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Dictionary of Phrase and Fable

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Ebenezer Cobham Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable is one of the English-speaking world's classic reference books. First published in England in 1870, the volume is now in its 17th edition. Infoplease is honored to present Brewer's 1894 “new and enlarged” edition, which was the last version Brewer himself worked on—he died three years after its publication at age 87.

While the proper title of the 1894 edition was the Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, future versions of the dictionary began incorporating Brewer's name in the title, in the same way that Bartlett's Familiar Quotations eventually included its original author's name in the title.

The dictionary, which contains approximately 16,000 entries, is a compendium of allusions, idioms, mythology, place names, historical and fictional figures and events, nicknames, foreign terms, and famous phrases and quotations—what Brewer described as “words that have a tale to tell.” Given that the volume is more than a century old, its tone and expression are frequently musty and antiquated, and its definitions and etymologies can be obscure and imprecise. But what this idiosyncratic reference work sometimes lacks in scholarly rigor is easily made up for by its wit, charm, and fascinating contents.

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