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Colloquial Language in Ulysses: A Reference Tool


Colloquial Language in Ulysses: A Reference Tool. By R[obert] W[illiam] Dent. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1994. Pp. 294.

A new book by an estimable scholar is an occasion of delight and pleasurable anticipation. Those who know R. W. Dent's Shakespeare's Proverbial Language: An Index[1] and Proverbial Language in English Drama Exclusive of Shakespeare, 1495- 1616: An Index[2] will not be disappointed in his Colloquial Language in Ulysses: A Reference Tool, which is the first book of its type that deals exclusively with a single specimen of modern literature. Proverb study prior to the current decade has been devoted to examining significant literary works of the past, but a few recent publications have dealt exclusively with the entire oeuvre of a single contemporary writer such as Agatha Christie,[3] Bernard Shaw[4] and Eugene O'Neill.[5] Since his retirement from teaching in 1985, Dent has turned his experienced eye on James Joyce's Ulysses and provided scholars a valuable reference tool.

At the outset it must be said that Dent provides "raw data" not on proverbial language alone but on a broad spectrum of colloquial (as defined by The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language [1992]) speech in an episode by episode, line by line exegesis of Joyce's text. In the process, he notices previous Joyce scholarship by indicating his agreement or disagreement and sometimes offering alternative explanations to perplexing problems. Philologists will, of course, rejoice at the breadth of Dent's analysis, but paremiologists will have to read selectively to isolate proverbial material. A typical entry reads:


6.53 (87). the wise child that knows her own father. Again 11.644f.; cf. 14.1063 (The wise father...). OW899 (It is a wise child that knows its own father) varied from 1584 (plus Greek from Od. 1.216). Thornton mistakenly believes this an adaptation of The Merchant of Venice 2.2.76f. Gifford, citing Odyssey analogue: "proverbial." [23- 25 (Sources)]

Dent devotes nearly sixteen pages to an explanation of how to read his entries, some of which are more complex than the preceding example.

The full text of this article is published in De Proverbio - Issue 5:1997 & Issue 6:1997, an electronic book, available from amazon.com and other leading Internet booksellers.


Dent also questions The great physician called him home and adduces sources that identify Death as the physician in question. He may be correct, but another option is suggested by the lyrics of a wellknown nineteenth-century hymn, "The Great Physician." William Hunter's lirics say, "The great Physician now is near,| The sympathizing Jesus."[12] Numerous other publications refer to Jesus as the Great Physician.

In summary, by calling attention to possible errors and oversights in previous scholarship and providing additional insights sharpened by the wisdom of years, Dent has performed a useful service for those who wish to plunge into the depths of Joyce's colorful language.


Previously published in Proverbium, 13 (1996), pp. 349-351

  1. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981).

  2. (Los Angeles: University of California Press,1984).

  3. George B. Bryan, Black Sheep, Red Herrings, and Blue Murder: The Proverbial Agatha Christie (Bern: Peter Lang,1993).

  4. George B. Bryan and Wolfgang Mieder, The Proverbial Bernard Shaw: An Index to Proverbs in the Works of George Bernard Shaw (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994).

  5. George B. Bryan and Wolfgang Mieder, The Proverbial Eugene O'Neill: An Index to Proverbs in the Works of Eugene Gladstone O'Neill (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995)

  6. Burton Stevenson, The Macmillan Book of Proverbs, Maxims, and Famous Phrases. (New York: The Macmillan Company,1948) 667:1.

  7. The Poems and Dramas of Lord Byron (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell and Company, n. d.) 404.

  8. First published in 1792, "The Pleasures of Memory" appeared in numerous editions in the nineteenth century.

  9. Cf. The Poems and Dramas of Lord Byron 404, n. 3. This note alludes to Rogers and the Arabic manuscript.

  10. Wolfgang Mieder and Stewart A. Kingsbury, eds., A Dictionary of Wellerisms (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994) 134. Ulysses is herein cited as the source.

  11. Stevenson 2305:7.

  12. William Hunter and J. H. Stockton, "The Great Physician," The Broadman Hymnal, ed. B. B. McKinney (Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman Press, 1940) #226.

George B. Bryan
Department of Theatre
University of Vermont
Burlington, Vermont 05405

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