English: the Etymology of Blurb

By Xah Lee. Date:

You know that in book covers there's often a little paragraph describing what the book is about? That little paragraph is technically called “blurb”! Here's a excerpt from Wikipedia Blurb:

A blurb is a short summary or some words of praise accompanying a creative work, usually used on books without giving away any details, that is usually referring to the words on the back of the book jacket but also commonly seen on DVD and video cases, web portals, and news websites.

I always thought the word “blurb” is some kinda slang with a humor slant. What's the etymology? Indeed:

The concept of a “brief statement praising a literary product” dates back to medieval literature of Egypt from the 14th century. The concept was known as taqriz in medieval Arabic literature.

The word blurb originated in 1907. American humorist Gelett Burgess's short 1906 book 《Are you a Bromide?》 was presented in a limited edition to an annual trade association dinner. The custom at such events was to have a dust jacket promoting the work and with, as Burgess' publisher B. W. Huebsch described it,

“the picture of a damsellanguishing, heroic, or coquettish — anyhow, a damsel on the jacket of every novel”

In this case the jacket proclaimed “YES, this is a ‘BLURB'!” and the picture was of a (fictitious) young woman “Miss Belinda Blurb” shown calling out, described as “in the act of blurbing.”

The name and term stuck for any publisher's contents on a book's back cover, even after the picture was dropped and only the complimentary text remained.

The blurb was developed simultaneously in Germany where it is regarded to have been invented by Karl Robert Langewiesche around 1902. In German bibliographic usage, it is usually located on the second page of the book underneath the Half title, or on the dust cover.

blurbing Are You A Bromide-s
blurb from Are You A Bromide

Humm… a Proud Purple Penultimate!

Though, Wikipedia didn't go deep enough, on why mister Burgess have chosen the word “blurb”. Perhaps it's a mix of onomatopoeia of blurt?

But and what the hell is a Bromide? Wikipedia comes to rescue again:

A bromide is a phrase or platitude that, having been employed excessively, suggests insincerity or a lack of originality in the speaker employing it.

The term “bromide” derives from the antiquated use of certain bromide salts in medicine as mild tranquilizers and sedatives. Administration of a “bromide” (such as the original Bromo-Seltzer prior to 1975 in the U.S.) would relieve anxiety and make the patient drowsy. Describing a phrase as a “bromide” is meant to humorously imply that it is a boring statement with similar soporific properties.

My dear studious fellows, if you are reading this, and you do not quite know the meaning of damsel, languish, coquettish, or platitude and soporific, this is the time to look it up. Don't forget your Online English Dictionary Tools.