Although this compilation bears the title A Dictionary of Catch Phrases, and that seems the neatest possible summation for such a rag-bag, I agree with many reviewers, critics and correspondents in rejecting the idea that all the entries herein are catch phrases. I take a catch phrase to be a phrase having-at least to begin with-a recognized source. That source may be an individual, most often an entertainer; or a group, by which I mean a show of any sort: music-hall, play, film, but notably radio or television comedy. A really good catch phrase is a piece of free-standing nonsense; it hardly needs a context.
A fair number of the entries do fall into my 'genuine' catch phrase class, but the book includes as well many examples from the following randomly-ordered and by no means exhaustive list: greetings; toasts; exclamations; exhortations; threats; invitations; jokes and puns (many fossilized); colourful clichés; popularly accepted misquotations; modern proverbs, adages and maxims (and adaptations of old ones); euphemisms; well-worn, and also currently bright new, similes and hyperbole; and some that are no more than vulgar idiom, vivid expressions that took Eric Partridge's fancy. As he himself wrote (at you can say that again, on p. 261 of the first edition):
There is no such thing as an inviolable and immutable classification of permanent inter-distinction between any one and any other of the three groups: catchphrases, proverbial sayings, clichés. What's more, the almost infinite number-hence also the variety-of contexts for familiar phrases (a very useful 'umbrella' term) means that a phrase can exist simultaneously in any two of these groups. Language, by its very nature, is insusceptible of being straitjacketed.
Quite right! How do we-should we even try to-distinguish the category (?categories) into which we can place, for example, she hasn't got a ha'penny to jingle on a tombstone and he was so poor even his brother was made in Hong Kong? Which leads me to another point borne more strongly upon me with each successive reading of the Dictionary: so many of the phrases are actually jibes and insults; how much verbal cruelty seems to amuse us! I haven't added them up, but it feels as though over half the entries are in this class.
But who's counting?, and never mind the quality, feel the width: here are a few ball-park figures. E.P. thought (see Acknowledgments to the first edition) that he had written some 3,000 entries. He undersold himself; there were over 4,000. Of these, some 2,500 remain in their original state, while nearly 1,200 have been