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Main page » Dictionaries and Encyclopedias » Dictionary of Idiomatic English Phrases by James Main Dixon

Dictionary of Idiomatic English Phrases by James Main Dixon


The materials of this work were originally collated in Japan to assist my students in their English studies, and a Japanese edition of the Dictionary appeared in the year 1888. The phrases that recur so often in English books and in conversation, conveying a meaning to the native English ear which a rational dissection of their component parts quite fails to supply, had not previously been collected in a handy volume.

An excellent work, it is true, by a Chinaman, Kwong's Dictionary of English Phrases, came out about ten years ago. The author received in its compilation valuable help from eminent American scholars, and its definitions and examples are excellent. The objections to the work are, first, that British, as distinguished from American phrases, are conspicuous by their absence; secondly, that the arrangement is arbitrary and confusing; thirdly, that the examples, though apt and good in themselves, do not bear the very useful imprimatur of some well-known author's name. They are made for the occasion, instead of having been picked up in reading. A fourth objection to the work is, that it is largely made up of definitions of single words.

Til the present volume, instead of attempting to divide the work into chapters treating  of "colloquial  phrases", "cant phrases," " slang phrases," and so forth, I have thrown the whole into alphabetical form, and have marked by letters the category to which, in my opinion, the phrases ought to belong.

This classification may be studied or may be neglected as suits the convenience or the taste of the consulter. I fear its distinctions may not please every one, and that the classification must be looked upon merely as an approach to an ideal 'division, which, even in more capable hands, would not be regarded as final.

The division I have chosen is fourfold, and in a descending scale of dignity, - Prose, Conversational, Familiar, Slang.

By Prose (P) phrases, I understand such phrases as Macaulay or Matthew Arnold might use in their serious writings.

Conversational (C) phrases, again, are suitable for use in social intercourse, at gatherings where strangers are present, and where we weigh our words before uttering them.

Familiar (F) phrases are less dignified, and are only in place where we are speaking unreservedly among intimates.

The lowest category of all is that of Slang (S) phrases, which are generally of a local or technical nature-that is, they are fully understood only by those of a certain locality, coterie, or profession. Such is the language of the forecastle, of the school-ground, or of the mine.

This Dictionary does not pretend to exhaust the list of slang phrases, but only to give those which have crept into ordinary use, and are understood, although they may not be used, by all educated people. At least eighty per cent, of the phrases are freshly gathered.

I must, however, gratefully acknowledge indebtedness to Cassell's Encyclopaedic Dictionary, to the Supplementary English Glossary of Rev. T. L. O. Davies, to Wright's Provincial Dictionary, to the fourth edition of Dr. Samuel Johnson's English Dictionary, and to the Slang Dictionary published by Messrs. Chatto and Windus.

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