Blurb

There are many ways that new words can appear in a language. Sometimes words are loaned from foreign languages. Sometimes words evolve and develop new meanings. Some words are stuck together to make new ones; others are shortened, lengthened or clipped. But rarely is a word simply plucked from thin air; most words have some sort of family tree. Blurb is perhaps one of the best made-up words there is.

Some say that Gelett Burgess, and American humorist, coined the term in 1907. At that time, it was the custom to give books a special dust jacket and on it would be printed testimonials to the novel as well as a picture of an eye-catching woman. Burgess’ novel, Are you a Bromide?, was selling well and it featured an especially buxom blonde on the jacket. He dubbed the character Miss Blinda Blurb and the name stuck, coming to mean not only the picture but also any flattering praise printed on the cover until eventually the pictures dropped out of use and blurb came to refer simply to the back cover summary intended to attract readers that we see on every book nowadays.

Burgess used the word to mock the excessive appraisal found in blurbs and in doing so vastly popularized the term.

“To ‘blurb’ is to make a sound like a publisher. The blurb was invented by Frank A. Munsey when he wrote on the front of his magazine in red ink ‘I consider this number of Munsey’s the hottest pie that ever came out of my bakery.’ … A blurb is a check drawn on Fame, and it is seldom honored.” [“Publishers’ Weekly,” May 18, 1907]

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