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Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs

Speake, Jennifer
Publisher:  Oxford University Press
Year Published:  2003   First Published:  1982
Pages:  375pp   Price:  $39.95   ISBN:  0-19-860524-2

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For a book of pithy proverbs, this reference tool sure gets "updated" a lot#Speake is the editor of the Oxford Dictionary of Foreign Words and Phrases and the Oxford Dictionary of Idioms. Here, a proverb is a common saying that offers advice. It has the status of a universal truth, and it could be used to prove an argument. Here are 1100 proverbs, 40 new coinages, and about 400 updated examples, as well as annotations and current citations from around the English-speaking world. So there is that limitation of language. Entries are in alphabetical order, followed by meanings, histories (all dated and sourced), and current usages. There are plenty of internal and entry cross-references.

Some interesting facts: For the proverb "there is no such thing as a free lunch", she doesn't give a history. While it might be useful to economists who coined the phrase, unless you know what a "free lunch" is, the proverb really has no meaning. It comes from saloons offering a free lunch to entice drinkers and to ward off those who opposed straight drinking.

What I don't like about this resource: I found the entry for Parkinson's Law puzzling. It is listed as "work expands so as to fill the time available". The complete phrase includes, at the end, "#for its completion" What happened here? Also, some phrases that have quasi-proverb status are not here, such as "Bob's your uncle". Certainly it fits.

What I do like about this resource: there is an extensive thematic and keyword index plus a bibliography of major proverb collections and works cited, although my favourite was not included (Taxi Driver Wisdom, Chronicle Books, with such as "New shoes always hurt" and "You're not any safer in First Class")

Quality-to-Price Ratio: 90.

[Review by Dean Tudor]

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