blurb

In the publishing trade, a blurb is a testimonial to the book that is printed on the dust jacket. It is meant as an advertisement for the book. The origin of blurb is one of the more humorous etymologies.

Blurb was coined by the American humorist Gelett Burgess in 1907. According to his publisher, B.W. Huebsch, Burgess’s book, Are You a Bromide?, had been published and was selling well. At the annual trade association dinner that year the publisher distributed some five hundred copies of the book with a special jacket, as was the custom. It was also:

the common practise to print the picture of a damsel—languishing, heroic, or coquettish—anyhow, a damsel on the jacket of every novel.

Burgess provided a drawing of a particularly buxom and pulchritudinous blonde for the jacket and labeled her Miss Blinda Blurb. The name stuck, eventually including not only drawings of buxom women but also any excessive testimonial to the book.

From Burgess’s Burgess Unabridged, 1914:

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.”

(Sources: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition; Mencken, The American Language, Supplement I)

blue moon

Some pedants maintain that a blue moon is the second full moon of a calendar month—a rather rare occurrence. While this is certainly one of the meanings, the original meaning is more general, referring to any rare occurrence.

The original sense of blue moon is that of an absurd event that can never occur. The moon is never really blue and once in a blue moon is akin to when pigs fly. (Well actually, when a lot of dust is kicked up into the atmosphere, the moon can appear blue. The eruption of Krakatoa in 1883 caused the moon to turn blue, as did late Indian monsoons in 1927 and Canadian forest fires in 1951.)

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Book Review: New Partridge Dictionary of Slang & Unconventional English

Two weeks ago I received my copy of The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, edited by Tom Dalzell and Terry Victor, from Amazon.com. This is an update of the work started by lexicographer Eric Partridge (1894-1979). First published in 1937, his slang dictionary was revised six times during his life and once by Paul Beale after his death. This new work is essentially a new reference rather than just a revision and updating of the earlier work. One can still see the influence of the Partridge originals in some of the entries, but it is quite different in research, scope, and presentation.

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