[Ads-l] Antedating of "Blurb"

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Wed Oct 5 00:11:16 EDT 2016

Great work, Fred! Thanks for obtaining and sharing the valuable
testimony of Peter Harrington. I just performed some searches to see
if I could locate new pertinent material placed online after my 2010
effort. Instead, I found some old material that seems to be germane.

"Supplement I" of H. L. Mencken's reference "The American Language"
contains a discussion of "blurb". Mencken reprinted the testimony of
B. W. Huebsch who published "Are You a Bromide" by Gelett Burgess.
Huebsch stated that the book jacket containing the word "blurb" was
created specifically for a convention of booksellers that was held in
1907. The regular edition did not have this special book jacket
according to Huebsch.

Of course, it is possible that Huebsch's memory was flawed. He wrote
his account in "The Colophon" circa 1937, apparently. Yet, it would be
useful to know how Harrington assigned the year 1906 to the book
jacket he has. Perhaps the book itself has a 1906 date. Google Books
has scans of a 1913 edition that asserts the First Printing of "Are
You a Bromide" was October 1906. Perhaps 1907 jackets were placed
around some unsold 1906 books and given away at the booksellers'

Here is a link to my previous post that contains the text from a New
York Times article dated May 16, 1907. The article discussed the
annual dinner of the American Booksellers' Association. Burgess gave
each attendee a copy of his work "Are You a Bromide" with the
neologism "blurb" on the jacket, and he discussed "blurb" in a speech.


Below is the interesting testimony from Huebsch that was reprinted in
H. L. Mencken's book on language. It is a long excerpt, but I think it
is fair-use because it cannot be shortened for this scholarly/critical
discussion. Ellipses were in the book text.

[ref] 1988 (1945 Copyright), Supplement I: The American Language: An
Inquiry Into the Development of English in the United States by H. L.
Mencken, Quote Page 329, Alfred A. Knopf, New York. (Google Books

[Begin excerpt]
blurb 6

Footnote 6:
Signifying an encomium of a book on the slip-cover. Coined by Gelett
Burgess in 1907. The story was thus told in Footnotes to a Publisher's
Life, by  B. W. Huebsch, in the Colophon, quoted in Word Study, May,
1938, pp. 5-6: "Burgess had come to me with a copy of an essay of his
that had appeared in the Smart Set, entitled, 'The Sulphitic Theory,'
and suggested my issuing it in book form. . . . Under the name of 'Are
You a Bromide?' it was published. ... It is the custom of  publishers
to present copies of a conspicuous current book to booksellers
attending the annual dinner of their trade association, and as this
little book was in its heyday when the meeting took place I gave it to
500 guests.

These copies were differentiated from the regular edition by the
addition of a comic bookplate drawn by the author and by a special
jacket which he devised. It was the common practise to print the
picture of a damsel — languishing, heroic, or coquettish — anyhow, a
damsel, on the jacket of every novel, so Burgess lifted from a Lydia
Pinkham or tooth-powder advertisement the portrait of a sickly sweet
young woman, painted in some gleaming teeth, and otherwise enhanced
her pulchritude, and placed her in the center of the jacket.  His
accompanying text was some nonsense about 'Miss Blinda Blurb,' and
thus the term supplied a real need and became a fixture in our
[End excerpt]


On Tue, Oct 4, 2016 at 3:55 PM, Shapiro, Fred <fred.shapiro at yale.edu> wrote:
> The OED's first use for the word "blurb" is dated 1914, from a book by humorist Gelett Burgess.  In 2010 Garson O'Toole contributed a fascinating posting to this list in which he pushed the word back to 1907.
> I believe that the actual coinage of "blurb" was on a dust jacket for Burgess' 1906 book _Are You a Bromide?_.  The Library of Congress website has an image of a jacket, using "blurb", that is often referred to as constituting the coinage in 1907, but the Library of Congress's own metadata for their image seems to point to a dating post-1913, perhaps even 1940.
> I contacted Peter Harrington, a leading rare book dealer in England who currently has a 1906 copy of _Are You a Bromide?_.  They confirmed that their copy has the original dust jacket using "blurb" and that the dust jacket should be dated 1906.  Below is the antedating citation:
> 1906 Gelett Burgess _Are You a Bromide?_ (dust jacket)  YES, this is a "BLURB"!  All the Other Publishers commit them.  Why Shouldn't We? ... MISS BELINDA BLURB IN THE ACT OF BLURBING ... This book has 42-carat THRILLS in it.  It fairly BURBLES.  Ask the man at the counter what HE thinks of it!  He's seem Janice Meredith faded to a mauve magenta.  He's seen BLURBS before, and he's dead wise.
> Fred Shapiro
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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