The Meaning of Liff

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The Meaning of Liff (UK Edition: ISBN 0-330-28121-6, US Edition: ISBN 0-517-55347-3) is a humorous dictionary of toponomy and etymology, written by Douglas Adams and John Lloyd, published in the United Kingdom in 1983, and the USA in 1984.

It is a "dictionary of things that there aren't any words for yet"; all the words listed are place names, and describe common feelings and objects for which there is no current English word. Examples are Shoeburyness ("The vague uncomfortable feeling you get when sitting on a seat which is still warm from somebody else's bottom," and the word is also the name of a town in southeast Essex, England) and Abinger ("One who washes up everything except the frying pan, the cheese grater and the saucepan which the chocolate sauce has been made in").

The book cover usually bears the tagline "This book will change your life!", either as part of its cover or as an adhesive label. Liff (a village near Dundee in Scotland) is then defined in the book as "A book, the contents of which are totally belied by its cover. For instance, any book the dust jacket of which bears the words, 'This book will change your life'."



According to Adams' account in The Salmon of Doubt, the idea behind The Meaning of Liff grew out of an old school game, and started when he and Lloyd were on holiday together. In Neil Gaiman's book Don't Panic: The Official Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Companion it is pointed out that essentially the same idea was used by the English humourist Paul Jennings in an article Ware, Wye, Watford, published in the late 1950s. Adams speculated that the teacher who originated the school game may have done so after reading the article. He sent a note of apology to Jennings.


A revised and expanded edition of the original book, with about twice as many definitions, was published in 1990 as The Deeper Meaning of Liff (UK Edition: ISBN 0-330-31606-0, US Edition: ISBN 0-517-58597-9), though the original remains in print. Some of the new words in Deeper had previously appeared in a Liff piece by Adams, Lloyd and Stephen Fry in The Utterly Utterly Merry Comic Relief Christmas Book (1986). The main differences between the two editions (for either version of the book) are those of American English vs. British English spellings, though The Deeper Meaning of Liff contains different definitions for both the word "Glossop" and the titular word "Liff". In The Deeper Meaning of Liff, Liff is defined as a phenomenon for which there is no word.

Some of the definitions originally appeared in the Not the Nine O'Clock News spin-off book Not 1982 (ISBN 0571118534), where they were headed "Today's new word from the Oxtail English Dictionary".[1]

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