Some may consider choosing an encyclopaedic dictionary a bit of a cheat, but I maintain that if you were on a desert island with no internet – there is no better book than Brewer’s for frequent dipping into for little nuggets of information. It is simply the original and most quirky dictionary of the origins of words and phrases, idioms, names and words with a story behind them, and it is completely compulsive.
It covers all the major myths and legends, Greek, Roman, Norse, Arthurian, Biblical and more. It has lists of the names of famous horses and swords, an extensive list of patron saints, nicknames aplenty, folk customs and all those thousands of words and phrases. The emphasis is largely on the historical though, not many modern era things get in.
At one stage they did produce a companion Brewers 20th Century Dictionary but this appears to be out of print; you could also buy Brewer’s Myths and Brewer’s Names volumes. I’ve got them all, but none is so useful as the original. Having said that, I don’t use reference books so much in these wiki driven times – except for my weekend tussle with the large GK crossword in the Telegraph, which I find is best solved on the dining room table surrounded by reference books!
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Source: Own copy. To explore on Amazon UK, please click below:
Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, ed Susie Dent. 19th Edition, August 2012. Hardback.