Oxford Dictionary of Thematic Quotations

Title: The Oxford Dictionary of Thematic Quotations.

Editor: Susan Ratcliffe.

Publisher: OUP, 2000.

ISBN: 0-19-860218-9

Format: Hardback, 584pp

Guideline Price: £14.99

For anyone used to the format of the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, or the Penguin equivalent, the thematic format of this new collection of quotable quotes might appear a little lightweight. But appearances can be deceptive; most other thematic collections of quotations are fairly lightweight; but this is the Oxford dictionary, and it lives up to the reputation of its name.

There are over 7,000 quotations from over 1,000 people, organised in over 600 categories from Ability to Youth, by way of Birth Control, Executions, Teetotalism and Vulgarity. In normally-arranged dictionaries of quotations (i.e. by author), the index of key-words is absolutely vital, and it's how we mostly use them; in this thematic dictionary the index is of the authors. So who is in here? Over a thousand people from Diane Abbot to Émile Zola. Those great originators without whom any dictionary of quotations would be half the length are here in plenitude, of course: GBS, Shakespeare, the Bible and the great Anon. TS Eliot and Oscar Wilde have contributed quite a few. But this book is bang up to date.

Amongst recent politicians, John Major has three, Ted Heath and Jim Callaghan four each, Harold Wilson eight, and Maggie Thatcher a stonking 17; Tony Blair is fast catching up with nine already, while William Hague only has one, and they clearly had to scratch around to find that. Hillary Rodham Clinton has four, only two behind her husband. Bush Snr has six; Dubya zero. Gorbachev is here, and Mandela, and Gandhi.

In addition to the expected Byron, Keats, Shelley etc, the more recent arts are well represented. Lennon & McCartney do particularly well with nine together, and four and two individually; Bob Dylan is here (9), and Bob Marley (1), and Bob Geldof (1). Sadly, two great losses at the end of 2000 aren't quoted, though both deserve to be: Adrian Henri and Kirsty MacColl.

It's odd what has been left out: Thatcher's "We are a grandmother" and her discomfiture over which way the Belgrano happened to be pointing (though she has two other Falklands quotes); Jeremy Paxman's memorable repeated question to Michael Howard; Clinton's "I did not have sex with that woman"; while the quotations from Yes, Minister and 1066 And All That completely miss the best ones.

There seem to be far more humorous quotations than in the standard Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, with writers including AA Milne (9) and Spike Milligan (4), but amazingly only one Frank Muir quote (famously describing Joan Bakewell as "the thinking man's crumpet"). A surprising four of Julie Burchill's acidic little squibs were thought worthy of inclusion; but at least her nemesis Germaine Greer has more than twice as many-and they're more than twice as good, including her glorious put-down of Suzanne Moore, "So much lipstick must rot the brain." And there are 19 delights from Dorothy Parker.

In a dictionary of quotations it is unsurprising that there are 22 quotations listed under Words and 12 under Wordplay, with cross-references to Dictionaries, Grammar, Language, Meaning, Names, Words & Deeds and Wit & Satire-plus 17 under Writers and 38 under Writing, with cross-references to Books, Fiction, Literature, Originality, Poets, Poetry, Style, and back to Words. And don't forget Plagiarism. And then there's Speech, as opposed to Conversation, and Grammar, Language-and, mercifully, Silence as well.

Some sections are a little puzzling. Why have just three entries under Fog, when they could have been included with the 11 under Weather? Rain has six, Snow has four (including British Rail's "wrong kind of snow"), and Wind has five. There is no entry for Sun; Oxford is in Britain, dammit!

Finally, there are 14 people who have had so much said about them that they have their own entries: Bach, Beethoven and Mozart; Shakespeare, Henry James, James Joyce and Jane Austin; Churchill, Hitler, Lloyd George, Reagan and Thatcher; and Marilyn Monroe and Diana, Princess of Wales.

This is a book it's impossible to pick up for two minutes: wonderful fun to dip into, and excellent value for money.

David V Barrett

Back ] Up ] Next ]