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"By The Book"

Posted by ESC on July 03, 2006

In Reply to: "By The Book" posted by Anneke on July 03, 2006

: I just wanted to contact you about the phrase "By The Book".

: I believed that it was used earlier than the 1800's- In Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet", Juliet tells Romeo that he kisses "By The Book"- could this possibly be the real origin of the saying?

At least one reference -- The Dictionary of Cliches by John Rogers -- agrees with you. That "by the book" meaning "strictly according to the rules" was first used in this play.

But I don't know what Juliet means. Is she using the phrase to mean the above? Scholars?

ROMEO [To JULIET] If I profane with my unworthiest hand This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this: My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.

JULIET Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much, Which mannerly devotion shows in this; For saints have hands that pilgrims' hands do touch, And palm to palm is holy palmers' kiss.

ROMEO Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?

JULIET Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.

ROMEO O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do; They pray, grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.

JULIET Saints do not move, though grant for prayers' sake.

ROMEO Then move not, while my prayer's effect I take. Thus from my lips, by yours, my sin is purged.

JULIET Then have my lips the sin that they have took.

ROMEO Sin from thy lips? O trespass sweetly urged! Give me my sin again.

JULIET You kiss by the book.

Madam, your mother craves a word with you.

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