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Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins (Facts on File Library of Language and Literature)
ISBN 0816048134 / 9780816048137 / 0-8160-4813-4
Publisher Facts on File (J)
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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 note apocrypha when appropriate.) 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. --Rob Lightner [via]