Book Review: Everyday Phrases by Neil Ewart

Everyday Phrases: Their Origins and Meanings

By Neil Ewart

My Rating: 2 Stars

I discovered this book when I was reviewing the non-fiction collection at the library I manage.  I was initially very intrigued by this little book.  I’ve often wondered where certain phrases came from and while I’m sure I could Google them, I was thrilled to see that there was a book that had basically already done all the searching for me. I quickly plucked it from the shelf and added it to my “to read” pile at home.  Written in a dictionary format and organized alphabetically, it’s not only a quick read but easy and perfect for picking up if you have just a minute or two to read one or two entries.  Few books are written like this and when I find them I tend to grab them because they are convenient to read, quick and very educational.    This is why I was attracted to “The Know-It-All” By A.J. Jacobs and The Darwin Award books.  I truly do enjoy books that allow me to read entries rather than chapters.  It’s most certainly the organizer in me that is attracted to this type of book layout.  But I digress….

Published in 1983 this book may be a bit dated for reading in 2014 but I still found many of the entires to be pertinent to todays society.  Phrases like “meeting a deadline” and “a baker’s dozen” are still used today it was fascinating to read about their origins.  Other phrases like “don’t teach your grandmother to suck eggs” and “the rift within the lute” were strange phrases to me and ultimately completely lost on me.  Perhaps because these are not phrases commonly used today or I simply have never been exposed to them.

While many of the entires contained detailed histories of the phrases, sadly, many of the entires didn’t provide the depth that I was seeking from a book like this.  The subtitle “Their Origins and Meanings” implied that there would be more history about the phrases.  Unfortunately, this was not the case for many of the entires.  I’m not certain if the author simply couldn’t find anymore information about the phrase or that they just didn’t dig deep enough.  Either way, it left me severely wanting after reading many of the entries.  Often the entries just gave the meanings of the phrase but not the origin.  In the end, I found I wanted the origin or history of the phrase because I already knew the meaning.  And frankly, wouldn’t we already know the meaning since these are supposedly “Everyday Phrases”?  It implies that we are aware of these phrases.  Maybe I’m wrong in assuming that the most common reader of a book like this is looking for the origins rather than the meaning of a phrase.  Perhaps not though.  Regardless, this was not the book I thought it was going to be and was therefore disappointed.  It’s not a bad read though and I’m sure many will find it most interesting and highly entertaining.  I’m curious if a newer edition of this book has been written or if another author has taken on this type of endeavor and created a more modern version.  I’ll have to investigate further. I’ll be sure to let you know if I find one.


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