The Big Sleep and other memorable phrases; Brewer's Dictionary of Modern Phrase & Fable. By Adrian Room (Cassell & Co, pounds 25) . Reviewed by Ross Reyburn.
Mock not trivia for it can offer revealing insights into Britain's past. Go back to the Swinging Sixties and anthem songs such as memorable the Rolling Stones' 1965 hit, (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction , offer an interesting recollection of past fashions.
Reference book writer Adrian Room in his fascinating latest work, Brewer's Dictionary of Modern Phrase & Fable lists the Rolling Stones' Blues-influenced anti-establishment song among a number of pop music classics.
Room quotes Jagger's memorable rail against advertising: 'Some man comes on and tells me how white my shirts could be but he can't be a man 'cos he doesn't smoke the same cigarettes as me.' And this provides a reminder that 40 years ago the country's male workforce went to work in white shirts.
A quaint recall of a less sexually abrasive past is brought home by the fact the phrase 'trying to make some girl' in the song was bleeped when the group made an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in the United States.
Those with a knowledge of pop history probably can tell you the Quarry Men were the group founded by John Lennon that later became The Beatles. But how many know that the middle named in this transition used in 1960 was 'The Beatals'?
The book unveils a vast mine of information ranging from the serious major world events such as the Berlin Airlift in 1948 to the nickname Chariots Offiah, an entertaining pun on the 1981 film Chariots of Fire reflecting the speed of the lightning fast rugby league winger Martin Offiah.
Still with sport, under football club nicknames, you can find that the curious nickname the Baggies acquired by West Bromwich Albion Football Club (1879) is said to refer to the baggy workclothes worn for protection purposes by supporters from the local ironworks.
Disappointingly many phrases in this neatly-produced 773-page publication have no date of origin. On the wagon for instance is explained as referring to 'on the water wagon' as distinct from the wine bottle. But no clue is given to when the expression first surfaced. Somewhat curiously considering the phrase could have been in use for centuries, the example of its usage quoted in the book dates from The Times on August 5, 1999.
However this shortcoming is more than compensated by Room's flair for the memorable phrase or quotation.The Big Sleep , Raymond Chandler's unforgettable alternative for the word 'death', is fully explained as well as his equally famous phrase Mean Streets.
Neither are Room's quotations limited in length. Ice Maiden offers the author the opportunity to quote Dylan Thomas in Under Milk Wood (1954) recalling Sinbad Sailors watching Gossamer Beynon go by 'demure and proud and schoolmarm in her crisp flower dress and sun-defying hat . . . the butcher's unmelting icemaiden daughter veiled for ever from the hungry hug of his eyes'.
The book is also an endless source of pleasurable trivia. The biblical film epic The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) was to prove a failure. The fact it was filmed in Utah rather than Palestine was no cause for great concern. But the film's credibility did suffer a minor blow when Hollywood's most famous cowperson John Wayne provided a scene-stealing cameo appearance as a Roman centurion drawling Western style: 'Truly, this man was the son of God.'
Mick Jagger - social commentator and left, John Wayne - biblical visionary