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Monkey Sandwiches

Robert McCrum, 20 October 1983

The Vanishing Hitchhiker: Urban Legends and their Meanings 
by Jan Harold Brunvand.
Picador, 156 pp., £1.95, April 1983, 9780330269506
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... What is an urban legend? First of all, it is not the 20th-century, metropolitan version of Greek and Roman myth. The villains and heroes of the so-called urban legends are not the inner-city heirs of Persephone or Theseus. Rather, the urban legend (more accurately, the apocryphal story) is one of those amazing tales which has been the recent experience of a friend of a friend ...

No snarling

Fatema Ahmed: P.G. Wodehouse, 3 November 2005

Wodehouse 
by Joseph Connolly.
Haus, 192 pp., £9.99, September 2004, 1 904341 68 3
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Wodehouse: A Life 
by Robert McCrum.
Penguin, 542 pp., £8.99, September 2005, 0 14 100048 1
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... of two and lived with a succession of relatives; at the age of five he went to boarding-school. Robert McCrum calculates that ‘in total, Wodehouse saw his parents for barely six months between the ages of three and 15.’ After he left Dulwich College, to which he remained deeply attached for the rest of his life, his father got him a job at the Hong ...

Short Cuts

Thomas Jones: 10,860 novels, 23 August 2001

... of Granta, suggested that it would be more accurate to say there was a ‘lull’. Since, then, Robert McCrum, the literary editor of the Observer, has discussed the question more than once in his column, ‘The World of Books’. And in a recent issue of the Guardian, Stephen Moss, that paper’s former literary editor, has asked: ‘Why do ...

Dead Cats and Fungi

Robert Taubman, 20 March 1980

Puffball 
by Fay Weldon.
Hodder, 255 pp., £5.95, February 1980, 0 340 24565 4
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The Mirror of the Giant 
by Penelope Shuttle.
Marion Boyars, 165 pp., £5.95, January 1980, 0 7145 2679 7
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Another Part of the Wood 
by Beryl Bainbridge.
Duckworth, 176 pp., £4.95, November 1979, 0 7156 1458 4
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Wild Oats 
by Jacob Epstein.
Alison Press/Secker, 267 pp., £5.95, February 1980, 0 436 14826 9
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In the Secret State 
by Robert McCrum.
Hamish Hamilton, 250 pp., £5.95, February 1980, 0 241 10322 3
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... Whatever the women in these Weldon and Shuttle novels achieve, it is not through effort or desperation so much as by passive submission. Women’s minds and bodies are the scene of all the action, but apparently no more than the scene; and though uninhibited freedom in this area is a sign of emancipation in modern women’s writing, I don’t know that the effect and the message in these two books will get a welcome in radical circles ...

Generations

John Sutherland, 4 March 1982

The Survivors 
by Elaine Feinstein.
Hutchinson, 316 pp., £7.95, February 1982, 0 09 145850 1
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Helliconia Spring 
by Brian Aldiss.
Cape, 361 pp., £6.95, February 1982, 0 224 01843 4
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The Great Fire of London 
by Peter Ackroyd.
Hamish Hamilton, 169 pp., £7.95, January 1982, 0 241 10704 0
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A Loss of Heart 
by Robert McCrum.
Hamish Hamilton, 282 pp., £7.95, February 1982, 0 241 10705 9
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... a Kessing’s Archive entry: ‘it inflicted disaster and destruction on the city,’ we are told. Robert McCrum’s first thriller was unusually well received. Follow-ups are notoriously hazardous, but he will not lose many readers with this second effort. The hero of A Loss of Heart is a 30-year-old Polytechnic lecturer. (...
The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology 
edited by T.F. Hoad.
Oxford, 552 pp., £12.95, May 1986, 9780198611820
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Dictionary of Changes in Meaning 
by Adrian Room.
Routledge, 292 pp., £14.95, May 1986, 0 7102 0341 1
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The Story of English 
by Robert McCrum, William Cran and Robert McNeil.
Faber/BBC, 384 pp., £14.95, September 1986, 0 563 20247 5
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Dictionary of American Regional English. Vol. I: Introduction and A-C 
edited by Frederic Cassidy.
Harvard, 903 pp., $60, July 1985, 0 674 20511 1
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... Thomas Hardy once told Robert Graves how he had gone to the Oxford English Dictionary to confirm the existence of a dialect word he proposed to use in a poem, and came to a standstill because the only authority quoted for it was his own Under the Greenwood Tree. This is an acute case of our dependence on dictionaries, and illustrates the commonest reason for resorting to them ...

Diary

Alan Bennett: What I did in 1999, 20 January 2000

... satire and after. He asks me if we ever had any alternative titles to Beyond the Fringe, which was Robert Ponsonby’s contribution and not popular with us at the time. I can’t think of any but J. Miller later remembers ‘At the Drop of a Brick’, a reference to Flanders and Swann’s At the Drop of a Hat and Peter Cook’s suggestion that we call it ...

Diary

Paul Muldoon: Hiberno-English Shenanigans, 1 July 1999

... fact that they are in cahoots doesn’t imply that they’re up to any shenanigans. Dolan quotes McCrum, Cran and MacNeil’s entry in The Story of English on the word: meaning ‘mischievous behaviour, trickery’ it ‘is first recorded in America in 1855 and comes from the Irish sionnachuighim, meaning “I play the fox, I play tricks.” Or does it? One ...

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