scarlet
*sorcerer's apprentice
*Stonewall *Teapot Dome;*terminator gene