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"By The Book"

Posted by Smokey Stover on July 05, 2006

In Reply to: "By The Book" posted by Victoria S Dennis on July 04, 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?

: : [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.

: : 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.

: : Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?

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

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

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

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

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

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

: : You kiss by the book.

: : Madam, your mother craves a word with you.

: - Shakespeare also used the phrase in Hamlet. Hamlet asks if the grave being dug is for a man or a woman, and is told "no" to both. The gravedigger then says it is for "one who *was* a woman, but...she's dead". Hamlet then remarks to his friend Horatio, "I see we must speak by the book, or equivocation will undo us".

Some scholars think Juliet, little 14-year-old vixen that she is, uses "by the book" as a way to chide Romeo for insufficient amorous passion in his kissing. (Considering that both parts were presumably acted by males, a relative dearth of passion is understandable.)

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