By the book


What's the meaning of the phrase 'By the book'?

Correctly; according to the rules.

What's the origin of the phrase 'By the book'?

Which book? Well, the Bible sounds like a good guess. That may be so, as the early meaning of the phrase was ‘I swear it to be true’, as in the oaths taken in courtrooms. An example of that usage, is recorded in The Times, January 1833:

“Patience in troth! By the book, it’s myself is the moral o’ patience!”

The present meaning also emerged around the same time. The earliest citation I can find is from the mid-19th century – in Edgar Allan Poe’s Murders in Rue Morgue, 1845:

“To have a retentive memory, and to proceed by ‘the book’, are points commonly regarded as the sum total of good playing.”

Trend of by the book in printed material over time

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

Gary Martin

Writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.