[Ads-l] Antedating of "Blurb"

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Wed Oct 5 12:03:27 EDT 2016

The *Bibliography of American Literature* by Jacob Blanck and others (9
vols, Yale University Press, 1955 – 1991), and online, unfortunately
doesn't cover Burgess, but there may well be a bibliography specifically of
the first printings of the works of Gelett Burgess that would describe the
earliest state of the book jackets.


On Wed, Oct 5, 2016 at 12:11 AM, ADSGarson O'Toole <
adsgarsonotoole at gmail.com> wrote:

> 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'
> convention?
> 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.
> http://listserv.linguistlist.org/pipermail/ads-l/2010-August/101653.html
> 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
> Preview)[/ref]
> [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
> language."
> [End excerpt]
> Garson
> 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

George A. Thompson
The Guy Who Still Looks Stuff Up in Books.
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern
Univ. Pr., 1998.

But when aroused at the Trump of Doom / Ye shall start, bold kings, from
your lowly tomb. . . .
L. H. Sigourney, "Burial of Mazeen", Poems.  Boston, 1827, p. 112

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

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