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The Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins

Facts on File Series

by Robert Hendrickson

The Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins   Buy from Amazon UK Buy from Amazon in the UK
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Book Review

Seemingly designed for those with laser-focused attention or plenty of time on their hands, the Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins provides days of browsing for etymophiles. More than 9,000 entries, nearly a quarter of them new to this edition, cover slang, idiom, and commonly used words with interesting or curious histories. Ranging from a few sentences to half a page, the entries are consistently entertaining and well-researched, though author Robert Hendrickson acknowledges in his preface that "no good tale is omitted merely because it isn't true." (He does mark stories believed to be apocryphal.) The book pulls few, if any, punches, and nearly everyone will find at least one term or definition offensive; try "Irish beauty" for "a girl with two black eyes," for example. But, for every potentially offensive term, you'll find several hundred delights, such as "veronica" and "cut off your nose to spite your face." Though there's a slight trend toward Americanisms, there's plenty of British, Irish, and other varieties of English represented herein as well. While it is a terrifically useful reference work, it is nearly impossible to keep one's eyes from wandering, more so than with any other work of its kind. Still, a few extra minutes spent in the company of good words and good stories makes the Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins as pleasurable as it is useful. Not cheap, but well worth the money if you can afford it as it is a notable improvement on less expensive equivalents.

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