Non-Fiction

The Weird, Vain History of Who’s Who Books

7 August 2017

From Atlas Obscura:

On an average day floating through the press release service PR Newswire, it’s inevitable that you run into a list of people who are designated as new members of a who’s who list.

The list always varies but the intent is usually the same: To give a person notice for their life and career, no matter how seemingly mediocre. And while today they might just be a function of lazy p.r., there was a time, not too long ago, when who’s who lists were a more curated experience. In the United Kingdom, that amounted to a 250-page reference book that debuted in 1849 and is still published today, aspiring to be a compendium “of living noteworthy and influential individuals, from all walks of life, worldwide.” In the U.S., the first who’s who book was a little less expansive, the business-savvy project of an eccentric self-made publisher named Albert Nelson Marquis, who, in 1899, published a reference book for people who did notable enough things to get in a reference book for people who did notable things (though his choices tended reflect a conservative point of view.)

That book’s list of notables, already topping 8,000 in the first edition, included every member of Congress along with nearly every other politician during the era. But, as the Chicago Tribune reported in 1986, Marquis was noted for his odd standards of who actually got in. Traditional celebrities from film or sport were often looked over, for one, in favor of educators, clergymen, or other notables that reflected Marquis’s own personal interests. He also tended to make moral judgments, excluding Frank Lloyd Wright, for example, because of his turbulent personal life.

. . . .

The company started in Cincinnati, but eventually moved to Chicago, where Marquis realized his dream: a first edition of Who’s Who in America, that made clear its intent in a prologue.

“Without claiming infallibility or inerrancy, it is believed that this publication will be a welcome addition to the list of handy helps that make up the library of indispensable books,” the prologue states. “Certainly nothing has been omitted that painstaking care, persistent effort, or expenditure of money could supply toward making the volume fully fill the purposes of its compilation.“

Link to the rest at Atlas Obscura

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Here (with 2 Years of Exhausting Photographic Detail) Is How To Write A Book

29 July 2017

From author Ryan Holiday:

Before I was a writer, I was simply a reader. Like many readers, I was somewhat in awe of the process. I had no idea how the books I read were made, or how if I was beginning to then aspire to one day write one myself, how on earth I would manage to string so many words together.

The author and poet Austin Kleon has done the creative world an enormous favor with his concept of showing your work. Part of the mystique of the artistic brand is to make it look easy, effortless. The result is that creativity seems like a black box. In fact, we should show how we make what we make. To help others, to understand our own process, to practice humility. To show people that it’s not impossible to turn their ideas into work.

There was once an exchange between the painter Edgar Degas and the poet Stéphane Mallarmé. Degas was having trouble trying his hand at poetry and so he complained to his friend about his trouble writing, “I can’t manage to say what I want, and yet I’m full of ideas.” Mallarmé’s response: “It’s not with ideas, my dear Degas, that one makes verse. It’s with words.”

. . . .

[H]ere is the original title (a suggestion from my agent) and subtitle I used in the book proposal:

THE NEW RULES OF BOOK PROMOTION:

Why Content and Strategy Trump Tactics Every Time or How to Succeed with Content and Strategy When All the Old Tactics No Longer Work

Taking a step back for a second, if you’re wondering what a book proposal even is, you’re not alone. In the world of nonfiction traditional publishing, most authors don’t get to simply wake up one day and sit down to write a manuscript (even when it’s their sixth book). Before an author writes a single word of the book itself he or she will write down what the idea for the book will be and why people will read (i.e. buy) it — and they have to sell that to someone. It’s like writing a business plan for a book. Proposals can contain an outline, sample chapters, endorsements from relevant tastemakers, and anything else that may attract the attention of an editor at a publishing house, with the goal usually being to secure as high of an advance as possible. A publisher essentially buys the rights to publish a future book by you based on your book proposal.

In my case, my publisher bought the rights to my book about book promotion based on the proposal I’d written. It ended up selling that same month, in March 2015.

It’s important to stress that the iterative phase of the book idea doesn’t necessarily stop once the book proposal sells. Authors frequently (maybe even usually) deliver a book that is substantially different that the book that was laid out in the original proposal. I usually tell authors that the proposal is for the publisher — the book is for themselves. So what is even the point of a proposal anyway? That’s another article for another time, but suffice it to say that even though I’d sold a book about book promotion, by May of 2015 the idea still wasn’t sitting right with me.

Link to the rest at Ryan Holiday via Medium

Here’s a link to Ryan Holiday’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

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All Time 100 : History Books

15 July 2017

From List Muse:

1. A Study of History by Arnold J. Toynbee

Arnold Toynbee’s A Study of History is his magnum opus. In it he analyses the rise and fall of all 26 of the great world civilizations; whereas, previous historians had mainly concentrated on the West. Toynbee traces general themes focusing on the genesis, growth, and disintegration of civilizations; whereas, previous historians had mainly concentrated on the West. Toynbee traces general themes focusing on the genesis, growth, and disintegration of civilizations. Arnold was one of the most influential historians of the 20th century but due perhaps to his spiritual and religious outlook, that pervades much of his work, he has lost popularity.

2. The Making of the English Working Class by E. P. Thompson

This book transformed our understanding of English social history. Thompson revealed how working class people were not merely victims of history, moved by powerful forces outside of themselves, but were also active in creating their own culture and future, during the degradation of the industrial revolution.

. . . .

6. Plagues and Peoples by William H. McNeill

William McNeill’s Plagues and Peoples theorises about the impact disease has had on human history. He examines the influence plagues may have had on various events, such as the development of Chinese civilisation, the renaissance and the downfall of the Roman Empire.

. . . .

12. The Origins of The Second World War by A.J.P. Taylor

The Origins of the Second World War is a history book by A.J.P. Taylor. In it he looks at the causes of World War II. It was controversial at the time for holding all sides to account for the outbreak of war, but has since been recognised as a classic.

. . . .

20. Battle Cry of Freedom by James M. McPherson

James McPherson’s classic account of the Civil War era focusses not just on the war but the lead up too. Another fundamental theme is the many interpretations of liberty, as both sides believed they were fighting for the freedoms won in the Revolution. Battle Cry of Freedom won the Pulitzer prize and was included on the Modern Library’s best 100 nonfiction books of the 20th Century.

. . . .

27. The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman

The Pulitzer Prize winning, The Guns of August, by Barbara W. Tuchman, is focussed on the first month of World War I. Tuchman explains in detail the events that led to the war. The book was featured in the Modern Library’s Top 100 nonfiction books of the 20th Century.

Link to the rest at List Muse 

PG notes that any lists like these invariably reflect the listmaker’s point of view. PG notes only one book by John Keegan, listed as number 81, which he believes should be ranked much higher, along with several other Keegan books. PG would also add several other works by Barbara Tuchman.

However, there are many excellent books on the list and, if you don’t mind reading physical books, most are available used at low prices.

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The Secret (Lunch) Lives of Remarkable Women

8 July 2017
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From Eater:

I saw Laura Shapiro walking down the street slightly before she noticed me, and even though I’d never met or seen her before, I immediately knew who she was. She’s a petite woman with short, stylish salt-and-pepper hair and big wire-framed glasses. If you live in New York, you might recognize her type — these small women walking with authority, who look at the world around them with interest and the kind of confidence that only comes from growing and changing alongside the city for decades. Shapiro also has a sweet, slightly mischievous smile, an implicit promise that anyone lucky enough to get to talk to her will come away with great stories.

Shapiro’s physical smallness belies the Herculean nature of the project she’s just completed: a group biography, 10 years in the making, of the culinary lives of six historical women. What She Ate tells the “food stories” of poetry muse Dorothy Wordsworth, pioneering restaurateur Rosa Lewis, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, consort Eva Braun, novelist Barbara Pym, and Cosmopolitan magazine editor Helen Gurley Brown. Shapiro chose these particular wildly different women because they were all, in contemporary parlance, “influencers” — of art, culture, politics, and women’s roles in society. The only thing they all have in common besides that is that they all ate food.

Shapiro decided that we should dine at Tea and Sympathy, not for its ambiance but because its menu of stodgy British classics, cooked forever and thickly sauced, would have been familiar to, if not exactly welcomed by, two of What She Ate’s subjects. Rosa Lewis, an Edwardian chef and restaurateur, would have sniffed at it and loudly mentioned the superiority of her own cooking — simple French-influenced fare that led her to rise through the ranks of polite society from decidedly humble beginnings — while Barbara Pym, whose mid-century novels about single women have had a profound impact on today’s literary world, would have smiled and taken notes on what other people were eating, then gone home and prepared a delicious, simple feast of her own.

. . . .

The publication of What She Ate is a watershed moment for Shapiro. After spending much of her life devoted to the idea that everyday food and the women who prepare and serve it are worthy of interest, the world is finally catching up to her way of thinking. The kind of cooking and eating that she describes in her book — the homely, survival-oriented eating of everyday life, not special-occasion or restaurant food — has, historically, and almost exclusively, been done by women, and it’s only recently that the myriad things that women do silently and invisibly to keep civilization afloat have gained cultural currency.

. . . .

After writing several books about the doyennes of American cooking, the seeds of What She Atewere planted when Shapiro read a biography of Dorothy Wordsworth, who kept house for her brother, William, the famous poet. A single detail — an out-of-character meal of heavy blood pudding in a life that had previously been sustained by ethereal repasts of gooseberries and broth — led Shapiro to the realization that writing about the role of food and eating in the lives of women who weren’t necessarily famous for anything food-related could be a way to tell their most intimate stories. “We’re meant to read the lives of important people as if they never bothered with breakfast, lunch or dinner, or took a coffee break, or stopped for a hot dog on the street, or wandered downstairs for a few spoonfuls of chocolate pudding in the middle of the night,” Shapiro writes.

Link to the rest at Eater

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Is the staggeringly profitable business of scientific publishing bad for science?

1 July 2017

From The Guardian:

In 2011, Claudio Aspesi, a senior investment analyst at Bernstein Research in London, made a bet that the dominant firm in one of the most lucrative industries in the world was headed for a crash. Reed-Elsevier, a multinational publishing giant with annual revenues exceeding £6bn, was an investor’s darling. It was one of the few publishers that had successfully managed the transition to the internet, and a recent company report was predicting yet another year of growth. Aspesi, though, had reason to believe that that prediction – along with those of every other major financial analyst – was wrong.

The core of Elsevier’s operation is in scientific journals, the weekly or monthly publications in which scientists share their results. Despite the narrow audience, scientific publishing is a remarkably big business. With total global revenues of more than £19bn, it weighs in somewhere between the recording and the film industries in size, but it is far more profitable. In 2010, Elsevier’s scientific publishing arm reported profits of £724m on just over £2bn in revenue. It was a 36% margin – higher than Apple, Google, or Amazon posted that year.

But Elsevier’s business model seemed a truly puzzling thing. In order to make money, a traditional publisher – say, a magazine – first has to cover a multitude of costs: it pays writers for the articles; it employs editors to commission, shape and check the articles; and it pays to distribute the finished product to subscribers and retailers. All of this is expensive, and successful magazines typically make profits of around 12-15%.

The way to make money from a scientific article looks very similar, except that scientific publishers manage to duck most of the actual costs. Scientists create work under their own direction – funded largely by governments – and give it to publishers for free; the publisher pays scientific editors who judge whether the work is worth publishing and check its grammar, but the bulk of the editorial burden – checking the scientific validity and evaluating the experiments, a process known as peer review – is done by working scientists on a volunteer basis. The publishers then sell the product back to government-funded institutional and university libraries, to be read by scientists – who, in a collective sense, created the product in the first place.

It is as if the New Yorker or the Economist demanded that journalists write and edit each other’s work for free, and asked the government to foot the bill. Outside observers tend to fall into a sort of stunned disbelief when describing this setup. A 2004 parliamentary science and technology committee report on the industry drily observed that “in a traditional market suppliers are paid for the goods they provide”. A 2005 Deutsche Bank report referred to it as a “bizarre” “triple-pay” system, in which “the state funds most research, pays the salaries of most of those checking the quality of research, and then buys most of the published product”.

Scientists are well aware that they seem to be getting a bad deal.

. . . .

It is hard to believe that what is essentially a for-profit oligopoly functioning within an otherwise heavily regulated, government-funded enterprise can avoid extinction in the long run. But publishing has been deeply enmeshed in the science profession for decades. Today, every scientist knows that their career depends on being published, and professional success is especially determined by getting work into the most prestigious journals. The long, slow, nearly directionless work pursued by some of the most influential scientists of the 20th century is no longer a viable career option. Under today’s system, the father of genetic sequencing, Fred Sanger, who published very little in the two decades between his 1958 and 1980 Nobel prizes, may well have found himself out of a job.

. . . .

The scientific article has essentially become the only way science is systematically represented in the world. (As Robert Kiley, head of digital services at the library of the Wellcome Trust, the world’s second-biggest private funder of biomedical research, puts it: “We spend a billion pounds a year, and we get back articles.”) It is the primary resource of our most respected realm of expertise. “Publishing is the expression of our work. A good idea, a conversation or correspondence, even from the most brilliant person in the world … doesn’t count for anything unless you have it published,” says Neal Young of the NIH. If you control access to the scientific literature, it is, to all intents and purposes, like controlling science.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

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Deep Thinking: Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins

1 July 2017

From The Guardian:

Garry Kasparov is arguably the greatest chess player of all time. From 1986 until his retirement in 2005, he was ranked world No 1. He is also a leading human rights activist and is probably close to the top of Vladimir Putin’s hitlist, not least because he tried to run against him for the Russian presidency in 2007. But for people who are interested only in technology, Kasparov is probably best known as the first world champion to be beaten by a machine. In 1997, in a famous six-game match with the IBM supercomputer Deep Blue, he lost 3½-2½.

In the grand scheme of things, losing by one game in a six-game match might not seem much, but at the time it was seen as a major milestone in the long march towards “artificial” intelligence (AI). With the 20/20 vision of hindsight we can view it in a less apocalyptic light: the triumph of Deep Blue was really a victory of brute computing power, clever programming and the ruthless determination of a huge but struggling corporation to exploit the PR advantages of having one of its products do something that would impress the world’s media. But if you believe that AI has something to do with cognition, then Kasparov’s epochal defeat looks like a sideshow.

That it retains its fascination owes more to the popular view of proficiency at chess as a proxy for superintelligence rather than as possession of a very specialised skill. We’ve known for centuries that machines are much better at some things than we are. That’s why Google has become a memory prosthesis for humanity and why we use power drills to anchor bookshelves to walls. So the fact that machines now play better chess than even the greatest grandmasters or that DeepMind’s AlphaGo defeated the world Go champion at his particular speciality is interesting – and might even be useful in other areas, such as pattern-matching. But it’s just an incremental step on the same path that Deep Blue trod: the IBM machine used brute-force search; AlphaGo combined even more powerful brute-force search with a couple of neural networks. It’s technically sweet, certainly, but of less than cosmic significance.

Living, as we do, in a time when existential concern about “superintelligence” and robots taking away middle-class jobs, Kasparov has acquired a new significance as the highest-profile (and highest-status) human ever to have been defeated by a machine. (Interestingly, Deep Blue didn’t take away his job: he continued to hold the world chess championship until his defeat by Vladimir Kramnik in 2000. And he continued to win tournaments and maintain his world ranking until he retired in 2005.) So what makes his book fascinating is that he uses it to reflect on what it was like to have been defeated by a machine and on the more general implications of that experience.

The Kasparov v Deep Blue match has been endlessly discussed by chess aficionados in books and articles, but Deep Thinking gives us the inside story of what happened. Even for readers with only a passing interest in chess, it’s an absorbing, page-turning thriller that weaves a personal account of intellectual combat with the wider picture of what it’s like to come up against a powerful corporation that is determined to do whatever it takes to crush opposition. So this isn’t just a tale of human versus machine – it’s also a story about one man versus The Man.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

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What is the biggest challenge in university-press publishing?

6 June 2017

From The Chronicle of Higher Education:

People are convinced there’s a crisis in university-press publishing — that we’re dying off in significant numbers, that we’re unsustainable, that dramatic changes are inevitable. None of this is true. Print, books, and bookstores are all healthy. Library sales are on the decline, it’s true, but they have been for generations. If anything, it feels like book publishing, including university presses, has achieved a new normal.

But I worry that the perception of crisis (stemming in part from a tendency to conflate for-profit journal publishers and not-for-profit university presses, which focus primarily on books) threatens to cause a crisis by undermining support for traditional university presses. If we seem doomed despite the evidence, after all, why continue to support us?

The book is necessary and important — and, while it’s hardly a static artifact, it’s proved remarkably durable. Books are also expensive, especially in terms of the skilled labor necessary to acquire and market them. But they’re worth it. In the current environment, with its emphasis on disruption and the widely promoted belief that university presses are a “problem” in search of a “solution,” our biggest challenge is making sure people don’t lose sight of that.

. . . .

There are roughly 4,200 institutions of higher education in the United States. These institutions rely on the work of some 140 scholarly presses to assure a critical function: the independent review, assessment, and distribution of the best ideas of faculty members, which in turn makes a clear basis for the evaluation of a scholar’s contribution to a field. But instead of finding ways to share the costs of this necessary system equally across all institutions, the sponsoring institutions have themselves increasingly abandoned their presses to the whims of the marketplace, effectively rendering these presses less and less distinct from trade publishers.

. . . .

We’ve seen e-book sales plateau and drop, so we aren’t experiencing the print reduction offset by the digital. Amazon, our biggest reseller, instituted a new policy that requires a minimum threshold of demand in order to carry stock. That’s a scary scenario. Our authors are constantly looking at Amazon and get nervous when they don’t see their title listed as “in stock.” —Fredric Nachbaur

Link to the rest at The Chronicle of Higher Education

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Exactly how I self-published my book, sold 180,000 copies, and nearly doubled my revenue

28 May 2017

From Growth Lab:

The Coaching Habit was published on February 29, 2016. (Leap Day! Why wouldn’t you take advantage of that?)

In the year since, it’s sold nearly 200,000 copies, including 8,000 ebooks in one week in May. It made the Wall Street Journal bestseller list “organically” (which is to say, accidentally). It received more than 500 reviews on Amazon, 450 of which are five-star. And it’s been the number one book in the business/coaching category for about 95 percent of the year.

. . . .

So perhaps you’re considering writing a book yourself, or you’ve gone as far as to have a first draft in a digital drawer somewhere. We’ve all seen our marketing heroes grow a base of fans, then customers, then empires through “content marketing.” And the big kahuna in content marketing is the book. This is how you officially rise to “Thought Leader” status, it’s how you differentiate yourself from your competitors, you drive revenue, you launch your speaking career, you start hanging out with other cool authors. Easy enough, right?

As with most things involving your business, it’s a bit more complicated than it seems. Writing a book is a long, lonely, and oftentimes unsuccessful endeavor. My “instant success” was anything but. The Coaching Habit was the result of four years of floundering, rejection, and toil. So you don’t make my mistakes, allow me to share everything I used to vault my book from idea to bestseller (with a table of contents to skip to what you’d like to know).

. . . .

Part I: The New York publisher, the big-name agent, and misery

In 2010, I fell into a book deal with a fancy New York publisher. It happened remarkably quickly. I was planning to self-publish my second book and had printed a small run to send out to my friends for their feedback, a final step before I hit the “All In” button and printed several thousand. One of those friends, Nick, sent his copy on to his publisher who got excited and called me. I got excited, and told them they had 48 hours to make an offer, given the impending big print run. They got flustered but made an offer. And in less than a week, we had a deal.

Woo-hoo! (Note: As I’ve subsequently discovered, this is not at all how it normally works.)

Do More Great Work was launched, and it’s done well. In five years, it’s sold about 90,000 copies, and people who like it love it. I had my first experience with a publisher, and it was mostly good. There were the usual disappointments about design compromises (a little gap), and about what they thought of as marketing (a much bigger gap).

Courtesy, as well as my contract, obliged me to offer my next book to this publisher. And this time, rather than “Accidentally Do It Myself” like last time, I thought it was time to get an agent. Because that’s what “Real Authors” have. After talking to a few, I found someone who I considered smart and strategic, and who had an impressive roster of business authors. I signed up… and quickly entered a special kind of purgatory.

The next three years were spent in back-and-forth between me, the agent, and my publisher, and I failed to make any progress. I wrote proposals. The agent turned them down. I wrote more proposals. The agent and the publisher turned them down. I wrote entire books. My editor told me they “loved them” but didn’t “love them.”

So I tried to write the book that I thought they’d think they might love, if they knew what that book was, which they didn’t. Another miserable fail. And I wrote at least one other full-length version of the book somewhere in there as well, also rejected. It was a colossal waste of time that I could have spent growing and improving my business. I had lost my way. It crossed my mind more than once that I should be spending my time on something, anything, more productive. You know, marketing, sales, that sort of thing.

. . . .

Part III: Invest more upfront (and keep more money)

. . . .

Just so you know how the money works, for my first book Do More Great Work, which was published only as a paperback, I was paid an advance of $15,000 (which I was THRILLED about) and a royalty rate of eight percent for full-price books (this does not include those sold at a bulk discount rate).

The book sells for between $10 and $15, depending on how Amazon is feeling, which means I earn about $1 per sale, plus-or-minus 20¢. In the six years since it was originally published, it’s sold about 90,000 copies, meaning I’ve easily earned out my advance, and I get checks once or twice a year from the publisher (checks that get smaller each time).

For The Coaching Habit, I had to invest a bunch of money upfront (more about that above) and had to spend a bunch of money on the launch and ongoing marketing (more about that below). However, the economics of this book, if I can sell it, are much better. It costs me between $1.50 and $2.00 a copy to print it. It costs me money for shipping and storage. Our distributors pay us 60 percent of the sale price. The book sells for between $11 and $15, so that means I earn between about $4 and $6 for each print copy sold. The Kindle version sells for $5, and we get 70 percent of that from Amazon, so about $3.50 per copy sold. That’s anywhere between 300 and 500 percent more than I’d get with a traditional publisher!

Link to the rest at Growth Lab

Here’s a link to Michael Bungay Stanier’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

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Researchers find free textbooks are just as effective as costly ones

26 May 2017

From the Provo Daily Herald:

In a result that will make college students rejoice, a group of researchers at Brigham Young University have found that a free textbook is just as effective as an expensive one.

BYU’s Open Education Group studies open educational resources, free and open-access educational resources they’ve found that can teach students just as well as paid resources.

The group’s research not only showed that students using the free materials do just as well, and in some cases better, than if they were using a pricey textbook, but that the students were also more likely to stick in a course and not drop out.

. . . .

Lane Fischer, a BYU counseling psychology and special education chair and member of the Open Education Group, said many students will wait to buy their textbooks until weeks after classes begin when their financial aid comes or until they decide they need the textbook for the course. By the time the students get their books, they’re behind and might drop the course.

“That cycle continues for these folks who have lower educational resources,” Fischer said. “This is our most vulnerable group who most need an education and we are making them slow down and hurting them in the process.”

At community colleges, the price of textbooks can be half of the price a student pays for their education.

Fischer said the cost of textbooks over time, compared to inflation, has grown astronomically and that the textbook market in general doesn’t follow traditional supply and demand.

“It is a broken economic system because the normal laws of supply and demand don’t apply,” said John Hilton III, a professor of ancient scripture at BYU and member of the Open Education Group. “The professor doesn’t have to pay for it, and the students don’t have a say in which one they chose.”

Fisher said about half of professors know how much their required textbooks cost.

. . . .

“If students perform just as well without the textbooks, it is like giving every student a $1,000 scholarship if students are using open education resources,” Hilton said.

With new editions constantly coming out in subjects that don’t change, like algebra, once a student buys a textbook, a new edition can make it nearly impossible to sell the used one.

Link to the rest at Daily Herald

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labrish

24 May 2017
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From The Oxford English Dictionary:

 labrish, v.

. . . .

To gossip idly; to chat; to chatter.

. . . .

1935 Daily Gleaner (Kingston, Jamaica) 13 Mar. 17/6 Gerardo Leon..sang a Jamaica Mento composed by himself entitled ‘Ooman wa mek yu labrish so’.

Link to the rest at The Oxford English Dictionary

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