Cover image for The Facts on File encyclopedia of word and phrase origins
The Facts on File encyclopedia of word and phrase origins
Hendrickson, Robert, 1933-
Personal Author:
Third edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Facts On File, [2004]

Physical Description:
ix, 822 pages ; 29 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PE1689 .H47 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area-Oversize

On Order



Explains the origins of thousands of words, proverbs, idioms, foreign language expressions, animal and plant names, and nicknames.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

422'.03 English language Terms and phrases / English language Etymology Dictionaries [OCLC] 86-2067 Hendrickson, a profilic professional writer (e.g., Human Words, Business Talk), traces in the present work the origins of some 7,500 words and phrases of the English language. He admits that his selections from ``the 5-10 million or so general and technical English words'' are highly subjective and that he has sought to make his choices ``as accurate and entertaining as possible.'' Sources cited include such etymological classics of the past 200 years as Grose's Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, the Oxford English Dictionary, Dictionary of American Regional English, Mathews' Dictionary of Americanisms, Onions' Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology, Partridge's Dictionary of Slang and Origins, and Wentworth and Flexner's Dictionary of American Slang. Perusal of all letter B entries suggests that Hendrickson's attention to modern terms and phrases is weak and uneven. To illustrate: The Barnhart Dictionary of New English since 1963 has go bananas and band-aid (meaning hastily patched up or put together); Hendrickson does not give the slang meanings of these words. The Second Barnhart Dictionary of New English (1980) is more precise than Hendrickson in identifying the origin of the 1970s meaning of benign neglect. Nor is it clear to what extent the compiler consulted the four-volume Supplement (1972-86) to the OED, where two pre-1905 uses of best-seller are listed, since his etymology gives 1905 as the earliest usage. To Hendrickson's credit, Flexner's authoritative I Hear America Talking is cited under bluff. As a reference work Hendrickson will be marginally supplementary to the above-named sources. Large public and academic libraries will likely already hold most of the comprehensive titles mentioned, as well as Klein's Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary (1971), Craigie and Hulbert's Dictionary of American English on Historical Principles (1936-44), Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins (1977), Flexner's Listening to America (1982), and Chapman's New Dictionary of American Slang (1986). If the linguistic collection of small and medium-sized libraries, including high school libraries, includes volumes like The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, Barnhart, Flexner, Klein, Onions, and Wentworth and Flexner or Chapman, those libraries are prepared to meet most of their patrons' needs.

Library Journal Review

This is a collection of stories, speculative though entertaining, behind 7500 English words and phrases, from A & P through babushka, Calvinism, Davy Crockett, eggs Benedict, fifty-four forty or fight, German measles, and many more to ZZZ. The stories are fascinating, but the book is marred by many misspellings, particularly in the quotations from German. Still, it will appeal to word buffs and hence should be of interest to public libraries. Scholars will probably continue to rely on the OED and other standard reference works. Catherine von Schon, SUNY at Stony Brook (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

School Library Journal Review

Gr 9 Up-This volume features more than 15,000 quirky words and expressions (2500 of them added since the 2004 edition) from the English/American vernacular. The text, arranged alphabetically, covers a broad range of slang terms, acronyms, coined phrases, literary references, and other dialectical gems. Written in an often-humorous tone, the brief entries consist of etymology and examples of usage culled from sources such as Shakespearean plays, films, or famous declarations. Terms range from classical nicknames (Heraclitus's "The Weeping Philosopher") to pop-culture references (the Seinfeld-ism "man hands"). Foreign expressions such as the British-born "do the needful" and the timely Iraqi "I throw a shoe at you!" are explained. Cross-references are provided, and the index includes listings of phrases and the subjects who uttered them. As the preface states, "No word or phrase has been eliminated because it might offend someone's sensibilities." Hendrickson admits that some origins presented are mere theories. Moreover, the lack of a pronunciation guide and the volume's anecdotal approach undermine its academic value. Still, the author provides an entertaining, informative look at the diversity of influences on the English language. Readers will find plenty to pique their interest in this strong secondary source.-Christina Connolly, Clark University, Worcester, MA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Selection of words and phrases to include in a work such as this is a highly subjective process. Hendrickson, author of several works on the English language, limits his 7,500 selections to those of interest and importance. Although this seems like a broad statement, the entries in this work reflect current American usage, from political and television commercial slogans to folk sayings. Hendrickson does not hesitate to include common obscenities, describing those who judge what is obscene and what is not as ``... self-appointed lobotomizers of language.'' This work is similar to William and Mary Morris's Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins (1st ed., 1977; 2nd ed., 1988) in that it has highly readable narrative entries drawn from scholarly etymological sources, popular culture, and folklore, and is often sprinkled with educated speculation. The alphabetic entries include some cross-references, but others are lacking where needed. In several cases, synonymous terms are included in the same entry with no cross-references given; the second term, if not alphabetically close to the first, is essentially lost. The Morrises include an index to supplement their alphabetic arrangement. There is some overlap and occasional disagreement between the two sources, but not enough to warrant recommending one over the other. Both would be useful additions to most reference collections.-J. Smith, University of California, San Diego



Praise for the previous editions: A feast for phrase detectives...that will enliven debates and illuminate issues.--William Safire ...recommended for large public and academic libraries that serve the curious as well as the scholarly.--Choice ...roughly triple the greatest number [of entries] in any previous collection of its kind.--Reference & Research Book News ...language lovers will romp among its pages with as much excitement as a cat rolling in catnip.--Reference Reviews on ...provides a winner to any who want a comprehensive coverage more in-depth than most casual lay treatments. This A-Z collection includes slang, proverbs, animal and place names and historical expressions under one cover, making an invaluable reference for students of language.--Midwest Book Review Clear and easy to read...provides a wealth of background material for anyone interested in words and languages.--Calliope An updated and expanded edition, The Facts On File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, Third Edition contains definitions and origins of more than 12,500 words and expressions, making it the most comprehensive single-volume reference of its kind. Anecdotes and information on the development of a wide range of words, including slang, proverbs, animal and plant names, place names, nicknames, historical expressions, foreign language expressions, and phrases from literature, are included. The emphasis throughout is on words and expressions whose origins are not adequately explained, or not addressed at all, in standard dictionaries. With approximately 3,500 new entries, this appealing encyclopedia will engage word lovers and researchers alike. New entries include: All the world's a stage Axis; Allies; Axis of Evil Black dog Bollywood Icebound Infracaninophile A Jones Juvenalian Kafkaesque Karaoke Kept woman Larrikin Let's roll! Limburger Nightcap No dice Old fuddy duddy Peep walk Rap music; flyting Royal we. Excerpted from The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins by Robert Hendrickson All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Preface to the Third Editionp. v
Preface to the Original Editionp. vii
Abbreviations for the Most Frequently Cited Authoritiesp. ix
Entries A-Zp. 1
Indexp. 807