Monday, May 2, 2011

"Take Time by the Forelock"

Ever wondered how authors think of certain phrases, know how to make allusions to just the right legend, or how they find a word that perfectly matches their meaning while still being obscure, fresh, or interesting? Perhaps they find great reference books and while away afternoons searching for that nebulous idea or concept that they can vaguely imagine until they find the crystal-clear concept.

If I were an author looking for a phrase to match my novel, then I don't think I could go wrong in consulting Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase & Fable. This lengthy tome lists a plethora of entries worth looking at. For example, the Times Square entry describes the "garish heart of Manhattan, New York City, famous (and infamous) for its lurid neon advertisements, its theatres and cinemas, and its prostitutes and pickpockets." It tells how this well-known site grew out of the commercial district there and received its name after the New York Times built its building close by in the early 1900s (1331).

Another example tells what the phrase "Take time by the forelock" means:
Seize the present moment; CARPE DIEM. Time, called by Shakespeare 'that bald sexton' (King John, III, i (1596)), is represented with a lock of hair on his forehead but none on the rest of his head, to signify that time past cannot be used, but time present may be seized by the forelock. The saying is attributed to Pittacus of Mitylene, one of the WISE MEN OF GREECE. It is also suggested that the statue of Opportunity by Lysippus inspired the phrase. (1331)
Terms or words in all caps have their own entries in other parts of the book.

Other entries that caught my eye:
  • Timbuctoo or Timbuktu
  • Wars of the Roses, The (1401)
  • Waltzing Matilda (didn't know that this phrase meant "carrying or humping one's bag or pack as a tramp does," although I believe I had heard A.B. "Banjo" Paterson's name in connection with the phrase, which he made famous (1399).)
  • Wandering Jew
  • Wearie Willie and Tired Tim (1408)
  • Weasel words (1408)
  • Wedding anniversaries
    • 1st anniversary = paper
    • 7th anniversary = woolen
    • 30th anniversary = pearl
    • 35th anniversary = coral
    • 45th anniversary = sapphire
    • 50th  anniversary = golden
    • 55th anniversary = emerald
    • 75th anniversary = diamond (1409)
  • Werewolf (1413)
This photo was taken by thisisbossi and can be seen on Flickr.
 In short, this dictionary has been around a long time and seems to be quite a gem.

Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase & Fable, 18th Edition.  Ed. Camilla Rockwood.  Foreward by Philip Pullman.  Edinburgh: Brewer's, 2009.  Call number: PN43.B65 2009.  We keep this one at our reference desk.

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