blurb (antedating 1907 May 16)

Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Thu Aug 5 01:21:37 UTC 2010

blurb appears in the OED (1989) with a first cite dated 1914:

1914 G. BURGESS Burgess Unabridged 7 Blurb, 1. A flamboyant
advertisement; an inspired testimonial. 2. Fulsome praise; a sound
like a publisher... On the ‘jacket’ of the ‘latest’ fiction, we find
the blurb; abounding in agile adjectives and adverbs, attesting that
this book is the ‘sensation of the year’.

The Yale Book of Quotations also presents this humorous 1914
definition of blurb and suggests this is the "Earliest usage of the
word blurb".

YBQ and OED both mention the possible existence of a 1907 book jacket.
YBQ notes that The Dictionary of Americanisms says the word is "said
to have originated in 1907 by Gelett Burgess in a comic book jacket
embellished with a drawing of a pulchritudinous young lady whom he
facetiously dubbed Miss Blinda Blurb.":

Dave Wilton's web page on blurb also discusses the
book jacket based on information from the publisher, B. W. Huebsch:

Wikipedia has an entry on blurb also:

Perhaps someone now has direct evidence of the book jacket. A scan
would be great, but I have not come across it yet. Apparently 1914 is
still the earliest date of direct evidence. So here is a cite in 1907:

Cite: 1907 May 16, New York Times, It's a "Blurb" Now to Puff New
Book: Gelett Burgess Coins Odd Term for the Booksellers' Annual
Dinner, Page 7, New York, New York. (ProQuest)

  Bromides, sulphites, and those who live
by the "blurb" to the number of 350 sat
down to dinner last night at the Aldine
Club, 111 Fifth Avenue. It was the an-
nual dinner of the American Booksellers'
Association, and Gelett Burgess, author
of "Are You a Bromide?" sent to every
guest a copy of his work. Moreover, he
had printed on the cover an example of
the publisher's puff, which he dignified
by the name of "blurb." This was it:
  "Say! Ain't this book a 90 horse power
6-cylinder seller? If we do say it as
shouldn't. We consider that this man
Burgess has got Henry James locked into
the coal bin telephoning for 'Informa-
  In his speech he went further and de-
fined a "blurb" as a "sound like a pub-
lisher." and declared it was invented by
the publisher who wrote across a copy of
the magazine named after him. "I con-
sider this number the best ever written."

An article on the same date in the Tribune describes Gelett Burgess
using the term.
Cite: 1907 May 16, New York Tribune, "Book Boosters" Dine, Page 7, New
York, New York. (ProQuest)

Gelett Burgess then uttered a "blurb," a term
that he defined as a sound like a publisher. When
the resultant gurgles and chortles had died away
Mr. Burgess went on in his own quaint way to
tell what he thought ought to be done with books
that are to be turned out on an unsuspecting pub-
lic possessed of $1.08 per capita.

A report on the meeting is published in an issue of The Publishers
Weekly that is dated two days later:

Cite: 1907 May 18, The Publishers Weekly, The American Booksellers'
Association: Seventh Annual Convention, Page 1546, Number 1842, R.R.
Bowker Company, New York.

Gelett Burgess whose recent little book, "Are You a Bromide?" has been
referred to above, then entertained the guests with some
characteristic flashes of Burgessian humor. Referring to the word
"blurb" on the wrapper of his book he said: "To 'blurb' is to make a
sound like a publisher. The blurb was invented by Frank A. Munsey when
he wrote on the front of his magazine in red ink: 'I consider this
number of Munsey's the hottest pie that ever came out of my bakery.'
You'll find a blurb printed on the loose paper covers of the 'latest
fiction' on all book-stalls, telling you so much about the novel that
you're made sick. A blurb is a check drawn on Fame, and it is seldom

(The excerpted text above contains errors. Please examine originals
and/or digital simulacra.)


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