Monthly Archives: January 2010

Albert Jack, Red Herrings and White Elephants: the origins of the phrases we use every day

Who might enjoy this book most? I found myself occasionally patronised – I don’t need to be told what ‘euphonious’ means – and some expressions, such as ‘all in the same boat’ and ‘against the grain’ surely need no explanation. Perhaps the ideal reader might be a non-native speaker of British English who is amused and puzzled by some of our idioms – though they would need to be warned not to sprinkle their conversation with them, as many are now quaint and dated.

The explanations are not always accurate either as explanations or in their detail. For instance I don’t believe that toasting ‘Good Health’ refers specifically to the London cholera epidemic of the 1840′s, as such toasts are common in many other languages. Turning to my specialist area, the ancient world, I read that the story of Achilles’ heel is told in the Iliad. No, it isn’t; in fact it is not attested until nearly a millennium later, and magical invulnerability is not a part of the Iliad. In the same poem, Achilles’ companion is Patroklos (Patroclus) not Patrocolos. And ‘at bay’ seems to be nothing to do with the bay tree.

Entertaining but not to be relied on!

# Hardcover: 288 pages
# Publisher: Metro Books,London (8 Oct 2004)
# Language English
# ISBN-10: 1843581299
# ISBN-13: 978-1843581291

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