Allusions, Anyone?

I just found one of the best books for book lovers: Literature Lover's Book of Lists.

I read fewer than two dozen pages before I had to take a break. The table of contents was enough alone to make me dizzy. It was that good.

So, from time to time I might just pull a gem or two out of the book to share with you, Gentle Reader. You might know some or all of them, but I appreciate you humoring me.

For example, do you know from whence many literary terms originated? "Big Brother" isn't just a television show, after all. While familiar, many of these terms have become such common usage that their original meanings often are obscure to later generations. I delighted in reading about them, and being reminded of their origins.

Beau geste is from the novel (and movie) of the same name. As you remember, the eldest Geste brother, Michael (also known as "Beau") dies heroically. Now, any grand gesture or sacrifice can be a beau geste. The phrase is French and means the same.

Brave new world is from Aldus Huxley's novel and referred, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, to a heartless, soulless society.

Perhaps less well-known is Brahmin, which is the name of the first of four castes (varnas) of Hinduism. Oliver Wendell Holmes and his influential companions of his close-knit Boston community. This group was influential, well-educated and politically powerful — and referred to as the Boston Brahmin.

Peyton Place, the novel by Grace Metalious, gives us the term for a community that shows a veneer of respectability with a seething underbelly of real problems.

Svengali was a creation of George DuMaurier. In his novel Trilby, the lead character was being groomed to be a singer by — and under the hypnotic spell of — the musician Svengali. Now, strong personalities who hold too much sway over their proteges are called by the name of this character.

I could go on, but I'm sure you have a few of your own favorites. (Ugly American? Noble savage? Man for all seasons? Shangri-la?) Share them!

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