the sources of some phrases....

Fred Shapiro fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Thu Apr 6 02:06:50 UTC 2000

On Tue, 4 Apr 2000, Laurence Horn wrote:

> I wouldn't be surprised if none of these items have the sources advanced
> for them.  But this brings up a question:  in the absence of an OED Phrase
> Dictionary, can anyone point us to a REPUTABLE dictionary of phrase
> origins, giving first cite and derivations for e.g. raining cats and dogs,
> throwing out the baby with the bath water, and so on?

The OED covers many phrases.  Some of the scholarly proverb dictionaries
cover proverbial phrases as well, such as:

Stevenson, The Home Book of Proverbs, Maxims and Familiar Phrases
Taylor & Whiting, A Dictionary of American Proverbs and Proverbial
Phrases, 1820-1880
Whiting, Early American Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases
Whiting, Modern Proverbs and Proverbial Sayings

Also worth mentioning, although Partridge is way overrated as a scholar,
is Partridge, A Dictionary of Catch Phrases.

Note that the above sources, although they may be helpful for first cites,
usually do not give derivations, i.e., explanations of how a phrase
originated.  An early citation may be given for "waiting for the other
shoe to drop" without explanation of what the other shoe dropping
signifies.  This is frustrating for the user, but scholarly dictionaries
are often silent about derivations because derivations often cannot be
proven and theories about these are then purely speculative.

The (tentatively titled) Yale Dictionary of Quotations will probably
include proverbs and some catch-phrases, but I do not think it will
include proverbial phrases.

Fred R. Shapiro                             Coeditor (with Jane Garry)
Associate Librarian for Public Services     TRIAL AND ERROR: AN OXFORD
  and Lecturer in Legal Research            ANTHOLOGY OF LEGAL STORIES
Yale Law School                             Oxford University Press, 1998
e-mail: fred.shapiro at               ISBN 0-19-509547-2

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