On the lighter side, there is Bartlett’s Book of Anecdotes, an alphabetical romp through short episodes from over 4,000 individuals who spoke with some wit. I’ll quote just one, Erasmus of Rotterdam (d.1536). “Reproached for not observing the Lenten fast, Erasmus replied, “I have a Catholic soul, but a Lutheran stomach.” I challenge you to put down this tome after reading just one anecdote.
The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage is promising as a browser for anyone interested in words. Looking for girl (“rhymes with curl, pearl, and whirl,” unless you’re Cockney), I reaffirmed that since the 1960s, it’s best to call an adult female a woman, but guys still go with girlfriends. Devil’s advocate: “one who advocates the contrary or wrong side” (OED). “It does not mean one who pleads for a wicked person.” Espresso means “pressed-out,” referring to coffee, and there was once a variant (still sometimes heard today), expresso, “presumably invented under the impression that [it] meant ‘fast, express.’”
The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase, Saying, and Quotation is divided by topic, of which there are over 400. Each topic begins with a few proverbs and sayings, followed by phrases, and finally credited quotations. Obscure sayings and quotes are explained in italics, and cross-references are numerous. Under Equality see also Human Rights, George Orwell, 1945, “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others,” and W.S. Gilbert, 1889, “When everyone is somebodee, Then no one’s anybody.” Under Excellence and Mediocrity see also Perfection, Joseph Heller, 1979, “If Richard Nixon was second-rate, what in the world is third-rate?” (I think we know the answer to that one.) George W. Bush, 2001, “To those of you who received honours, awards and distinctions, I say well done. And to the C students, I say you, too, can be president of the United States.” Finally, under Old Age see also Middle Age, Oscar Wilde, 1891, “The tragedy of old age is not that one is old, but that one is young.”
If you haven’t guessed, we have these books in the Reference Collection in the second floor of the Library on the window wall.
Have you seen the Reference Book collection? Most of these were donated by residents. Once the mainstay of libraries, they have been superseded by the Internet, and may no longer be updated with new editions. The wonderful movie The Desk Set, starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, predates the Internet. Hepburn, head reference librarian, goes head to head with Tracy, the brains behind a company that plans to steamroll over the librarians’ reference service with its room-sized computer. You can guess how this ends. The printed page wins. Today pretty much anything you would search for in a reference book can be searched on Google or another search engine. Have you cracked open a reference book in the Library since you moved here? What are your thoughts on this collection?
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