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Idioms and Phrases Index


Idioms and Phrases Index. Edited by Laurence Urdang and Frank R. Abate. Foreword by Richard W. Bailey. Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research Company, 1983. Vol. 1, A-G, xix + pp. 1-569; vol. 2. H-P, xv + pp. 571-1169; vol. 3, Q-Z, xv + pp. 1171-1691.

The somewhat prosaic title of this colossal work is followed by a more descriptive statement on the cover page of each of the three volumes: "An unrivaled collection of idioms, phrases, expressions, and collocutions of two or more words which are part of the English lexicon and for which the meaning of the whole is not transparent from the sum of the meanings of the constituent parts, also including nominal, verbal, and other phrases which exhibit syntactic and semantic character peculiar to the English language, the entries gathered from more than thirty sources, each described in the bibliography provided, with all items arranged aphabetically both by first word and any significant words." All in all more than 140,000 different phrases and idioms are listed as we are told by Richard W. Bailey in his short foreward (pp. vii-x) which mentions the contrast between formulas and free expressions as well as the important differentiation between figurative and literal meanings of word sequences. Nowhere, however, does Bailey mention proverbial expressions, proverbial comparisons or proverbial exaggerations, nor are they referred to explicitly in the lengthy subtitle quoted above. Yet, these large volumes are a "goldmine" for the paremiologist in his/her etymological and historical investigation of proverbial materials. It must be assumed that the editors used the word "phrase" in their titles as a catch-all term (notice also the term "expression" in the subtitle), for they have included thousands of proverbial statements in their impressive index.

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The full text of this article is published in De Proverbio - Issue 11:2000 & Issue 12:2000, an electronic book, available from amazon.com and other leading Internet booksellers.

The bibliography, which is repeated at the beginning of each volume (in abbreviated form also on the front and back inside covers for quick reference), lists the 32 sources from which idioms and phrases were selected. They are cited in alphabetical order by their respective alphanumeric symbols, and for each bibliographic entry a brief description of the content and organization of the source is also included. The over thirty excerpted titles are:

BDPF Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1981 ed.)

CD Computer Dictionary (31980)

CDEI A Concise Dictionary of English Idioms (31973)

DA Dictionary of Architecture (1952)

DAI Dictionary of American Idioms (1975 ed.)

DAS Dictionary of American Slang (21975)

DAT Dictionary of Advertising Terms (1977)

DDRR Delson's Dictionary of Radio and Record Industry Terms (1980)

DEI 1 A Dictionary of English Idioms: Part I. Verbal Idioms (1954)

DEI 2 A Dictionary of English Idioms: Part II. Colloquial Phrases (1956)

DEP A Dictionary of English Phrases and Illustrative Sentences (1881, Rpt. 1971)

DIIP A Desk-Book of Idioms and Idiomatic Phrases In English Speech and Literature (1923)

DP Dictionary of Publishing (1982)

EI English Idioms, Phrases, Proverbs, Allusions and Quotations with Their Explanations for Indian Students (31922)

EPI English Prepositional Idioms (1967)

EVI Envlish Verbal Idioms (1964)

ICMM The International Cyclopedia of Music and Musicians (101975)

ISED Idiomatic and Syntactic English Dictionary (1965)

JT Jazz Talk (1975)

KDCEI The Kenkyusha Dictionary of Current English idioms (1964)

LDEI Longman Dictionary of English Idioms (1979)

LU Language of the Underworld (1981)

MDWPO Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins (1977)

MMND Mosby's Medical & Nursing Dictionary (1983)

OCM The Oxford Companion to Music (101972)

PE Picturesque Expressions: A Thematic Dictionary (1980)

RHD The Random House Dictionary of the English Language (1966 ed.)

SPI Slang, Phrase & Idiom in Colloquial English and Their Use (1931)

WPI 1 Words and Phrases Index, vol. 1 (1969)

WPI 2 Words and Phrases Index, vol. 2 (1970)

WPI 3 Words and Phrases Index, vol. 3 (1970)

WPI 4 Words and Phrases Index, vol. 4 (1970)

Even a cursory glance at this list gives the reader the impression that a certain rationale for inclusion or exclusion is lacking - in fact, nowhere have the editors explained why these 32 sources were used and not others. For the paremiologist, nevertheless, it is of great importance that BDF, DAS, DEP, LU, PE, SPI and WPI (1-4) were included, especially since many of them also include slang expressions. Only very recently Vilmos Voigt drew attention to the importance of slang in the formation of proverbial expressions and he wondered "when and who will have the courage to make the first slang paremiological sutdy?" (Proverbium, 1, [1984], 249-250). Here then is at least a lexicographical step in the right direction.

The value of the 32 sources not withstanding, one does wonder why some of the following invaluable reference works were not included: Robert Nares, A Glossary of Words, Phrases, Names, and Allusions (London 1905; rpt. Detroit 1966); Eric Partridge, A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (New York 71970) or any of his numerous other dictionaries; Richard Spears, Slang and Euphemism (New York 1981); Mitford Mathews, A Dictionary of Americanisms (Chicago 41966); Albert Hyamson, A Dictionary of English Phrases (New York 1922; rpt. Detroit 1970); etc., not to mention the many excellent books on Anglo-American proverbial expressions. Or do the editors intend to follow these three volumes up with another very much welcome set? But why quibble, the editors clearly could not include an unlimited number of reference works for their large index - but they do owe the reader an explanation of why they chose the ones they did over others. The annotations given for the 32 sources would basically have been similar for any other selection of sources and therefore do not provide a satisfactory answer.

 The three volumes now completed are without doubt an invaluable research tool for the study of individual idioms, phrases and proverbial expressions. What paremiologists should do is undertake a similar task for proverbs and proverbial expressions! Just for the English language this would easily result in a similarly massive reference index. A small beginning in this direction was my International Bibliography of Explanatory Essays on Individual Proverbs and Proverbial Expressions (Bern 1977) and my most recent work along these lines presents approximately 10,000 notes on proverbial matters that appeared in 228 volumes of a British journal which specializes among other things in tracing origins of phrases: Investigations of Proverbs, Proverbial Expressions, Quotations and Clichés. A Bibliography of Explanatory Essays which Appeared in "Notes and Queries" (1849-1983) (Bern 1984). Where are the computer trained paremiologists who will index proverbs and proverbial expressions from printed collections and reference works (especially from those that provide annotations) for just one language? The three volumes by Urdang and Abate are models to follow. A similar work emphasizing just paremiological matters would make historical and comparative studies in the Archer Taylor tradition much easier. We need proverbs and proverbial expressions indices, but who will take on this gargantuan task? Do remember the proverb that "Hope springs eternal!"


Previously published in Proverbium 2 (1985), pp. 359-364.
Permission to publish this article granted by Proverbium (Editor: Prof. Wolfgang Mieder, University of Vermont, USA).   

Wolfgang Mieder
Department of German and Russian
University of Vermont
Burlington, Vermont 05405


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