A brief history of phrase finding...
The Phrasefinder site was founded in 1997 by Gary Martin, who writes the Meanings and Origins section of the site and the Phrase A Week posts. It grew out of an interest in computational linguistics that was developed during his post-graduate research in 1985 and later while working in an IBM-financed research project at Sheffield Hallam University. That project, headed by Prof. Asher Cashdan, investigated the use of artificial intelligence techniques to aid the teaching of writing.
The site initially hosted a searchable database of phrases and idioms. Its search algorithm also uses artificial intelligence methods to provide pertinent search results.
Note: That database, called The Phrase Thesaurus found an audience amongst professional writers like journalists and copywriters. It is now available commercially, hosted by an independent site. Details, including more information on how it works, are available at that site.
Meanings and Origins
In 1998 a listing of the meanings and origins of phrases was added. That list of idioms and phrases now contains more than 1,500 entries (September 2007).
How reliable is it?
While no reference work is able to claim its content is 100% definitive, every effort has been made to include here only information that is verifiable as correct. The content is researched to published book standards. The sources used in the research are twofold, either primary sources or trusted references. The primary sources include newspaper cuttings, books, films, photographic archives etc. The trusted reference sources are those that themselves derive from primary sources and have sufficient reputation to be considered reliable. These include, The Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition, The Historial Dictionary of American Slang, First Edition, The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, 5th Edition, Partridge's A Dictionary of Slang, 8th Edition. In addition to these are numerous reference works and databases which, although not in themselves definitive, provide a rich source of stimulation; for example, Cotgrave's A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues, Hotten's Slang Dictionary and many others.
Late in 1998 a discussion forum was added to the site. That's a public forum where anyone can ask questions on the meaning or origin of phrases and sayings in English. It now (Jan. 2010) contains an archive of 70,000 questions and answers and continues to grow. The majority of the posted replies have been contributed by a hard-working and exceedingly persistent group of unpaid enthusiasts, some of whom have been contributing daily since early 1999. The ongoing success of the forum is due to them.
The site also hosts an archive of the Phrase-A-Week mailing list postings.