Brewer’s: A

The 79 pages of A in Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable went even faster than I thought. As promised, I took notes of the most interesting things I read about, and here they are:

Adamites: One of a number of small Christian sects, which aimed to revert to man’s primitive state in the Garden of Eden by adopting nudity.

Give me some of that olde tyme religion!

Give me some of that olde tyme religion!

My favorite history is the kind that’s just ridiculous stories, and Brewer’s actually has a lot of that, so get pumped. Another thing I enjoy are explanations for common phrases or sometimes names for things I didn’t know had names:

Addisonian termination: The name given by Richard Hurd, bishop of Worcester (1720-1808), to the construction, frequently employed by the essayist Joseph Addison (1672-1719), which closes a sentence with a preposition, e.g. ‘which the prophet took a distinct view of.’

How many of these have I corrected at work without knowing they had a name? Look out, Korea, I’m about to get even more pretentious about grammar, and it’s all thanks to Brewer’s.

AEIOU: The device adopted by Frederick V, Archduke of Austria, on becoming the Emperor Frederick III in 1440. The letters, used by his predecessor, Albert II, stood for:

Albertus Electus Imperator Optimus Vivat. (Long live Albert, the best elected emperor.)

Frederick interpreted them thus:

Archidux Electus Imperator Optime Vivat. (Long live the Archduke, elected emperor for the best.)

Among other versions are:

Austriae Est Imperare Orbi Universo (It is given to Austria to rule the whole world)
Alles Erdreich Ist Oesterreich Unterthan. (All earth is subject to Austria)

To which wags added after the defeat of Prussia in 1866:

Austria’s Empire Is Ousted Utterly.

I have to start thinking up some Latin phrases to acronym after my name like that! Speaking of really good role models in Brewer’s:

Aetherius: In 1954 His Eminence Sir George King (b.1919) claimed to have been contacted by the Master Aetherius, a power from the planet Venus, who told him to become the Voice of Interplanetary Parliament. The result was the formation of the Aetherius Society, which now has branches worldwide. King, whose titles have not been verified, maintains he has met Jesus Christ, the Buddha, and St. Peter, who all now speak to him and through him. The Society teaches that a race of wise fish on the distant planet Garouche are trying to suck the air away from Earth, so killing all terrestrial life except marine creatures, which supposedly obtain their oxygen from the water. Members of the Society charge up devices known as spiritual batteries by spending a fixed number of hours in prayer.

So there that is

So there that is

Pretty much every sentence of this entry alone would be cause for inclusion in my “Best of Brewer’s” list, and, with them all there together, it’s going to be hard for any further entry to top this one. I know I have a long way to go (25 more letters!), but this is the standard I’m holding you up to now, Brewer’s, so bring your A-game.

Alexandra limp: In the 1860s Queen Alexandra (then Princess of Wales), after a painful attack of rheumatism in the knee, developed a limp, which was imitated in sycophantic fashion by many women about the court. Hence the ‘Alexandra limp’.

“Stop limping!” “But Mom! All the cool courtiers are doing it!” I love that this is the world I live in.

Brewer’s can also be oddly judgmental for a reference book, but that’s just part of its charm:

Aloha: [a real definition was here]… the spirit of the word can also be visually, if vulgarly, expressed in an ‘aloha shirt’, a loose and brightly colored sports shirt

Vulgar? This guy?

Vulgar? This guy?

I guess I won’t be getting Brewer’s a Hawaiian shirt for its birthday. Other times, it just gets weirdly specific. For instance, at the end of the April Fool’s definition:

April Fool’s:… Children generally accept that their licence to play tricks expires at noon, but adults take the whole day and may mark the occasion by arranging the delivery of a kissogram or some similar embarrassment.

Have any of you ever once arranged for the delivery of a kissogram? We’ve all been doing April Fool’s wrong and 2014 is the year we have to shape up. Thanks, Brewer’s!

After the word “As” was a four and a half page list of all the common similes that start with the word, such as “as deaf as a post” or:

As deaf as a white cat: It is said that white cats are deaf and stupid.

Pictured: a deaf idiot

Pictured: a deaf idiot

As drunk as Davy’s sow: According to Francis Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1785), one David Lloyd, a Welshman who kept an alehouse at Hereford, had a sow with six legs, which was an object of great curiosity. One day David’s wife, having indulged too freely, lay down in the sty to sleep, and a group came to see the sow. David led them to the sty saying as usual, “There is a sow for you! Did you ever see the like?” One of the visitors replied: “Well, it is the drunkenest sow I ever beheld.” The woman was ever after called “Davy’s sow”.

God bless you, random drunk woman, preserved through time for all to behold. Thank you, Brewer’s, for being the keeper of such vital information for ages to come.

Looking forward to B!

Next: B
Previously: Intro

2 responses to “Brewer’s: A”

  1. Mom Ladd says:

    I laughed out loud twice…Love the limp and the deaf idiot! The bad thing was, I was reading the post while my students were taking their Calculus Exam. I guess laughing is not proper…Oh well. I can’t wait for the B’s!!

  2. Ron Ladd says:

    Makes me think I should have read the book when it was here, this review sounds so good and funny.

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