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Dictionary of Idioms: and their origins    by Linda Flavell & Roger Flavell order for
Dictionary of Idioms
by Linda Flavell
Order:  USA  Can
Kyle Cathie, 2005 (1992)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I've always enjoyed dipping into books like Dictionary of Idioms: and their origins, to find out where the puzzling, colorful phrases that pepper the English language come from. In their Introduction, the Flavells quote Logan Pearsall Smith, who calls the passion for collecting these 'gypsy phrases' idiomania. The authors offer their book both for reference and for browsing, and explain an idiom as a phrase that 'cannot be understood literally'.

The idioms themselves are presented in alphabetical order, with explanatory text including fascinating literary examples of their usage. Their presentation is interspersed with essays, such as 'Splitting one's sides', which speaks of idioms in comedy. Many come from nautical terms, from the Bible, or from usage in other languages. For example, I learned that amuck in 'to run amuck' comes from a Malayan word. The origins of some are unclear, as in three etymologies provided for 'kick the bucket'. Some are ancient while others, like 'paddle one's own canoe' or 'bamboo curtain' are more recent in origin.

Why do idioms remain in common usage? People like creativity and whimsy in language. The authors sum it up well in quoting Smith, 'There is a certain irrelevance in the human mind, a certain love for the illogical and absurd ... which breaks loose now and then and finds expression for itself in idiomatic speech.' Enjoy wallowing in idiomania while you delve into Dictionary of Idioms .

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