A literary treasure hunt
Countdown star and etymologist Susie Dent has edited the latest issue of the Brewer's dictionary - and found some literary surprises
Someone who is always poring over books, so called in allusion to the maggot that eats holes in books, and lives in and on their pages.
A large, well-produced, lavishly illustrated book, designed more to be looked at than read, and traditionally kept on a coffee table, a long, low table on which newspapers can be placed and coffee served. The term dates from the early 1960s and may have originally been intended to denote a book that was simply too large to be shelved normally. Such books were earlier sometimes known as ‘grand-piano books ’. In 1999 the German art publishers Taschen published a limited edition of a book of 400 photographs by Helmut Newton that was so large and heavy that it came with its own coffee table.
A name sometimes given to the symbolic poems that William Blake wrote and etched while living in Lambeth (1790-1800). They include America, Europe and The Song of Los.
Belle Sauvage, La
The site on the north side of Ludgate Hill, London, occupied by the publishing house of Cassell from 1852 until 11 May 1941, when the whole area was demolished in an air raid. The name is an alteration of ‘Savage’s Bell Inn’ and the French form appears to have been ﬁrst used by Joseph Addison (1672-1719) in the Spectator (No. 82). There seems to have been an inn on the site from about the 14th century, originally called the Bell on the Hope, the ‘Hope’ or ‘Hoop ’ being the garlanded ivy bush. From its position just outside Ludgate, its yard became a rendezvous for bear baiting, play acting and the like, and from the 17th until the mid-19th century it was a departure point for coaches. The inn licence was not renewed after 1857. La Belle Sauvage translates from French as ‘the beautiful wild girl’, and a representation of her (as a half-kneeling skin-clad Pocahontas with bow and arrows) was originally Cassell’s colophon .
A self-employed person, especially a journalist, musician, writer or the like who is not employed continuously by a particular organisation but is hired for individual assignments. The reference is to the "free companies" of the Middle Ages, which were free to sell themselves to any cause or master. The word was probably coined by Sir Walter Scott and first appears in his Ivanhoe (1820) as a term for a knight with no allegiance to any single cause.
Mills & Boon
The byname for accessible, affordable romantic ﬁction had its origin in the publishing partnership of Gerald Mills (d.1927) and Charles Boon (1877-1943 ), who in the early 20th century began with editions of standard popular authors such as P.G. Wodehouse, Jack London and Hugh Walpole. Later, during the depressed interwar years, when people took to reading as a form of escapism, they decided that the genre to cultivate was romantic ﬁction. Their combined name is now generic for a Girl Meets Boy love story or even a real-life ‘love match’.
The publishing of a book in return for a fee from the author, resorted to by those desperate to see their name in print at any price. The cost is usually exorbitant, the quality of the ﬁnished product frequently inferior, and the writer often disappointed and disillusioned when the book fails to sell. The practice is generally discouraged by professional publishing bodies.
Of a newspaper. A column containing advertisements of missing relatives and friends; indicating great distress of mind in the advertiser.
A contributor to the local newspapers, but not on the staff. At one time these collectors of news used to be paid a penny a line, and it was to their interest to spin out their report as much as possible.
Made the subject of a scandal. His reputation has been blown upon, means he has been the subject of talk wherein something derogatory was hinted at or even asserted. Blown upon by the breath of slander.
Street of Shame
A nickname for Fleet Street in the days when it was the home of newspapers. Popularised by the magazine Private Eye, the nickname alluded both to the lurid exposés published by the papers and to the drunken excesses of many journalists. Fleet Street has also been called the Street of Ink, of Fame, of Adventure and of Dreams.
Tea. The reference is to the gossip held by some of the womenkind over their “cups which cheer but not inebriate”. Also called “Chatter-broth”.
Fleet Street dove
A 19th-century euphemism for a prostitute (at that time Fleet Street was good working territory for them). An alternative was Fleet Street houri (a houri was originally one of the virginal female attendants in the Muslim paradise, but the suggestion of whore was no doubt not accidental).
Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase & Fable (19th edition) edited by Susie Dent is published by Brewers.