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Re: Sphinx

Posted by GPP on August 20, 2003

In Reply to: Sphinx posted by about Jespersen (calling GPP) on August 20, 2003

: When people say "where did I put that Jespersen?" and "I've mislaid my Jespersen.", are they quoting a new phrase or idiom? I only know Jespersen is a Danish linguist.

It's not an idiom; it's simply a habit of referring to a commonly known book by its author, when there's little likelihood of it being confused with a different book by the same author, or someone else of the same name. In this instance, by saying "Jespersen" I'm referring to "Essentials of English Grammar", by Otto Jespersen. He wrote many books on language, linguistics, phonetics, etc, but this one title is currently in print in paperback, and is the most likely to be used casually at home rather than in a university research library. Of course the context of the reference in the conversation or discussion is essential; and even so, there's always a chance of misunderstanding or confusion. For instance, this reference might easily have been taken to mean Jespersen's "The Philosophy of Grammar", or his "Analytic Syntax", or one of his other works.

Similarly, in a discussion of English usage, I might refer to "Fowler". H W Fowler wrote "A Dictionary of Modern English Usage". Here, however, it would be best to specify "Fowler 1" (the original edition), "Fowler 2" (revised and edited by Sir Ernest Gowers), or "Fowler 3" (revised and edited by R W Burchfield), especially since there are significant differences between the three editions.

It's just shorter than calling the book by its title, and in many cases can also be less confusing than using the title alone--there are several very different books, by different authors, with titles either very similar or even identical to "Essentials of English Grammar" and "Modern English Usage". On the other hand, if I want to refer to a less well-known book, such as Eric Partridge's "Origins", I would have to say "Partridge Origins", because he wrote many books, several more widely known than this one, and the title alone could mean nearly anything. (Of course if I were speaking in face-to-face conversation, I would say "Partridge's 'Origins'" or some such thing, rather than "Partridge Origins", which is a sort of shorthand version of a formal bibliographic entry.)